Two More Syria Links

Was there a chemical attack?  One respected journalist, anyways, having visited the site in Douma, says there’s very little evidence.

Addition: Maybe he’s a dupe at best?

And:

‘Meanwhile, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) team arrived in Damascus on Saturday, April 14th – after the US-led overnight strikes which primarily hit government buildings in the capital. ‘

Hmmm…maybe it’s just me, but I see a crisis of belief all throughout the West and relatively poor leadership (what to believe, and when to act?).  This can lead to greater instability.

Another argument against the American military strikes (we pulled our influence in the region, and all this is now too little, too late…come what may):

‘To reiterate my own longstanding view: Russia is a nasty place and Vladimir Putin is a nasty man, of the ilk that always has ruled Russia, a country where nobody talks about Ivan the Reasonable. On my Ogre-ometer, Putin barely registers a 1.9 against Stalin’s 9.8. Russia is NOT our friend and NOT a prospective ally. But we have two choices. One is to attempt to bring Putin down and bring in a government we like, and the other is to strike a deal with Putin that we can live with.’

How about we avoid gazing into Putin’s soul this time?  Is the French-American alliance durable?  Perhaps this is what to make of a dimished thing, which means more compromise, strategy, and vision with our military.

What’s the plan, here?

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As posted:

Michael McFaul at Foreign Policy: ‘How Trump Can Play Nice With Russia Without Selling-Out America:’

After some policy suggestions, there’s this:

‘I continue to believe that it is in the U.S. interest to promote the independence, territorial integrity, and security not only of Ukraine, but also Georgia, Moldova, and all countries threatened by Russian hegemony. And the United States and its allies must develop new strategies for engaging Russian society and other societies throughout the former Soviet Union, including even in the Donbass region of Ukraine now occupied by Kremlin-supported separatists. We need more student exchanges, more peer-to-peer dialogues, more business internships to increase connections between our societies. We cannot revert to a policy where we only speak to officials in Moscow and attempt to do right by the Kremlin.

A lot of those former Soviet satellites, especially the Baltics, needed courage, hard-work, and luck just to get far enough away from Moscow to recieve NATO protection….:

Not exactly a foregone conclusion…

Here’s Putin, back in the 80’s, meeting Reagan. Ho hum, just a tourist, snapping some photos and meeting, how do you say, your premier.

What goes around, comes around-An oldie but a goodie-George Kennan: ‘The Sources Of Soviet Conduct

60 Minutes had an interview with ‘Jack Barsky,‘ an East-German Soviet spy who ended up living in America.  To hell with it!

From The National Interest: ‘Inside The Mind Of George F. Kennan’

A Few Syria Links-Walking The Current American Libertarian-Conservative Line

Michael Totten on the Syria attacks: ‘The Case For Bombing Assad:’

‘The Assad regime won’t disappear or suddenly turn into a model of good government by a couple of punishing strikes, nor will the number of Syrian dead in the future be reduced even by one. Those are not the objectives. The objective is (or at least should be) making the use of a weapon of mass destruction more costly than not using it, to demonstrate not just to Assad but also to every other would-be war criminal that the norm established in 1993 on behalf of every human being will not go down without a fight.’

Richard Epstein: ‘Trump’s Forceful Syrian Gambit’

‘There should be no doubt, however, that taking a strong stand against a determined enemy will always raise the stakes of foreign policy—such as when John F. Kennedy faced down the Russians in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which was precipitated, in large part, by the weakness America displayed at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. A systematically passive military strategy points in only one direction: down. Today, the policy is shifting in a more favorable manner. Obama summarily fired General Mattis as head of Central Command in January 2013. He is now Trump’s Secretary of Defense—I count that as progress.’

Walter Russell Mead: ‘Trump’s Realist Syria Strategy’ (behind a WSJ paywall):

‘The tangled politics of last week’s missile strikes illustrate the contradictions in Mr. Trump’s approach. The president is a realist who believes that international relations are both highly competitive and zero-sum. If Iran and Russia threaten the balance of power in the Middle East, it is necessary to work with any country in the region that will counter them, irrespective of its human-rights record. The question is not whether there are political prisoners in Egypt; the question is whether Egypt shares U.S. interests when it comes to opposing Iran.’

