Second-guessing President Obama while still in office never gets tiring for Team Ezra, you know. Max Fisher declares Syria lost and it being Obama’s fault, because hey, why not?
There was a time before Syria was a paradox, before it was unsolvable. It’s difficult to say for sure when that time ended, when the window closed. And policy analysts and historians will surely debate, for years to come, what specific US actions — had the US acted when the window was open — might have best addressed Syria’s war.
But it is clear that, at the very least, there was a period of time when the US had a range of options that could have led to a range of outcomes. But those options have since closed off, and the outcome we’ve ended up with is one of the worst imaginable. Maybe it could have been worse, but it certainly could have been better.
There was never an easy or a perfect solution to Syria. But early on, the security vacuum was not so dire, the chaos and destruction not so severe, and the world might have removed Assad without toppling Syria into an unsalvageable chaos.
The opposition was, early on, not nearly so divided by ideology and politics as it is today. Though extremists did begin joining early in 2012, the rebels were still heavily populated by moderate volunteers and defected Syrian soldiers whose primary aim was to topple Assad. Had he fallen then, the opposition might have laid down its arms rather than turning on one another. It was not until late 2013 that rebel infighting became so bad that analysts began warning Assad’s fall would lead to a second civil war.
Early on in the war, before Assad destroyed his own country’s physical and political infrastructure, there was still enough of a state that a post-Assad government could have, in a best-case scenario, restored order with the consent of the Syrian population. But even if it hadn’t, the Syrian population was less riven by sectarianism, the territory less divided among rebel groups apt to lapse into infighting and warlordism.
The point is not to retroactively advocate for a specific policy on Syria, nor to suggest that the country could have been saved completely by US intervention; it’s unlikely a war could ever have been averted once Assad decided to fire on his own people. Rather, the point is that removing him could have at least hypothetically opened up a different set of paths for Syria. Those surely would have had downsides as well, and some could be even worse than the status quo, but there is at least a range of possible outcomes that might look better than today’s reality.
While Fisher is concerned with the reality of Syria today and is correct that it is awful, he also argues that the window for doing something existing mainly between Spring 2012 and at the very latest, Fall 2013. The reality at that point overlooks three massively important things, all of which are missing from Fisher’s analysis.
One is Congress, who made it very clear with an election coming up that the kind of intervention Fisher wanted was never going to happen. Fisher mentions Congress all of once in his piece, and even if the Republicans in the House weren’t going to tell Obama to go to hell, enough Democrats would have. It got nowhere fast, eliminating all of 2012 in Fisher’s scenario.
You can argue that 2013 could have gone better and that there was still time to act then, but by March we were already into Assad’s chemical weapon attacks, and Russia’s reality as the Assad regime’s major patron stonewalling and buying time.
Number two is a US desperately tired of war. Even Libya was too much for America to support anymore back in 2012, and while a robust air campaign could have helped, in an election year it wasn’t going to happen for the reasons listed above.
Third is the 2012 election itself. If we somehow had gone into Syria’s civil war with both US political parties screaming bloody murder, Syrian intervention in 2013 would have most likely been President Romney’s problem, not President Obama’s.
Yes, Syria has devolved into a crisis now, one that won’t be solved anytime soon. But saying Obama “lost” Syria is Monday-morning quarterbacking at its worst and most of all simply untrue. Obama isn’t the only person on Earth who could have done something about Syria, and Syria was never ours to “lose” in the first place.
If we just find some moderates to arm and train all is not lost.
@BGinCHI: he saved Latin, what did you ever do?
@Gimlet: Arming moderates just turns them into FOX news watchers.
True enuf, but is their anyone anywhere who at anytime could have done anything constructive?
These are O.R. scrubs!
Oh, are they?
@Gimlet: they apparently existed in large numbers in 2012, and only needed us to swoop in and remove Assad and constantly remind them to be moderates during a civil war and we would have won…something. How does one indoctrinate moderates? By giving them weapons, of course.
