...you do seem, at least, to be endlessly rationalizing U.S. imperial overreach, as if it were some sort of grand strategy upholding universal “liberal democracy”, where I tend to see incoherence, disintegration and devolution, on the part of grossly incompetent, irresponsible and ignorant ruling elites.
To which I would reply: Incoherence, disintegration, and devolution on the part of (generally) incompetent, irresponsible, and ignorant ruling elites is the grand strategy, or a leading element of the grand strategy, upholding universal liberal democracy. Or: Read your Madison and de Tocqueville, or prior posts at this blog (for instance, “The State of the Neo-Empire Is Strong”), or await publication of a long-form post currently in draft form on strategy and the neo-imperial state. Or: You’d like us even less if we were more competent.
Otherwise, same intro for this post as for the last one. I don’t yet have time to work out a “real” post, but want to archive useful discussion even if some of it is redundant (not to mention repetitious – sorry about that). I’m leaving out some trivial side-arguments and -comments – but am including a somewhat off-topic exchange with friend of this blog john c halasz (respecting his preference for lower case), because it is intermixed with the IS discussion, and also raises some issues of abiding interest to me for possible extended examination:
Maybe it’s because of your pro-Israel stance or your aggressive Americanism, but I think you’ve got this badly wrong. Loathsome as the Assad regime might be, (though no more than lot of others in the region, including “allies”, and it doesn’t pay to personalize the matter), it does represent the interests of a significant portion of the Syrian population, (not just Alawites, but Christians and secular Sunnis, etc.) in a country with a highly fissiparous social structure,- (remember the Lebanese civil war lasted 15 years),- against both fundamentalist fanatics and the prospect of complete disintegration. (And the precursor to the uprising was a severe drought which the regime either couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with).
If our elites, our “fearless leaders”, weren’t so heedless and profligate, then the obvious course would have been to try and contain the Syrian civil war, and constrain various regional actors from interfering in and fomenting it, resulting in a general and artificial Shja/Sunni regional conflict. And, as it is, dealing the weakened Assad regime in, to effect a regional settlement still remains the best course, given the dire alternatives. That’s better than a lot of gratuitous, self-righteous moralizing to cover a multitude of sins.
Despite differing initial premises, I tend to side with conservative realists like Col. Bacevich: you can have a republic or you can have an empire, but you can’t have both. Which side are you on?
We’ve had discussions like this before at my blog, a couple of times, and it seems to me that when I have asked you – with sincere interest – to point out what I have written that leads you to reach the conclusions you reach about my views or stances, as here in regard to Israel, Americanism, and Assad, you break off the discussion or simply ignore the request.
As for Bacevich and broader questions, like most everyone else who has studied the topic, I acknowledge the tension between “republic” and “empire,” but the notion of their mutual exclusivity, or of choosing one but not the other, was, I believe, overthrown around two hundred years ago, and replaced with the concept and, quite arguably, the reality of their interdependence for modern mass societies. At this point – I mean right here on this thread – even if I were inclined to take a side, I couldn’t be confident that what it meant to me would be the same as what it meant to you, to Bacevich, or to anyone else.
Well, it’s difficult amidst all the abstracted curlicues to pin down the exact points of inference and implication; that’s beyond my hermeneutic skills. So I have to rely on a sense of the general tenor. But you do seem, at least, to be endlessly rationalizing U.S. imperial overreach, as if it were some sort of grand strategy upholding universal “liberal democracy”, where I tend to see incoherence, disintegration and devolution, on the part of grossly incompetent, irresponsible and ignorant ruling elites. (And the rise of “mass societies” in the 19th century is, at the very least, an incomplete description; the emergence of industrial capitalism was a main driver. So “making the world safe for MNCs” might be a better description of the “universal” interest that is being pursued).
As to the general issue here of the Assad regime, the U.S. doesn’t have to support, nor supply it, just acknowledge it. The Russians and the Iranians can provide the support and supplies. (Oops! Those are other pieces of the puzzle our fearless leaders have massively screwed up on.) The real trick, almost impossible to achieve, is to wean the Sunni areas off of supporting Daesh or other Islamic extremists, while leaving them sufficiently armed so that they can feel capable of securing themselves, but not so much that they can go on the offensive. Syria and Iraq likely will never again be unified states. At most peace could be re-instituted on the basis of loose confederations.