As previously posted:

Many years ago, now, Charles Hill to some extent, and Fouad Ajami more so, argued for some action in Syria, as part of a larger strategic vision, a bolder, Trumanesque step that would define a new age of American influence (addition: or at least maintain our influence. We are signaling to the world that we are no longer leading and pursuing our interests, supporting freedom as we understand and want to see it, and we probably won’t like the world we’ll see). Agree or disagree, they’ve got some things right:

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A quote from Hill’s forward to Ajami’s new book on Syria as discussed in the video:

“[The] greatest strategic challenge of the twenty-first century is involves “reversing Islamic radicalism”‘

What is our mission here? What is the larger strategy?

Related On This Site: …From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Syria’s Regime Not Worth Preserving’James Kirchik At The American Interest:

Michael Totten’s piece that revisits a Robert Kaplan piece from 1993, which is prescient: “A Writhing Ghost Of A Would-Be Nation”. It was always a patchwork of minority tribes, remnants of the Ottoman Empire

I just received a copy of Totten’s book, Where The West Ends, and it’s good reading.

Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘What Did The Arab Spring Really Change?’

From The Atlantic: ‘Aleppo Is Falling’-A Mess Suddenly More People Are Talking About Again

From The Atlantic: ‘Aleppo Is Falling

‘Russia needs President Assad to enter into serious political talks with the opposition to reunite Syria. Problem is, President Assad has been adamant he’s not interested in that. An early challenge of the Trump administration will be how to wheel and deal to split Russia and Iran apart in Syria.’

This blog’s take:  Libya was chosen as a place for ‘kinetic military action’ under the current American administration, while the thornier, nastier problem of Syria was left to unfold with little to no American leadership/involvement.  It’s unclear what could be done/what would have happened with more American/leadership involvement, and at what cost to American interests.

What has happened is that Assad, with the help of Iran and Russia, (the old Moscow/Damascus/Tehran alliance) has clung to power and now crushed the resistance /opposition in Aleppo while an enormous humanitarian/refugee crisis has unfolded, affecting both Europe and the U.S. to some degree (the rise of ISIS controlled-territory, and the exodus of millions of refugees causing immigration/terrorism issues with which the West has had to deal).

American influence and legitimacy has eroded, giving legitimacy to the mullahs in Iran, cementing-in Assad and his chemical weapons, allowing the expansion of ISIS fighters, and giving credence to Putin’s something-very-much-resembling-an-autocracy.

Many Western humanists/peace advocates/Left idealists who wish to use American military strength and/or the authority of international institutions to put Western peace ideals into practice, usually presuming the universality of those ideals, are rather silent at the moment (this blog doubts very much that radical activists of the Western Left would actually govern peacefully, should they more than temporarily gain control of the Western institutions whose moral legitimacy they usually stand against..).

Addition: Obviously many, many people are not on the Western, radical Left, and I should add that I’m really not persuaded by much in the way of action these days…I’m sure I’m not alone.

As previously posted:

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A quote from Hill’s forward to Ajami’s new book on Syria as discussed in the video:

“[The] greatest strategic challenge of the twenty-first century is involves “reversing Islamic radicalism”‘

Both men wanted to see more leadership out of the exiting administration. They both argued that there needed to have been American led involvement of some sort in Syria. It’s a bad neighborhood, and we had to provide leadership and side with the rebels as best we could.

Hill pushed further to suggest that if America didn’t lead onto a new set of challenges that faced the West, then Europe surely wasn’t capable of leading either. If we didn’t strike out on our own as Truman did with bold leadership after World War II, we would end a generations long experiment in American exceptionalism. If we didn’t lead, someone who doesn’t share our values would lead, according to both men.

As previously posted:  Richard Epstein ‘Barack vs. Bibi:’ takes the classical liberal, non anti-war libertarian position:

‘In the end, it is critical to understand that the current weaknesses in American foreign policy stem from the President’s adamant reluctance to commit to the use of American force in international relations, whether with Israel, Iran or with ISIS. Starting from that position, the President has to make huge unilateral concessions, and force his allies to do the same thing. Right now his only expertise is leading from behind.  The President has to learn to be tough in negotiations with his enemies. Right now, sadly, he has demonstrated that toughness only in his relationships with America’s friends and allies.’