You would think the guy who recommended Suria’s army sneak into the palace and change the locks while Assad was away – after Assad had already returned – would want to quietly hope everyone forgets he ever wrote anything about Syria
He sure is using a lot of hypotheticals in his argument. The US forcibly removing another middle eastern ruler could have worked, but maybe not. We could have tried and it might have improved the lives of the Syrian population, but possibly not. But we should have at least tried, not that it was going to work, but who knows? Quality analysis.
@Hal: if it didn’t work, we could have always reinstalled him. No harm no foul.
He’s not even Monday morning quarterbacking, which at least involves proposing your own plan that the other guy should have followed. He’s suggesting that there might have been a plan at some point without even trying to come up with it, probably because he knows that whatever he proposes as the answer would be pointed out as wrong. He’s not even a critic, just somebody who’s cheering the critics on without sticking his neck out far enough to be one himself.
The lesson that we should have learned from Vietnam, and which Iraq, Libya, and Syria should have reinforced since then, is that intervening in another country’s civil war is a gigantic shit storm. You can’t force people to reconcile at the point of a gun, but reconciliation is the only long-term solution to civil war.
Mike in DC
It’s kinda sad that with so many concerned parties grappling with ISIL that we couldn’t just seal them off geographically (cutting off the flow of new recruits and new funds), and then grind them down to nothing over a few months. Without cutting them off from reinforcement and resupply, this could go on for another decade.
That block quote is a horrible quagmire of unsubstantiated assertions and weaselling around to avoid any specifics. It’s anti-analysis. We should seriously consider sending people to kill and die based on logic like that? Now that’s a sick joke.
@Roger Moore: Hence the Green Lantern Pundit Corps tag, ironically created by Matt Yglesias, now at Vox with Max Fisher.
@Benw: it’s rumsfeldian.
Ahmed Chalabi died.
I do not think Obama is above criticism, with regards to Syria.
The problem is no one knows if the alternatives would have worked better in the long-term.
I think the only “reliable” model maybe to examine the Lebanese civil war that lasted for about 20 years, which no talking head bothers to reference with regards to Syria.
Fisher’s a god damn neocon Likudnik. Fuck that guy.
Raised live piranhas?
The Thin Black Duke
@Benw: Sure, it’s a sick joke, and the punchline is these bloodthirsty comedians spewing this bullshit never have a problem sending other people to die for their entertainment.
I don’t give even the most delicate, gossamer-winged fuck about the propriety of second-guessing PBO while he’s still in office; he’s the POTUS, so of course it’s right and proper to scrutinize and debate every decision he makes. But I read Fisher’s piece yesterday and likewise came away unconvinced by his Monday morning QB case for earlier action.
From the cheap seats, it seems like PBO has been trying to find the Goldilocks sweet spot on Syria — not too hawkish, not too dovish but juuuust right. I appreciate his unwillingness to be dragged into another quagmire, but sometimes I wish he’d have pushed back on the saber-rattlers harder instead of seeming to assuage them with half measures.
Still, it merits discussion, and I’d love to see all the Oval Office aspirants questioned closely about what they would have done differently, if anything, and in greater detail.
There was a great solution to politics in the Middle East, but it would have required supporting the secular Baathist leaders like Nasser, Assad and Hussein by an arms and aid embargo to expansionist, apartheid Israel.
@gene108: You mean the Lebanese civil war that St.Ronnie decided we wanted nothing more to do with after 241 Marines got killed?
@Botsplainer: There are 2 possible solutions to politics in the Middle East: Time is one. The 2nd one involves thermonuclear weapons.
I read that 3 times and am still trying to understand the point. It reads like something a sober Palin may have written in that the words are intelligible but still lack any real meaning.
Obviously, all we needed to do was remove Assad, which apparently would have been easy to do and certainly Russia and Iran would not have objected. Except they would have and no, it wouldn’t have been easy and yes, there were still significant sectarian issues from the beginning.
Sounds just like the Bush administration saying the Sunni’s and Shiia’s would have been best of friends after the invasion of Iraq. Except anybody with any knowledge knew that wouldn’t be the case.
Yes, and yet when the suggestion arises that perhaps the Democratic candidates should involve themselves in more discussions, debates, town-hall meetings, press conferences, and the like, there are many people who don’t see the point (to put it mildly).
Being butthurt every time President Obama is criticized never gets tiring for Team Zandar, you know.
