Sunday, October 18
The USA's "as long as" political solutions for other countries are unerringly wrong
Long War Journal's Bill Roggio told The New York Times:
... about one-fifth of [Afghanistan] is controlled or contested by the Taliban, but based on his understanding of how the Taliban operate, he said, “they probably either control or heavily influence about a half of the country.”That much control didn't come about in one fighting season; it happened over the years when the U.S.-led ISAF had a significant troop presence in the country. And it happened despite the fact that the vast majority of Afghans despise the Taliban and rightly see them as a mercenary army taking orders from Pakistan's military.
Yet year after year, the United States has not only tolerated Pakistan's covert war against Afghans, it's also encouraged the war by making limp protests every time the Taliban blew up a news-making number of American or British troops, when it wasn't piling more money on Islamabad and more weapons and military training on Rawalpindi.
Why? NATO, led by the United States and United Kingdom's views on the matter, had decided that the best outcome for Afghans was to be minded by Pakistan, as long as Pakistan would always try to take over the country anyway.
Then there was the time the United States tried to give Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood on the belief that as long as Islamist government was inevitable in Egypt once Hosni Mubarak died, might as well have the government run by 'moderate' Islamists.
That went over like a lead balloon with the vast majority of Egyptians. The largest street protest in the documented history of street protests, worldwide, was in Cairo to protest the Muslim Brotherhood's mercifully short-lived rule -- a fact that was suppressed in the American mainstream media.
Then there was the time in the early 1980s the Muslim Brotherhood tried to overthrow the Syrian government, which resulted in a great many American Leftists still wringing their hands over the "Hama massacre." From Max Fisher's The truth about the near-miss Israel/Syria deal that some think could have averted the war at Vox today, and which for some reason I'd prefer not to understand was featured at the top of the Google News Syria headlines this morning:
The Hama Rules, as Thomas Friedman termed them, have defined the Assad regime since it took power decades ago. The name refers to Hama, where, in 1982, Syria's then-leader, Hafez al-Assad, massacred thousands of civilians as "punishment" for a popular uprising that had originated there. The message Hafez sent was that he would gladly mow down every last Syrian if that was what it took to put down uprisings against his rule.Fisher didn't mention that the thousands of civilians were Muslim Brotherhood, and that their "popular uprising" was an armed attempt to overthrow Syria's government.
At least he gives the reader a slender chance by providing a link to an article at PBS that mentions the uprising was one staged by the Brothers. This same neglect to detail is standard issue at CNN -- long a veritable propaganda outlet for the American government -- which I've heard use the same language as Fischer to describe the Hama uprising to its TV audience.
However, there is much more neglect to details of the Hama uprising whenever the American media talks about it, as can be appreciated from a term paper snapped up by Wikileaks (PDF). This footnoted passage on page 23 will get you in the ballpark:
The attacks of the Brotherhood [in Syria] included Soviets inside Syria as well as governmental officials of Ba´th and Alawis. In October 1981 an attack of the Muslim Brotherhood in Damascus damaged an apartment-building of Soviet military experts that were in Syria to train the Syrian army in new weapons. The Soviet news agency TASS blamed the USA and Israel of supporting the Brotherhood in order to achieve instability in Syria.Did the United States use the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria? Does the sun shine? The USA used them everywhere it could to fight the Soviets.
The kicker, as you'll learn if you trouble yourself to read the paper, is that Syria was not a puppet of the Soviet Union -- far from it.
(The paper is from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev MA Program for Middle East Studies Course, The Hama Massacre – reasons, supporters of the rebellion, consequences, with a special emphasis on the triangle between Asad, the Muslim Brotherhood and West Germany by Nina Wiedl. )
Moreover, Israel and Syria have a very complicated relationship, as this June 2015 article by Assaf Uni for Newsweek, Inside Israel’s Secret War in Syria, conveys. Yet it's just the complexities in the Middle East that were ground underfoot by America's prosecution of the Cold War, and caused Israel's government to tear out their hair.
But as long as Syria was involved with the Soviets, well, something had to be done to quash the Red Menace there.