More Syria-From Via Media: ‘Congress on Syria: Going In On A Wing and A Prayer’From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Syria’s Regime Not Worth Preserving’A Few More Syria Links-’Unmitigated Clusterf**k?’

Another Addition: Israel, Iran, & Peace: Andrew Sullivan Responds To Charges Of Potential Anti-SemitismSome Saturday Links On Iran-Skepticism, To Say The Least George Shultz & Henry Kissinger At The Hoover Institution: ‘What A Final Iran Deal Must Do’ So what are our interests and how do we secure them as the fires in the Middle-East rage?  Michael Totten makes a case here in Why We Can’t Leave The Middle-East.’  He gets push-back in the comments

Democracy as we envision it requires people to constrain themselves within laws and institutions that maintain democracy…through Mill’s utilitarianism?: Thursday Quotation: Jeane Kirkpatrick – J.S. Mill  Is Bernhard Henri-Levy actually influencing U.S. policy decisions..? From New York Magazine: ‘European Superhero Quashes Libyan Dictator’Bernhard Henri-Levy At The Daily Beast: ‘A Moral Tipping Point’

From Via Media-Obama’s Syria Play A Failure

Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest Online: ‘Obama’s War’From The WSJ: “Allies Rally To Stop Gadhafi”From March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanFrom The New Yorker: ‘How Qaddafi Lost Libya’

Just how far Left is this administration anyways? Is Bernhard Henri-Levy actually influencing U.S. policy decisions..? From New York Magazine: ‘European Superhero Quashes Libyan Dictator’Bernhard Henri-Levy At The Daily Beast: ‘A Moral Tipping Point’Charlie Rose Episode On Libya Featuring Bernhard Henri-Levy, Les Gelb And Others

Remember Who We’re Dealing With, Here-A Few Iran Links

Via Via Media:

Original WSJ piece here.

Al Jazeera English

Walter Russell Mead:

‘…the WSJ also reports that Iran sent to Russia 25,000 pounds of enriched uranium this week. That will, the story notes, reduce Tehran’s capacity to make nukes and it has strengthened America’s position.’

A lot of American leverage was sacrificed for this deal, and now the same ends, however idealistic (this blog thinks somewhere between peace activism and vague promises of humanitarian intervention), will likely be pursued by the current U.S. administration.

The White House’s page isn’t exactly reassuring.

John Kerry, a little while ago:

‘Let me underscore that. The United States and the international community will be monitoring Iran nonstop — and you can bet that if we see something; we will do something.’

Mead again:

‘The Iran nuclear deal is the foundation stone of President Obama’s Middle East policy. He has paid an immense price for the deal at home and abroad. The highest price, moreover, has been paid by the hundreds of thousands dead in sectarian strife and the millions forced out of their homes in Iraq and Syria as the U.S. avoided any actions in those countries that might have threatened Iran’s willingness to sign on the dotted line.’

It’s quite likely many of the deeper reasons for Western confrontations with a nuclear-seeking Iranian regime have been pushed out and/or will spill out into other conflicts and challenges as we move forward.

-Dexter Filkins on Iran here.

-Scowcroft and Brzezinski may be offering plans: ‘George Shultz & Henry Kissinger At The Hoover Institution: ‘What A Final Iran Deal Must Do’

Israel, Iran, & Peace: Andrew Sullivan Responds To Charges Of Potential Anti-SemitismSome Saturday Links On Iran-Skepticism, To Say The Least George Shultz & Henry Kissinger At The Hoover Institution: ‘What A Final Iran Deal Must Do’ So what are our interests and how do we secure them as the fires in the Middle-East rage?  Michael Totten makes a case here in Why We Can’t Leave The Middle-East.’  He gets push-back in the comments

Henry Kissinger & George Schulz Via The WSJ: ‘The Iran Deal And Its Consequences’Inside Everyone Is A Western Individual Waiting To Get Out?-Repost-Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism’

Two Monday Links On Syria And Iran

Michael Totten interviews Lee Smith, who has spent time looking at Syria in his new book:

The Syria policy is likely part of the Iran policy to negotiate with people we probably can’t do business with in order to withdraw from the region. There are few if any scenarios in which a nuclear-armed Iran is a good outcome.