Fisher’s analysis sucks, but it’s a legitimate exercise. Obama is no more beyond reproach for his Syria policy while in office than any other president has been for their less-than-successful interventions in foreign countries. Should everyone have held their comments about the Iraq War until Shrub left office in 2009? I think not.
(Of course, if Obama hadn’t intervened – probably the best option – he would have been criticized for that, too. There’s no sane policy in the Middle East that would be considered “successful” by the media to be had at this time, given the medias assorted biases.)
I’m a little surprised you folks are reading Vox, because I’m not sure anyone else does.
Moderates for Neocons & neolibs: they shoot you and toss you in a ditch instead of beheading you on video.
@PeakVT: And now Clinton has become the darling here.
OT but I have to pass this along:
Bettis said she recognized the gunman as her neighbor—whom she didn’t know by name—and that before the initial slaying she saw him roaming outside with a rifle. She called 911 to report the man, but a dispatcher explained that Colorado has an open carry law that allows public handling of firearms.
The inability of people to understand that these are two different things is amazing. The US is not the world. Other countries have interests and do things for reasons that have nothing to do with us. They do not fall in automatically to give us whatever we want. The US is not a lone operator, responsible for everything that happens and thus obligated to intervene or at credit or fault for every outcome. One of the biggest reasons not to have intervened more forcefully in Syria was that the rest of the world would not have liked it or cooperated, and still would not today.
@PeakVT: Where did Zandar say that Obama is beyond reproach re Syria?
In Vietnam, US policy-makers have refused to even admit there was a civil war going on (within the south as well as between north and south). First our leaders invaded and attacked South Vietnam; and then they attacked the North. In ’65, when some of us suggested peaceful actions to Robert McNamara that might have helped end the civil war, his response was to frame the entire conflict as aggression by the north — a bald-faced imperialist lie.
Many years later — and 58,000 American lives later — and by his own estimate more than 3,000,000 Vietnamese (and Cambodian, and Laotian) lives later, including unarmed women, infants suckling at the breast, young children, and old people — McNamara finally began to speak the truth about that war. Others are still lying about it, or they have been so long and so defiantly steeped in ignorance that there is really no hope for them at this point.
@Frankensteinbeck: Precisely. The notion that the U.S. should or could solve all of the world’s problems unilaterally is the kind of idiocy that led to the invasion of Iraq.
No. That notion, and that idiocy, were among the tools used by the people who wanted (that) war.
What led to the war was their desire for (that) war.
@Cervantes: True, if a little pedantic.
I thought about that, and while it’s true, a big part of Cheney’s desire for the war was neo-con theory, which is that the US is the only important actor and interest. If we just beat the shit out of enough brown people they will realize our greatness and we will be worshiped and the world will do everything we want willingly.
No problem. I’ll worry about true. You worry about “pedantic.” All’s well that ends well!
As stated, we disagree. I see no reason to believe that Cheney and his ilk act in good faith on the basis of that “theory” you outline; and I see reasons to believe otherwise: the “theory” is in large part concocted to justify (and inspire) desired action.
Syria, just like Iraq has always been a country ready to be riven by sectarian (and ethnic!) rivalries.
But early on, the security vacuum was not so dire,
The Syrian army was still in good shape.
the chaos and destruction not so severe, and the world might have removed Assad without toppling Syria into an unsalvageable chaos.
Like Libya? For some reason you guys (‘hawkish liberals’ & neo-cons) keep operating on the assumption that a government can be overthrown without massive chaos. If you were willing to target Assad in 2011 (and I was game, that year), you had to be accepting the absolute certainty of massive chaos, with a high probability of everything going down the drain.
If you roll the dice in that situation you are accepting some significant number of casualties in exchange for a (low) chance of success over the long-term. In the Libyan situation the probability of serious casualties was already 100% due to the in-progress collapse of the Libyan government and the general bloodthirstiness of that government’s attempt to remain in control. In that case, gambling on tossing Qaddhafi Duck stood a chance of improving the chances of less awful outcomes if it were done quickly.
