Friday, June 07, 2013

Syria and liberal hawk temptations

Conservatives have kind of ruined the concept of "unintended consequences." They use to claim that any program designed to help poor or working people or to restrain corporate misconduct will have the opposite effect.

But in war, there are lots of predictable consequence that, intended or not, can create serious problems. Our war fans just prefer to pretend those aren't there.

The pseudo-scandal the Republicans have tried to whip up over the Benghazi attack is just that, a pseudo-scandal. But I do think that longtime Obama critic David Bromwich makes a valid point in Stay Out of Syria! New York Review of Books 05/23/2013:

The Benghazi killings were an indirect but predictable consequence of the NATO intervention that overthrew Muammar Qaddafi. Disorder was a necessary condition of the attack. The "light footprint" of NATO was never going to be sufficient to contain the forces the war released. With the death of Qaddafi and the instability of NATO’s interim arrangements, his troops and weapons moved southward in Africa; and the evacuation of US State Department workers in Mali in January and the attack on international workers in Algeria are now widely understood to have been another fruit of the NATO action in Libya. For Americans, of course, Libya is almost forgotten, but for North Africa and the watching Arab world, it remains a vivid and disturbing memory: seven months of air attacks, with thousands of sorties, 7,700 bombs dropped or missiles launched, and uncounted civilian casualties.
I wish our Presidential Administration, the press, the Congress, the courts, the Pentagon would all take military intervention and carefully than they do.

What Andrew Bacevich calls the "War for the Greater Middle East" (Naming the Nameless War 05/28/2013) is a continuing process. And decisions to intervene in one country affects events and policy options in another. One effect of the French-British-US military intervention in Libya, for instance, was to push Russia and China to oppose UN Security Council authorizations for exercising the "obligation to protect" (a relatively new but now-established international law concept) in Syria out of concern that NATO powers would use it as an excuse to militarily intervene on behalf of Syrian rebels.

Bromwich notes that many of the same old war gang who pushed for the disastrous war in Iraq are now pushing for a new one in Syria ( bracketed italics from Bromwich):

Meanwhile, within Congress, the voices that led the march to war in 2003 have been clamoring against any hesitation by Obama to take military action. About John McCain, it is no satire but simple truth to say that he cannot have enough wars. On May 8, McCain published in Time a characteristic editorial, "Syria: Intervention Is in Our Interest," which contained a list of practical suggestions. Since the column supplies answers without having asked questions, it may serve economy to list in brackets the questions that naturally occur to a mind less confident and rash:
We could train and arm well-vetted Syrian opposition forces, as recommended last year by President Obama’s national-security team. ["Vetted" by whom and with what expertise?] We could strike Assad's aircraft and Scud-missile launchers. [Inside Russian-built air defenses stronger than those in Libya?] We could destroy artillery and drive Assad’s forces from their posts. [All without ground forces?]
Yet much of the recent pressure for another American intervention is coming from liberals. Senator Carl Levin, for one, cosigned with McCain a letter to the president on March 21 which urged—among other "limited military options" — the launching of "precision airstrikes" against the Syrian air force, as well as "more robust assistance" to opposition fighters believed to be unconnected with al-Qaeda. One of the tricks of persuasion of the liberal section of the war party, from Iraq through Libya to Syria, has been to aestheticize war.
Stephen Walt offers what he carefully notes is a mostly "mostly speculative" observation in What is the U.S. REALLY doing in Syria? Foreign Policy 05/22/2013: "the Obama administration may secretly welcome the repeated demands for direct U.S. involvement made by war hawks like Sen. John McCain. Rejecting the hawks' demands for airstrikes, 'no-fly zones,' or overt military aid makes it look like U.S. involvement is actually much smaller than it really is." He also offers a helpful checklist on Top 10 warning signs of 'liberal imperialism' 05/20/2013.

Bacevich summarizs the last few decades of US policy in the Middle East this way:

Only after 1980 did things get really interesting, however. The Carter Doctrine promulgated that year designated the Persian Gulf a vital national security interest and opened the door to greatly increased U.S. military activity not just in the Gulf, but also throughout the Greater Middle East (GME). Between 1945 and 1980, considerable numbers of American soldiers lost their lives fighting in Asia and elsewhere. During that period, virtually none were killed fighting in the GME. Since 1990, in contrast, virtually none have been killed fighting anywhere except in the GME.

