Saturday, April 15, 2017

Syria, endless war and corporate media cheerleaders

Paul Pillar, among other experienced analysts, is wondering what if any strategic goals may have been behind Trump's apparently impulsive missile strike on Syria last week (Syria and the Call of the Quagmire The National Interest 04/06/2017):

... there has been a surge of cries to “do something” in response to a reported chemical weapons attack in Syria, which the Trump administration has answered with a cruise missile strike against a Syrian airbase. The secretary of state is talking about regime change in Syria just a week after he had appeared to rule out such change as an objective. We have heard this sort of belligerent uproar after previous battlefield developments in the Syrian war that have elicited outrage. There was an earlier reported use of chemical weapons, and several months ago there was a similar popular reaction to the situation in Aleppo in the final days before the regime recaptured the remainder of that city. These reactions are essentially expressions of mass emotion rather than a reflection of any careful consideration about what actions would or would not be in U.S. interests.
Pillar's commentary is worth reading in full. Especially worth noting is his judgment, "the make-up of whatever regime rules in Damascus is not an important U.S. interest, and certainly not important enough to warrant the costs and risks of immersion in someone else’s civil war." And he reminds us that "direct U.S. military intervention in this war carries a significant risk of escalation into a much wider war, especially when facing the large military requirements of establishing something like the much-talked-about safe zones."

In a segment titled, How will Trump foreign policy evolve after U.S. strike on Syria? 04/07/2017, the PBS Newshour featured historian Andrew Bacevich, former Under Secretary of State Sarah Sewall, and retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, former chief commander in Afghanistan of the joint International Security Assistance Force.

Allen is happy to see the escalation of the US role in Syria. And he repeated some of the worst inclinations of the current militarized policy atmosphere, in which "doing something" is always considered advisable, and "doing something" is assumed to be the use of military force:

What we have got to be very careful about is looking for all the reasons why the United States shouldn’t act. And there are plenty. We have heard them tonight. But, at some point, the United States, I believe, has a moral obligation to act.

And selling short the decision to make this attack, I think, in some respects, doesn’t take into account some very, very serious strategic minds that are at work right now. We have a secretary of defense, we have a chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and we have a national security adviser and a secretary of state who are very serious thinkers and strategic leaders. [my emphasis]
Bacevich points out that problem in Allen's approach:

We have not heard anything that remotely resembles a strategy from this president or from this administration. We now have the president’s response to the first crisis that he has faced. And the response is one to opt for military force, which, of course, has become exceedingly routine in the way we approach the world.

But this conversation, I think, reveals the difficulty. We don’t know what is the context in which this decision was made. And I think we desperately need to hear that context, to hear some vision, to get a sense of strategy.

I’m not particularly encouraged by the fact that three out of the four people that General Allen just ticked off are generals. It strikes me that that is suggestive of a mind-set that is likely to opt for force as the preferred response to almost any situation. [my emphasis]

Andrew Bacevich raised some appropriate questions:

If indeed, as some people suggest, this is a one-off event, then my guess is, a week from now, we won’t even be talking abut it, and it will quickly be forgotten.

If, as some people suggest, this shows a more assertive Trump administration, that somehow we’re going to ratchet up the pressure on the Assad regime, trying to produce regime change, then I would be very much interested in hearing more about how that is going to occur and, beyond that, if and when it occurs, if Assad is forced out, then what?

What do we think the United States will inherit, and what will the United States do with that inheritance? Recalling the situation after regime change in Iraq and Libya, you know, those seem to be the reasonable questions.
And he addresses the dangers of a foreign policy driven by unstable Presidential impulses:

A week ago, the president was largely indifferent to events in Syria. It appears that, when he saw the videotapes of the aftermath of the Syrian chemical weapons attack, he was outraged, and then basically, in about a 48-hour period, he went from being indifferent to deciding we had to attack Syria.

And I have to say that strikes me as not so much a change in policy, but really a change in impulses. We have an impulsive president. We see little in our president that suggests that he acts after serious reflection.

And so, yes, indeed, if somebody like Kim Jong-un in North Korea is reflecting on the implications of the Syrian attack, are the implications one that would cause Kim Jong-un to be more prudent, or does he say, holy cow, holy cow, we got a crazy guy on the other end of this relationship?
Sarah Sewell brings up the thorny question of how to distinguish the types of outrages that will call for which kind of American response:

First of all, if all we’re doing is a red line on chemical weapons, that’s not immaterial, but it’s really not the point. The point is that Assad is a butcher.

And so the question becomes for the civilians, do I care if I’m being gassed or I’m being hit by barrel bombs? The problem is still there.

Second, look at the Russian issue. Now we have got a much more commingled battlefield with higher risk of actual escalation. Do we really want that? Is that a smart move? What happens if something does escalate?

Third, look at the order of battle on the ground. We talk about whether or not you can use force to get a political settlement. Who are the biggest, most powerful actors among the rebels? They’re al-Qaida and ISIS.

So, even if we’re willing to commit to try to use enough force to get a negotiated settlement, we’re actually at risk of strengthening the hand of the rebels that we have nominally vowed to fight in the war on terror. [my emphasis]
That's what makes it so disturbing that the American TV coverage has so heavily focused on the show-business aspects of the "beautiful" air strikes, as Brian Williams infamously described them.

That would be this Brian Williams (Cenk Uygur's Final Judgment: Brian Williams The Young Turks 02/11/2015):

The Young Turks this year addressed Williams' war-porn attitude as well as the continuing warmongering of the mainstreame media in Corporate Media Pounding The War Drums 04/07/2017:

Fred Kaplan reminds us about how misguided the PR rah-rah approach the corporate media takes to war is (The Morning After in Syria Slate 04/07/2017):
At the start of every war that the United States has entered in the last quarter-century, much has been made—by officials, officers, and pundits—of the number of missiles fired, the brightness of the blasts, and the firm “message” that the president was sending to whatever international outlaw needed punishing.

But the real issues, which can’t be assessed at the start and usually wind up with a less burnished glow, are these: how much damage the strikes actually wreaked, how the object of the attack responds, what the president does as a follow-on, and—ultimately—how this whole sequence of events affects the rest of the war and the political struggles underlying it.

Retired Army Col. Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was Secretary of State, didn't find the strike so advisable, Wilkerson: Trump Attack on Syria Driven by Domestic Politics The Real News 04/07/2017:

Hillary Clinton and other corporate Democrats generally approved of the Syria attack, as well. So far, they haven't managed much more in the way of criticism that saying that Congress should pass a new authorization for military action so they can vote for it, and urging Trump to escalate more.

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