Theoretically the same situation applies in Syria, but the current evidence of intent on the part of the Turks (and their support for ISIS & friends) and the Saudis suggests the scenario was never ever as good (near-zero actually) as the chances of success in Libya. That the Russians were willing to give up Qaddhafi but intent on keeping Assad decided the issue quite early on. Unfortunately, the intervention of foreign governments during an overthrow of a government is almost always a recipe for disaster.
(Historically this generally the case across all time periods. In most eras, the despots almost always win. In the modern era this has not been nearly so much the case, but extremely bloody revolutions, counter-revolutions and civil war are the norm when an old-school tyrant falls. Eastern Europe and Western Russia have had a multiplicity of these in the last century, for example.)
Apparently this guy is of the mind that invading Iraq was both obvious and likely to succeed (rainbows and ponies and rivers of chocolate, oh my!), in which case, Jesus Christ.
[‘Well, Vox has consistently been awful on foreign policy, and I expect he’s the reason why.’]
@Cervantes: No, sorry. An argument that six debates is enough is not an argument that there shouldn’t be “more discussions, debates, town-hall meetings, press conferences, and the like.” It is simply an argument that the debate portion of your list is adequate at six. More debates leave less time for the other items on your list.
The idea that the “opposition” was largely secular and non violent at the start is s claim only an idiot or aLikudnik can make wroth a straight face. The Saudi Qatari UAE And Turkey were arming and funding the moderstes in al Qaeda from day one. Chemical wrappings were used by the jihadis, despite the needy misinformation money could buy trying to lay it at the feet of the Assad regime. This had been GCC orchestrated east right from the start. Want to end this war tomorrow? Slap economic sanctions on all GCC countries and watch the war go away in a month.
“Syria was never ours to “lose” in the first place.”
Yes, but it *could* have been ours to lose, which makes Fisher’s “one of the worst imaginable” a pile of crap.
It could have been at least as bad as it is currently, but with a large US force in the middle of it, executing Powell’s Pottery Barn Doctrine as side four (at least) in a multi-party civil war.
Maybe Jeb! can fix it. That analysis is horseshit, particularly the “Obama screwed up because maybe something better could have been done, but I’m not even sure that would be better.” It’s also flawed because its premise is that we have to fix everything. Obama intervened in Syria and Libya to avert imminent civilian massacres because we were uniquely positioned to do so with minimal cost, not to take on the entire problem. Will these guys ever realize we can’t fix these crappy places, just contain some of the fallout and reduce the likelihood of some massacres? Obama has been trying to contain ISIL without getting too deep in another war. I’m not overjoyed about it, but those special ops guys were probably already there and that’s what they do. They sign up for that gig, kind of like CIA agents. Syria is a problem that can’t be ignored, and the problem is mostly attributable to the incompetence of the Bush administration and meddling by their friends in the Gulf.
Jesus Christ. This is the center of his argument.:
It is practically a parody of how to write the vaguest possible sentence in the English language. It could literally apply to any situation, any period, any conflict since 1783. A high school freshman would cringe at writing that sentence.
@Cervantes: Got a link to or quick summary of the evidence that leads you to believe Cheney, et al, disbelieved the neocon version of the domino theory? I’ve long been convinced they are cynical, lying crap-weasels who made up all kinds of post-hoc justifications for attacking Iraq, but I’ve also thought they sincerely believed their strategy would usher in a New American Century.
So … to stick to the point … you do agree that, in order to address the kinds of detailed questions identified by Betty Cracker above, the Democratic candidates should have more “discussions, debates, town-hall meetings, press conferences, and the like”?
If so, we are in agreement.
Whereas if it’s important to tease out the differences between calling for more debates vs. calling for more debate vs. calling for more discussion generally, that’s fine, too. I’m not sure that all the people arguing for more “debates” were insisting on a particular format, but perhaps they were (and if they were, I might disagree with that).
@Cervantes: All I can say is that, as currently constituted, the debates have limited value. A few of them are enough. That was all I was ever arguing. I am in favor of letting the candidates get their messages out and letting the voters get to know them and their positions.
Well, like Obama’s regime, this guy keeps talking about Assad as the problem.
Wasn’t he supposed to be on his last leg 4 years ago?