Smith:

‘When people worry that Sunni Islamists want to create a caliphate in the Middle East they seem to forget that we already have a clerical regime in Iran. What they’re afraid might happen has already happened. And the concern coming out of Tehran isn’t sharia, but the fact that a nuclear weapons program in the hands of an expansionist regime gives them a dangerous say in the flow of energy resources through the Persian Gulf. They don’t have to actually use a bomb to destabilize the region and raise the price of energy around the world. That’s the danger—that Iranian hegemony in the Persian Gulf will affect how Americans, and our trading partners, live.’

To help understand a different point of view, I recommend this interesting piece by Najat Fawzy Alsaeid:

‘If one were to ask an Arab what has happened to the Arab countries, and why the terrorism and extremism we see today did not exist in the 1950s and 1960s, the answer would probably point to the frustrations and struggles of dual identities: Arab nationalism and Islamism.’

Our foreign policy will have its hands full these coming decades, whether we want to or not.  She goes on:

‘Moreover, books by Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328), Sayyid Qutb and others, which reject pluralism and promote extremism, should be studied in context, alongside works by Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, Ali Abderraziq, and other, more modern and open-minded commentators. The Shias in Sunni-majority countries should also be given more equal opportunities and should have the right to study moderate Shia scholars such as the Iraqis Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr (1935-80) and Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei (1899-1982), who favor separation of clerical and state authority.’

The old faultlines are wide open, and American interests are still in retreat, often times without much more of a strategy than that.

Related On This Site: Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘The Once Great Havana’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Syria’s Regime Not Worth Preserving’James Kirchik At The American Interest: 

Michael Totten’s piece that revisits a Robert Kaplan piece from 1993, which is prescient:  “A Writhing Ghost Of A Would-Be Nation”.  It was always a patchwork of minority tribes, remnants of the Ottoman Empire

Michael Totten: ‘Syria’s Bogus Election’

Full piece here.

Interesting take:

‘In the world we live in, however, where the world’s only superpower is a liberal democracy, elections are considered the norm. Political freak-shows like Moammar Qaddafi didn’t even pretend to believe in elections (he argued in his ludicrous Green Book that elections allowed 51 percent of the country to oppress 49 percent), and look at what happened to him. His regime was finally bombed into oblivion, and not by a cowboy like George W. Bush but by the dovish Barack Obama.

Even blood-soaked tyrants like Bashar al-Assad think they’ll benefit at least somewhat by pretending to adopt our political structure. Russia might even pretend to believe Syria’s election results. The Iranian regime and its state-run media will surely pretend to believe’

One of the main reasons the United States won the Cold War, and has such enormous influence wasn’t just because of a belief in the eventuality of peace and/or mostly non-interventionist democracy promotion.

It was a Cold War, which occasionally got hot, and where points around the globe could become part of a chessboard with nuclear consequences.

The Korean War, the Cuban Missile crisis, the Vietnam War, or even the Yom Kippur war all had this larger backdrop at play, whatever your thoughts on those conflicts.

North Korea and Iran are still trying to join the club with deliverable nukes.  Russia and China are not necessarily seeing themselves as part of an ‘international community.’ (these are complex relationships to manage, indeed).

From my perspective, the human-rights crowd puts too many carts before too many horses, and despite having the brakes of realpolitik on human rights idealism, the pursuit of these ideals on a global scale often leads to relatively dysfunctional institutions and international laws that still require, of course, force behind them (which the U.S. is still largely bankrolling and providing).

Human rights activists, progressives, secular universalists etc. often tend to believe their ideals are universals, and thus ought to form the foundation for global cooperation and the pursuit of mutual interests under international institutions usually designed by themselves (issues like global warming, human rights abuses., the campaign for women and girls come to the fore).

As I currently see it (my opinion and $1 gets you…$1), the idea of pure, equal democracy doesn’t exist, nor can it exist, nationally, nor globally, except as an ideal. As I also see it, we live in a Constitutional Republic, with a functioning democracy, as we gaze out at a dangerous, ever changing, often poorly understood, world.

