Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Futility of Intervention in Iraq and Syria

Contrary to GOP attacks on Obama for allowing the re-emergence of a Sunni insurgency in Iraq in hindsight for not having kept US troops there, Obama had NO leverage to persuade the Iraqis to keep troops in Iraq.  Iran and the Shi'a militias wanted us out, and the Sadrists threatened to renew insurgent attacks if we didn't leave.  And the fundamental problem of those who claim Obama lost Iraq (like Truman lost China, etc.) is the mistaken belief that we can use American military power to force people to behave like us, which was the NeoCon fantasy to transform the Middle East by unleashing what they believed would be democratic forces.  The bitter irony is because we pushed a democratic system on Iraq, we screwed ourselves - had we put in a nice dictatorship, sure we could have gotten ourselves a SOFA to keep troops behind.  So don't blame Obama for this mess, he bares only a smart part of it, Bush and other factors are much more to blame.  These key reasons come to mind:

1.  UK and France for drawing the modern artificial borders in the wake of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, that could only be maintained by brutal authoritarian regimes.  They are being redrawn now in blood.

2.  George Dubya Bush and Dick Cheney pursuing the NeoCon dream to transform the Muslim world for invading Iraq to remove the one man who kept a lid on the sectarianism.  True, he was a butcher that slaughtered the Shi'a and the Kurds and threatened the world's economy in 1990, but the US had been protecting the latter to some extent since George HR Bush (a wise Realist in comparison) and Slick Willie.  Would civil war have occurred had Bush not removed Saddam Hussein?  Probably.  Eventually Saddam's regime would have fallen and civil war would have erupted, but that might have been decades from now.  Bush's invasion unleashed sectarian forces and we are now reaping what we sowed.  I mean, what was he thinking by removing Saddam Hussein - what would the Iraqi people replace his regime with?  He still is a fool.

3.  George Dubya Bush and Dick Cheney dismantling the Iraqi Army and Baath Party.  NeoCons caused this and compared to de-Nazification, but he destroyed the institutions and unleashed the Sunni insurgency.  If he were smart, he would have kept the Baathists and generals in power, simply eliminated Saddam's Tikrit gang and put another Sunni in charge.  The Sunnis could have negotiated power-sharing with the Kurds and Shi'a, which if Iran played ball might have saved Iraq.  Probably not though, my money is the Shi'a and Iran wanted control so you would have had sectarian strife anyway.  My point is it wouldn't have been a Sunni insurgency, but a Shi'a one, and the US could have left and let them kill each other, as we are doing now.  Only the Surge in 2007-2008 helped stabilize things after Dubya stopped listening to Cheney and the NeoCons and listened to the Realists crowd (mainly Bob Gates and his father) - but as I argued then, it was a holding pattern doomed to fail after we left - because that would require real power-sharing, and the Shi'a and their Iranian backers are not interested.  Just watch what happens now - the Shi'a militias will start slaughtered thousands of Sunnis for revenge against what ISIS has done against Shi'a, it will be a real nasty bloodbath.  The reality is - that was probably inevitable regardless of what we do.  We can't force them to behave!

4.  Obama's withdrawal and Syria's civil war.  Obama does deserve blame for failing to influence Maliki, but contrary to your argument, the US influence is waning (it is't liberal retreat - it is reality, we are broke and they despise us - Iran is the real hegemon and the winner of the Iraq War).  Once the US left completely in December 2011, all the restraints we had on Maliki were gone and he has essentially pissed off the Sunnis and Kurds - and this allowed jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham to re-emerge.  Meanwhile, Syria is collapsing into a partitioned state as well, with Assad's Baathists allowing ISIS to dominate in the east as he destroys the more mainstream Sunni Islamists in the West and center.  Is Obama partly responsible for this - yes, because of his foolish redlines on Syrian chemical weapons.  He made a strategic miscalculation in an election campaign against Romney and failed to carry through on it.  But what if Obama had bombed Assad?  He would have weakened the regime, and Sunni Islamists would have captured more territory and massacred non-Sunni minorities as infidels - not simply Shi'a and Alawites, but Christians and Druze.  The irony is that these minorities (including Christians) embrace Assad as much as famine-stricken Ukrainians embraced Stalin after Hitler began slaughtering them - he is the lesser of two evils.

So my feelings are, let them kill each other so we can focus on real geo-strategic threats that matter (i.e., Chinese hegemony).  What should have occurred after WWI is now occurring.  So we need to stay out as much as we can and only play the Machiavellian balance game and only intervene directly when our direct interests are threatened (call in a drone strike or a SOF raid).  As long as Hezbollah and jihadists are spending more time killing each other than striking the West, the better.  And this isn't coming from leftist perspectives, it is most articulated from conservative realists (as opposed to NeoConservative idealists).  The only reason we were attacked and continue to be hated anyway is for our interference in that part of the world - supporting the House of Saud and Arab regimes and backing Israel (the latter of which shares the bulk of the blame for the 9-11 attacks going all the way back to partition in 1948).  Of course, we will always back Israel (and their religious fanatic settler colonists) so we will always be a target of Muslim rage (but if we can channel that rage against themselves, the better).