But the position of Erdogan puzzles me. Previously, he had pursued conciliatory policies toward Syria and Iran, for the sake of security and economic benefits. When and why did he become a Sunni warrior?
reply to jch (summary of US policy as I understand it):
It’s been almost three years since Erdogan turned against Assad publicly. You can read the former’s own explanations at this NYT article – http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/23/world/middleeast/turkish-leader-says-syrian-president-should-quit.html?_r=0
Not easy to reverse yourself on statements like this one, directed at Assad long before East Ghouta or maybe 160 or so thousand casualties ago:
Just remove yourself from that seat before shedding more blood, before torturing more and for the welfare of your country, as well as the region… It is not heroism to fight against your own people. If you want to see someone who has fought against his own people, look at Nazi Germany, Hitler, Mussolini, Ceausescu of Romania. If you do not learn your lesson from them, look at the Libyan leader, who pointed his gun against his own people and, only 32 days ago, got killed in a way that none of us desired, after using the same phrases that you use.
Erdogan’s predicament in this respect is similar to the USG’s, since Obama & co have made similar statements about Assad, and also because Obama & co likely believe them to be true statements.
As for the rest of official US Syria policy, for a few years now it’s been, I think, not too far from the one that you and Ronan seem to favor: a unity government combining regime elements with nationalist opposition forces, cleansed of war criminals and irreconcilable Jihadists; devolution of central powers as practicable and desired, but not break-up of the state.
In the past, at points when the regime seemed more vulnerable, and before the Western-recognized opposition in its earlier incarnation had been discredited, the US hoped to use the Syrian army and other elements of the government to re-build the state quickly (learning from the Iraq experience, ideally). That Assad, with Russian and Iranian support, combats this strategy aimed at his eventual removal with a traditional (and, incidentally, IS-like) counter-strategy of his own should also be considered. By implicating his dependents in unforgivably atrocious crimes, he burns bridges between the former and everyone else. In a parallel manner, Assad’s military campaigns have always focused more on nationalist or “moderate” opposition than on IS and other Jihadist-extremist elements, trying to clarify the choice for everyone else as “me or the terrorists.” IS has somewhat similarly focused much more on its competitors, and on expanding and consolidating its areas of control, than on fighting Assad.
Though Assad’s approached has many vulnerabilities, it has worked especially well in regard to the US, where the idea of funding and arming friends of Al Qaeda is a non-starter, and where people, I guess including you, who would be happy just to see the bloodshed stop, see giving into his regime as the best way to achieve that worthy goal. Yet in the same connection backers of the anti-IS campaign, who wish the US and coalition were doing much more in Syria, believe that the “double effect” (objectively aids Assad) problem has been exaggerated, and that, under a truly consequential escalation against IS, it would be at worst only a short-term concern before the conflict was clarified in a different way: Without the terrorists to point to, the Assad regime would be revealed as the true obstacle in the way of a political settlement and a return to civil peace.
With the terrorist threat being actively “handled,” the main impediment in America to supporting the Syrian opposition substantially would also be removed or reduced. To be implemented successfully, however, this IS-first strategy would eventually require a major commitment from the international community, led by the US and allies, and backed by American and other Western citizens among whom the Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan experiences have reinforced skepticism about our or anyone’s ability to shape a favorable outcome. Whether this is the wrong lesson, or a right lesson in some cases, a wrong one in others, would be another discussion. Prospects for success would also be greatly aided by Russian and Iranian cooperation, which, however, if obtainable at all, might come at a high price.
May seem hard or impossible – may go better than expected. Either way, since the American public is prepared to accept risks in order to “degrade and ultimately destroy” jihadist extremists (i.e., Al Qaeda under whatever name), it is possible for this president to commence an attack on IS while waiting for events that might make shortening the timetable or escalating the military investment politically possible, or might turn our attention elsewhere.
The discussions about rebuilding the Syrian government by outsiders just… What gives anyone other than Syrians the right to even attempt to decide how things go in Syria?
Why is it so far-fetched to desire a world, if it is to be interconnected, that is so by peaceful commerce & discussion rather than by being constantly reconfigured by whoever has the most & best arms? What gives anyone the right to claim such authority AT ALL?
Does it all simply come down to “we can, so we will”?