Seems like Bush’s realism still runs our FP elite.
@Cervantes: Regarding your first question, I think more emphasis on how they would deal with Syria going forward is of greater value than questions regarding what they would have done in Obama’s shoes in 2012 or so.
Obama is definitely not above criticism for our actions in Syria, but I think anyone who argues we should have been more hawkish and gone in with military force should be checked for brain injuries.
By that point, though, there was already a civil war in progress, which is pretty much the definition of massive chaos. At that point, you have three choices:
1) Don’t get directly involved, but possibly offer to mediate the dispute and/or offer humanitarian assistance to the civilian victims. Result: continued chaos, but we have clean hands.
2) Intervene on the behalf of the government. Result: hopefully quick end to the civil war, but at the cost of propping up the government whose repression triggered the war in the first place.
3) Intervene on the behalf of the rebels. Result: likely prolonging the chaos, but hopefully with the chance of a better final outcome because we like the rebels better and hope to influence them to behave the way we like.
There’s a lot of wishful thinking in 2 and 3. There was never a serious chance that we’d go for 2, since we hated Assad, so it was pretty much a question of 1 or 3. The usual suspects wanted to go all-in with 3, while Obama vacillated between the two.
Point of order: the argument in the previous post was that the Democrats should match the Republicans debate-for-debate and rush to schedule more debates in order to catch up.
You are now proposing something totally different than what mistermix proposed. So do you agree that the Democrats need to match the number of Republican debates just to say we had the same number of debates, or do you think that townhalls, discussions, etc will serve the same purpose?
From what I saw in that thread, OO was on the side that said that rushing to do more debates for the sake of keeping up with the Republicans was a dumb reason to do it and that adding townhalls or discussions was a better idea. Agree or disagree?
Currently the US is working with a number of other nations to defeat ISIS; the US is also engaged in talks with a number of other nations to find a political solution in Syria. I’m afraid I don’t understand why this is such a terrible outcome. Syria’s problems go far beyond Assad, and the idea that simply removing him would turn Syria into Vermont is delusional. Our biggest failure there has been to aggressively support rebels who turned out not to be exactly the “moderates” we claimed they were.
Well, I imagine pretty much everyone here would agree that the “debates, as currently constituted” are not ideal. Therefore, I wouldn’t assume that someone calling for more “debates” necessarily wants them exactly “as currently constituted.”
Other than that it was always obvious (to me) that you and I would agree on this matter.
I see value in having both kinds of questions; not because second-guessing is all-important but because thoughts about future policy should be grounded in (without being crudely limited by) the reality of past and present.
Given our “elite media,” one can’t expect sensible questions from them on any topic, but I’d be in favor of more candidate interactions where audience members (randomly selected, if we are brave) are allowed to put questions the way they want to.
There were numerous arguments in the thread. Where someone suggested “1:1” in the original post, you’ll see that I responded first with “I don’t know from ratios.”
And for all I know, that “1:1” may not have been meant literally. I have no idea, nor do I much care.
Comparing Libya and Syria, intervention would very likely have helped. The problem is it wasn’t an option. Arming the rebels is NOT primarily how we intervened in Libya, would NOT have overthrown Assad, and indeed caused many of the later problems (like spillover to Mali). It was direct military intervention in Libya that helped, and that was never an option in Syria, because Russia would never have allowed it.
The ONLY way to solve the Syrian crisis would have been to go back in time, telepathically control the minds of Sykes and Picot, and get them to draw different borders in the Middle East. And maybe not even that.
I think Ozark Hillbilly may be on to something. Nuke em all and start over from zero. It’s the only way to be sure.
@Roger Moore: Even 1) doesn’t work too well. Providing humanitarian support to non-combatants in the war zone means shipping in food, clothing, shelter, vehicles, fuel, medical supplies etc. and the men with guns come and take it. All you are doing is providing them with a free logistics tail making it easier for them to continue fighting.
So you send in troops to protect the civilians and the supply chain… you can write the end-game here yourself.
What can work is to allow anyone who wants out of the war to get out and find a safe haven elsewhere and deprive the fighters of a source of recruits, finance, food and all the other good things in life. This causes a refugee problem in those neighbouring nations willing to accept the refugees and host them, possibly for decades but it’s probably cheaper in the long run.