We need alliances and strategies, and probably to maintain low-level conflicts in order to maintain security enough to prevent worse outcomes and threats of bigger conflicts.

Other goods can come out of that, of course, genuine and arguably vital goods. That said, a little more realism would be nice, not merely the realism that is claimed to grounding the quite Left-liberal peace activism and idealism of the current U.S. administration, which has its own ambitions and dangers, and threats to freedom at home.

I don’t know exactly what you do with a loon and a thug like Gadhafi, but long speeches at the U.N. only highlight some of the ill-designed incentives and current problems with international institutions:

Related On This Site: Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘The Once Great Havana’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Syria’s Regime Not Worth Preserving’James Kirchik At The American Interest: 

Michael Totten’s piece that revisits a Robert Kaplan piece from 1993, which is prescient:  “A Writhing Ghost Of A Would-Be Nation”.  It was always a patchwork of minority tribes, remnants of the Ottoman Empire

I received a copy of Totten’s book, Where The West Ends, and it’s good reading.

Keeping An Eye On Syria-From Vice: ‘Rojava-Syria’s Unknown War’

Rojava is in Syria’s northeast, where Kurdish fighters from the YPG try and control their territory during the chaos.  From Jan 2nd, 2014.  Many Christians have simply fled, while remaining Arabs, Kurds and even some Alawites must figure out how to protect their own, including the threat from non-Syrian militias and radicals from around the Muslim world.

Should they ally with the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army?

A lot of these people are farmers.

How are the Turks and the Iranians influencing events?

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Even the NY Times notes that Western fighters heeding the jihadi call into Syria pose a risk upon return.

All that righteousness and fighting experience with nowhere to go.

Walter Russell Mead notes Obama may be moving towards a more interventionist stance in Syria or at least placating the interventionists (why Libya and not Syria for humanitarian intervention is still a tough case to make, in terms of protecting our interests and the stakes involved):

‘The President’s qualified optimism notwithstanding, there are no guarantees that U.S. efforts to empower moderate rebels will be successful. And even if the United States does pick the right moderates to arm, there are no assurances that those forces will be effective; political “moderates” aren’t always the best warfighters’

The longer these things go on, the worse people and groups tend to fill in.

Even some folks at NPR may be pining for the days of Clintonesque humanitarian intervention, as they bring in some analysts to compare the mess in Syria to the former Yugoslavia.

The activist on the street and the aging liberal boomer must find common ground somewhere under the Left-liberal tent.

Many Kurds are as close to pro-American sentiment as we’re going to get.

Longer odds, lots of risk: Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest’s Via Media: “The Rise Of Independent Kurdistan?”From Reuters: ‘Analysis: Syrian Kurds Sense Freedom, Power Struggle Awaits’

See Also:  Dexter Filkins ‘From Kurdistan To New York’

During Christopher Hitchens’ 2009 appearance on Australia’s Q & A, he wore a Kurdish flag pin in solidarity and fielded a question from a Kurd (starts at minute 1:30…mentioned as the rest of the debate may be worth your time):

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In his new book Where The West EndsMichael Totten describes visiting Northern Iraq briefly as a tourist with a friend, and the general feeling of pro-Americanism in Kurdish Northern Iraq that generally one can only feel in Poland, parts of the former Yugoslavia etc.

***A pretty damned good overview of Syria for the non-initiated, including what’s been going on since 2011 and the backstory at the thehowardbealeshow. Recommended. Really.

Related On This SiteMore Syria-From Via Media: ‘Congress on Syria: Going In On A Wing and A Prayer’From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Syria’s Regime Not Worth Preserving’A Few More Syria Links-’Unmitigated Clusterf**k?’

From Reuters: ‘Analysis: Syrian Kurds Sense Freedom, Power Struggle Awaits’

Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘What Did The Arab Spring Really Change?’…Liberal Internationalism is hobbling us, and the safety of even the liberal internationalist doctrine if America doesn’t lead…Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

Is Bernhard Henri-Levy actually influencing U.S. policy decisions..? From New York Magazine: ‘European Superhero Quashes Libyan Dictator’Bernhard Henri-Levy At The Daily Beast: ‘A Moral Tipping Point’Charlie Rose Episode On Libya Featuring Bernhard Henri-Levy, Les Gelb And Others