The problem for the U.S. government was that nobody expected that Hafez al-Assad would mount one of history's very few counterinsurgencies that was actually successful. He pulled off the feat because he treated the Muslim Brotherhood 'uprising' as an invading conquest rather than an insurgency. So the military killed every Brother and every relative of a Brother in sight, and wasted the city of Hama. It was practically the apocryphal Carthage Solution.
The upshot, besides a lot of dead Brothers and a city in ruins, was that nobody messed with Hafez after that. Even his worst enemies including the Brothers respected him. And nobody meddled in Syria again for many years.
Until early 2011, when all hell broke loose. In short order, Obama had returned an ambassador to Syria. Bashar al-Assad had shot off his mouth to the Wall Street Journal regarding his seriousness about making peace with Israel, yapped to Vogue magazine on the need for diversity in the Middle East, and secretly detailed to the U.S. Department of State his plan to make peace with Israel. That was as much telling the secret to Saudi Arabia's king.
Which is to say Bashar wrote out his own death warrant with his tongue. I think only his brother Maher has kept him alive since.
In any case all these events came within weeks of each other, starting around December 2010. To top it off, the Arab Spring struck. Maher and/or the Syrian mukhabarat overreacted when a bunch of Syrian school kids, who'd obviously been watching Al Jazeera and CNN International on satellite TV, tried to launch their own Arab Spring by writing anti-government graffiti on schoolyard walls.
Those school kids and their parents had no way of knowing that the Tahrir Square protests were stage managed by Egypt's top generals, the Muslim Brotherhood, and factions in the U.S. government using Egypt's Leftists as useful idiots. Too late did the clever schemers in Washington realize they'd been the biggest useful idiot, which happened only after Egypt's generals unleashed General Sisi on the Muslim Brotherhood.
All that didn't come out until later -- although within hours of Hosni Mubarak stepping down, four people warned independently of each other that he'd actually been removed by a coup.
The four were Hamza Hendawi, the Cairo Bureau Chief for Associated Press; Richard Engel, the Chief Foreign Correspondent for NBC News; George Friedman, the chief of Stratfor, and Pundita, the chief of Pundita blog -- although my take, based on familiarity with Worldbankia Civilization and reading of reports on Egypt's troubled economy that Hendawi had filed for AP before Tahrir Square protests, was not quite the same as the other three. I argued that the target of the coup was Hosni's son Gamal and the Gamalists in Egypt's government and that Hosni was simply collateral damage. I think unfolding events proved me right but enough ancient history.
Nor was the American public told that many Syrians in the mobs gathered to demand Bashar's removal when hell broke loose were actually shouting that Manar was a coward because he wouldn't invade Israel to get back the Golan Heights.
And here we are today.
I've only named a few country situations that the United States has gotten completely wrong by taking the "as long as" approach. Yet until the current era the results worked out pretty well for Americans. This led to accusations from various quarters that 'Washington' sows chaos on purpose to further its geopolitical goals.
Even if true in some cases, the accusations are mooted by the fact that events snowball beyond anyone's ability to control outcomes during an era of devastating droughts and water shortages, very high unemployment, and huge youth populations. Bashar al-Assad's wife told Joan Buck, author of the Vogue magazine piece on the Assads, that almost half of Syria's population was 14 years of age or younger. That was in December 2010.
As to the consequences of Syria's on-again, off-again drought since the late 1990s, the water shortages are so bad you don't even want to think about it -- although some are (H/T Taylor Orci at Take Part), including Syria's beleaguered government, which for years has begged and pleaded for help from other nations after doing everything within its limited power to deal with the country's water crisis.
But as long as Bashar al-Assad is in power, the other nations including the USA have dragged their feet.
This despite the fact that the most dangerous aspect of Islamic State is its use of water sources as a siege weapon.
So. From all the above, should the U.S. government reduce the State Department to a passport agency and never again step foot beyond American borders?
Believe you me I would love to say yes. But it's a little late in the day to walk away from catastrophes that we ourselves had a large part in helping create.
What we can do is dispense with the "as long as" approach to meddling in other countries The approach was always grounded in a blinkered view of the most important situations in the countries. However, it's really hard to remove blinkers when one is fixated on taking down a specific opponent.
Thus, instead of saying, 'Oh look the cavalry's here,' the official U.S. reaction to Russia's entry into the Syrian war is strikingly evocative of the chandelier scene in War of the Roses.