What does the United States hope to achieve in its inherited and unending War for the Greater Middle East? To pacify the region? To remake it in our image? To drain its stocks of petroleum? Or just keeping the lid on? However you define the war’s aims, things have not gone well, which once again suggests that, in some form, it will continue for some time to come.
David Bromwich cites this article from McClatchy's Nancy Youssef, Middle East in Turmoil 10 Years After Iraq Invasion 03/14/2013. She explains that the Syrian opposition groups that the US and the EU are supporting to some degree aren't exactly model Jeffersonain democrats:

No one knows how long the conflict in Syria will go on. President Barack Obama first called for Assad to step down 19 months ago. U.S. officials no longer say Assad’s days are numbered, and the United Nations published a report this past week that says neither side may claim the military upper hand, though rebel advances seem to outnumber those of the Syrian military.

The United States agreed earlier this month to provide the anti-Assad opposition coalition with $60 million to help it get organized, and the European Union agreed to ease its arms embargo to allow some direct aid to the rebels, including armored personnel carriers.

But with Russia and China firmly on Assad’s side and blocking a series of anti-Assad U.N. resolutions, there’s no legal basis for broader international intervention – and no consensus that such intervention would end the bloodshed.

Perhaps most surprising is how much the tone of the effort in Syria has changed. Though it once was presented as an attempt to bring democracy to the country, the Islamist militant groups that dominate the rebel fighting oppose the very idea. Unable to win on their own, democracy proponents have aligned with those groups, with the head of the U.S.-supported Syrian Opposition Coalition, Mouaz al Khatib, openly denouncing the State Department’s designation of the Nusra Front as an al Qaida-linked terrorist group.

Earlier this month, as anti-Assad fighters moved through Raqqa province – first capturing a strategic dam, then the provincial capital and then the government building itself – they distributed fliers calling democracy un-Islamic.

"Beware of democracy," they read.
In May, the EU foreign ministers failed to agree on a renewal of their embargo on arms sales to Syrian rebels, allowing it to expire. Britain was hardnosed in pushing for an end to the arms embargo, making it clear that a common EU policy on the issues was not a priority for them. Britain typically follows US direction on these things, although I haven't seen reports of what the US role in this particular decision may be. France supported Britain on the issue, though less overtly obnoxiously. It's noteworthy that both Britain and France have signed on to one of the favorite prowar slogans of the moment, a new "weapons of mass destruction" argument: Arthur Bright, Britain joins France in saying nerve gas used in Syria Christian Science Monitor 06/05/2013. It's worth remembering how reliable Britain's warnings about WMDs were in Iraq, i.e., completely worthless.

One consequence of the ending of the EU arms embargo is that Austria has decided to draw its UN peacekeeping troops from the Golan Heights, judging that the effect of more weapons flooding into the area heightens the danger beyond the level of which the peacekeeping troops are prepared to handle. (Österreich zieht Blauhelme so rasch wie möglich vom Golan ab Der Standard 07.06.2013) Russia's Vladimir Putin has offered to replace them with Russian soldiers. (Russland will Österreichs UN-Soldaten am Golan ersetzen Der Standard 07.06.2013) Phoebe Greenwood and Martin Chulov report in Israel reacts angrily to Austria's withdrawal from Golan Heights Guardian 06/06/2013:

Israeli officials say the withdrawal of Austrian troops from the peacekeeping force monitoring the demilitarised border area following the injury of a Filipino soldier during clashes on Thursday threatened the role of the UN Security Council in any future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

In a statement issued late on Thursday afternoon, Austria announced its decision to remove all 380 of its troops from the 1,000-strong force on the Israel-Syrian border due to the "continuing deterioration of the situation in the area".

"Austrian soldiers face an uncontrollable and direct threat, which has increased to an unacceptable level. The development in the early morning hours of today has shown that it is no longer justifiable to watch and wait," said the statement issued by Werner Faymann, Austria's federal chancellor, and Michael Spindelegger, vice-chancellor, of its mission in the Golan.

Syrian rebels groups briefly seized control of the Quneitra border crossing after hours of sustained and intense fighting with tanks and artillery, during which several shells exploded inside Camp Ziouni, a UN compound inside the demilitarised zone, and three mortars reportedly exploded inside Israeli-occupied territory.
Aljazeera English reports, Syrian forces regain main Golan Heights crossing 06/06/2013:

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