If we should “nuke” anyone, it might be Sykes and Picot — except they’re already dead — and then everyone who directed them, and then everyone over the decades who gained the most out of what was done.
Not sure you’d like that last bit very much!
Add Yemen to that sorry list.
Oh, what could be more clear than that? If things were different, they wouldn’t be the same.
I knew it sounded familiar:
But it is clear that, at the very least, there was a period of time when the US had a range of options that could have led to a range of outcomes.
Guildenstern: There must have been a moment at the beginning, where we could have said no. Somehow we missed it. Well, we’ll know better next time.
Max Fisher’s argument seems to be had Obama tried a Libya type intervention in 2012 , we may have ended up with Libya 2-not a success but a lesser catastrophe. That’s not really the stuff of a glorious legacy and even he admits that such a result would not be viewed as a success.
My take? Maybe there’s some things that can’t be fixed. The parties want to fight it out, no holds barred, and with foreign help, they are doing so, and apparently will do so until they run out of bombs, bullets, knives, sticks, and stones.After it ends, the US can help with negotiating the truce, the reconciliation process, and refugee relocation. When will that happen? Well, the Lebanese civil war took 15 years-and then ended with a military intervention by Assad’s father, at a time when everyone wanted someone, ANYONE, to just intervene and stop the war, no questions asked. The Syrian civil war might last at least as long.
As to what things will look like when it ends? Best case scenario:partition.
Alawistan-a coastal enclave
Sunnistan-most of rest of Syria
Kurdistan-Iraqi Kurdistan absorbs northeast Syria.
Worst case: Alawi genocide and flight from Syria. Syria and western Iraq becomes a Sunni theocracy, hostile to the West and all of its neighbors. Note that there is no happy ending.
Sorry, Obama, who was leading the West, and the UN and anyone else fvcked up. This conclusion cannot be avoided.
I was just reading a New York review of Books piece on Syria this morning. “Is There an Answer for Syria?” Good background, absolutely stupid recommendation on what to do.
Fallacy one is that Assad could easily be toppled without a mess, and yet this has been the Obama Administrations primary demand, regime change with Assad gone. Fallacy two is that some collection of regional governors would be more stable than a single ruler, that there would be no in-fighting, no devolution into violence. Imagine if someone said that US government gridlock could be remedied by having Obama and Biden step down, allowing the states to govern independently, guided by the Speaker of the House.
The recent death of Ahmed Chalabi provides an ironic underscore to the messiness of the current situation. Bush fvcked up all over the place, and in addition to the basic stupidity and immorality and lies underlying the Iraq misadventure was the hard plain fact that there was no stable ruler or government that could replace Saddam. The same is true in Syria. The US and others have been searching in vain for any reliable and stable group that could replace Assad. And this is not the same thing as backing “moderates,” which is another problem altogether.
The insistence that Assad had to go is exactly as unrealistic as the Bush Administration insistence that Saddam had to go, because it entirely lacked any rational plan for a successor government. Add to this the threat of ISIS and you have an incoherent foreign policy.
Things have even got worse as the Russians and the Iranians assert their own interests with more vigor.
@Brachiator: What he said.
Also … now that we’re putting boots on the ground … those poor SOBs have a massive bullseye painted on them, since ISIS will want nothing more than to grab one or two and subject them to a painful and videotaped death.
They WANT US troops on the ground … just like they are claiming responsibility for the crash of the Russian jet because they want Russia to come in with ground troops as well. It behooves us to question whether we’re that much smarter than them …
Why shouldn’t John Kerry send the leaders of both of those nations a nice fruit basket and a “Have a Nice Hegemony” card and walk away? (Well, still pursue diplomatic avenues and provide refugee assistance, but stop yapping about military options and regime change, I mean…)
@balconesfault: Exactly right. I’m sure they’d be happy to torture one of our pilots to death as well.
The boots have always been on the ground. It’s a nice feint to talk about 50 or a few more special forces people on the ground. Who’s going to count them? This just opens things up to have their presence acknowledged.