Islam’s Civil War
Posted By William S. Lind On September 24, 2013 @ 12:01 am In | 
One of the disappointments of the young 21st century is that H.L. Mencken was not around during the presidency of George W. Bush. He would have had what soldiers call a “target-rich environment.” Mencken would have understood Bush’s invasion of Iraq as a world-class blunder, one so dumb only a boob from the deepest, darkest Bible Belt could have made it.
One can imagine what Mencken might have written of Bush’s neocon advisors: perhaps something on the lines of “A cracker barrel of backwoods Arkansas faith healers, card sharps, and carnival side-show barkers, galvanized with the sheen of the garment district, clustered about the head of their moon calf…”
In Heaven, which may bear a resemblance to Mencken’s Baltimore, we shall know.
It is therefore ironic that Bush’s Iraq debacle may have opened the door to the possibility of American victory in the Middle East. How has this miracle come about?
One of the unanticipated and unintended results of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was to reignite the latent Sunni-Shiite civil war within Islam. As David Gardner wrote in the June 15 Financial Times, the invasion “catapulted the Shia majority within Islam”—a majority in Iraq—“to power in an Arab heartland country for the first time since the fall of the heterodox Shia Fatamid dynasty in 1171. It thereby …fanned the embers of the Sunni-Shia standoff into millenarian flame.”
Fighting for a sect or a religion is one of the most powerful contributors to Fourth Generation war, war waged by entities other than states. So powerful is religious war that it can sweep states away altogether, as has happened in Syria. Gardner writes, “The sectarian viciousness of the current Sunni-Shia battle knows no boundaries. It is bursting through the arbitrary borders drawn by the British and French a century ago.”
The harsh fact is that extensive Fourth Generation war in the Islamic world is inevitable. As descendants of Western colonies, most Islamic states are weak. Their legitimacy was open to question from their founding, in part because their boundaries seldom lie along natural divisions in the cultural geography. Sects, tribes, and ethnic groups overlap. Frequently, representatives of one tribe or sect—often a minority—form the political elite. They treat the state as a private hunting preserve, stealing such wealth as it has while supplying government as incompetent as it is corrupt.
On top of weak states has been laid a demographic bomb, in the form of vast populations of young men with nothing to do and no prospects. So what will they do? Fight.
They will fight us, they will fight their neighbors, they will fight each other in supply-side war, war occurring not as Clausewitz’s politics carried on by other means but war driven simply by an over-supply of warriors. If this sounds strange to moderns, it would have been familiar to our tribal ancestors.
Finally, we think of jihad as something waged by Islam against non-Muslims, but quite often it has been between one Islamic sect and another. Now Islamists are once again declaring jihad on each other. In June the New York Times reported on an influential Sunni cleric who “has issued a fatwa, or religious decree, calling on Muslims around the world to help Syrian rebels… and labeling Hezbollah and Iran”—both Shi’ite—“enemies of Islam ‘more infidel than Jews and Christians.’” David Gardner’s Financial Times piece tells of a “conclave of Sunni clerics meeting in Cairo [that] declared a jihad against what it called a ‘declaration of war on Islam’ by the ‘Iranian regime, Hezbollah and its sectarian allies’.” [1]
How should the West react to all this? With quiet rejoicing. Our strategic objective should be to get Islamists to expend their energies on each other rather than on us. An old aphorism says the problem with Balkans is that they produce more history than they can consume locally. Our goal should be to encourage the Muslim world to consume all its history—of which it will be producing a good deal—as locally as possible. Think of it as “farm to table” war.
All we should do, or can do, to obtain this objective is to stay out. We ought not meddle, no matter how subtly; if we do, inevitably, it will blow up in our faces. Just go home, stay home, bolt the doors (especially to refugees who will act out their jihads here), close the windows, and find a good opera on television—perhaps “The Abduction From the Seraglio.”

William S. Lind is author of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook and director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation

How to cope with suffering? Ethical Realism

Not to sound all negative and nihilistic, accepting the reality that there is no hope or salvation, only suffering does not mean we should live as primitive animals. Instead, we should attempt to live happy lives within the context of our limited existence. This means we both accept that suffering is inevitable, but at the same time, when it is realistically possible, strive to show compassion to alleviate that suffering whenever possible. I recommend that one try to live by the words of Reinhold Niebuhr and his philosophy of Ethical Realism, which many of you know as the Serenity Prayer."[God] Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference."BTW - I have placed the word God in brackets for those of you who embrace a spiritual existence and believe in a higher power. But this concept of ethical realism is universally applicable, so even atheists, agnostics, deists (those who believe in a higher power that created the universe but reject divine intervention), etc., can embrace it.