Among other things, they will be used to more reliably target the air power. The US reasonably does not trust locals to point out targets.
These troops have always been vulnerable to ISIS capture. Nothing really has changed here.
@Betty Cracker: RE: Why shouldn’t John Kerry send the leaders of both of those nations a nice fruit basket and a “Have a Nice Hegemony” card and walk away?
We can’t walk away because it is about more than Syria. The Syrians have always been backed by the Russians. Some in the Syrian high military command speak Russian and are married to Russians. The one Obama foreign policy victory was to have the Russians hold back on greater support for Syria. But that’s over now. So you have the US and the Saudis on one side and Russia and Iran on the other.
Walk away and the Saudis, Israel and Jordan, among others are in a weaker position. I guess we could say it’s not our problem, but are you really ready for neo-isolationism?
What refugee assistance? Aside from maybe throwing a few dollars at the problem, the massive refugee problem is a huge challenge for other Middle Eastern countries and Europe. The US is just looking on, and largely doing nothing.
And again, from the NYR essay, from 2014, consider the scale of the tragedy, (and how much it has escalated in 2015).
There are no easy answers here, and there may not be much that the US can do. But in our real world, winter is coming, and there are already reports of children freezing. Death is coming, and the sad, hard fact is that we in America are largely fat, lazy and comfortable, and just don’t want to be inconvenienced by having to watch or even know about the suffering of others, and it is easy to talk about “yapping about military action and regime change.”
You can tell how pissed off Zandar is because he knows that Fisher is correct. We had the chance to take Russia’s offer for Assad to leave in 2012 and Obama refused.
Obama is at fault. But a childish, abusive fuckstain like yourself will never admit when he’s wrong, will you?
@Brachiator: I say fuck “allies” like the Saudis, Israelis and Jordanians, but I don’t think that makes me a neo-isolationist. I’d rather convert every penny we’re currently spending in the Middle East on armaments and support for no-good, racist, bigoted fuckturd regimes into humanitarian aid and then double that AND double the size of the diplomatic corps. It’s true there are no good options, but the no-goodest is making things worse.
This “there was a window to create a Syrian utopia where unicorns fart money and Sunnis and Shiites join hands and sing “We Are the World” thing seems to have become “Very Serious” conventional wisdom. How absurd. This “moderate, US friendly rebel force” is a convenient fairy tale the neocons tell themselves to feel comfortable in their certainty that the US could have “won” if it had just DONE SOMETHING sooner. If such a group ever existed, even if they’ve been degraded in the time since you’d think we could round up more than a dozen of them to train them now. But we can’t, probably because their strength and unity was always overstated by the warmongers.
Obama’s Syria policy has been a mess, but not because he didn’t go in guns blazing at the first opportunity. My main beef was the demand that Assad has to go as part of any resolution. Why make that demand when we have no credible way to enforce it beyond Iraq Part 2: Electric Boogaloo? The chemical weapons “red line” remark was unfortunate too, but I give Obama credit for the way he got Congress to look like jackasses and working with the Russians to get most of the weapons shipped out and destroyed without having to go through with the useless “just because” cruise missile attack we had teed up.
Obama’s instincts to stay the fuck out were right. And he has probably done a better job keeping us out than any other president we realistically might have had would have (President McCain, if he’d survived the stress of the job to this point, would have 50k troops in Syria firing in all directions by now, and Syria would probably be a failed state that makes Libya and Iraq look like models of stability. Romney too, probably. Hillary adheres to the “missed window” theory and is on record saying she would have done something on a larger scale than Obama). I think ISIS’s rise and Pentagon pressure to do something with all their fancy toys have pushed Obama into this drip-drip-drip of gradual escalation, and at this point he’s trying to nudge the situation towards least-bad outcomes while keeping US entanglement on the ground minimized. I don’t envy the spot he’s in, but he’s not doing the greatest job on the entanglement front. And I trace most of it back to the “Assad must go” demand, which seems to have prevented the US for a long time from engaging the interested parties in peace or cease fire talks that had a chance of working.
What does this mean in the real world? Arms pour into the area without regard to what we do. From the 2014 essay:
Russia is asserting its will in the area. Where is our doubled humanitarian aid going to go if the West (not just the US) is blocked from “interfering” in the region? Or if Assad creates millions more refugees if given free rein to suppress opposition forces?
Refugee camps are really miserable stopgaps, and violence often continues in the camps. Meanwhile NGOS suck up money and inhibit the normal development of cities and communities.
What would a doubled diplomatic corp do, apart from having more people twiddle their thumbs? What foreign policy would they be executing?
Also, 1 in 13 people in Jordan is a Syrian refugee, for a total of about 630,000. Do you really want to say “fvck the Jordanians?” How many Syrian refugees has the US brought in? And it’s a good thing that the world does not need Saudi oil. And it’s a good thing that Netanyahu is so reasonable and stable. We don’t have to worry about him doing something stupid if the Middle East otherwise explodes.
Or should we worry?
BTW, I don’t have an easy answer for this, but I would like to see questions about these issues put to the presidential candidates. I would be far more interested in their answers than in asking them what they thought about past mistakes or their past votes on Iraq, which seems to consume the interest of many in the media and the public.
@Brachiator: Every single question you raise while pushing back against a diplomacy and refugee assistance-only proposal was employed by the neocon wankers who bamboozled this country into a pointless, bloody war in Iraq that made everything worse. I know that’s not your intent, but pointing out obvious, horrible problems in the region and reviewing the limitations of non-military responses isn’t a good argument for military involvement, which you seem to be arguing in favor of…kinda. Maybe you’re just throwing rocks from the sideline. It’s unclear to me.
Hell, the Saudis have us running supplies for their crapfest in Yemen, and my sympathy with Israel is commensurate with their willingness to stop illegal settlements in the occupied territories. I’m more sympathetic to Jordan, but I really don’t get the “weaker position” that they’re in if Assad remains in power with Russia expanding their influence.
In general, I view the Middle East as a nasty sinkhole filled with hornets nests. Most of what we do seems to end up producing results tangential to when not directly opposite to what we set out to accomplish, and we end up wasting money, soldiers lives … and perhaps most importantly directly killing innocents on the ground through some of our actions.
Why should we even care? I don’t understand why “do something” is the default. It makes no sense. No Americans dying. No American economic interests at stake. Why would we think we could help people with our guns and bombs? On balance, have our guns and bombs ever helped anybody it the last 60 years? Maybe Kosovo? That’s a lot of bombs and guns for one success story.
No. This is totally untrue.
For example, I have never read a neo-con who ever gave a crap about refugees, or seriously considered refugee-only assistance. Neo-cons have a fetish for the authoritarian status quo and for direct military intervention. And neo-cons would happily sacrifice the lives of innocents in exchange for order and “stability.” See, for example, the execrable “Democracy Kills,” by journalist Humphrey Hawksley.
Your own assertion about refugee assistance-only is very problematic and simply ignores what might occur in the region, if for example, Russia becomes a major power in the region. They could simply block refugee assistance. Your earlier dismissal of Jordan, which hosts a large number of refugees, contradicts your supposed advocacy of diplomacy and assistance. And the cold hard fact is that current US efforts are pitiful compared to what European and Middle Eastern nations are doing.
There is nothing that I have written here or before that is dismissive of diplomacy. Hell, I even know and admire a few US ambassadors and other foreign service officers (and people who survived and despise Republican administrations). But your “doubling diplomacy” remark is pulling a rabbit out of a hat, and is disconnected from any real discussion of foreign policy.
I am not entirely arguing for military involvement. I admire Obama’s attempts to encourage the Arab Spring. But I am saying, plainly, that your vision for diplomacy and assistance amounts to little more than waiting to see who survives the massacre and maybe, hoping that you may be able to toss a bone at any remnants that despots fail to kill.
But no, I am not just throwing rocks. I have visited refugee camps. I have friends who have worked for programs similar to Doctors Without Borders. But I don’t have a hard opinion of what would be the best foreign policy direction for the US, and also have a strong distaste for many foreign policy experts who can’t see what is right in front of them, but yet are certain they know how nations should deal with one another. However, I think that what you advocate, on its own, doesn’t reduce death and misery, but instead magnifies it.