Some Foreign Policy Links-Israel, Gaza, ISIS & ‘Peace’

Walter Russell Mead links to two good pieces: ‘White House Blindsided By Israeli/Egyptian Relationship


‘It is clear from the above account that the White House has been consistently behind the eight ball on shifting patterns in the Middle East, and that U.S. diplomacy was seriously hampered by its failure to grasp the consequences of the burgeoning Egyptian-Israeli relationship’

It seems no one in the region, perhaps not even Hamas, wanted the Israel/Gaza peace-deal as brokered by John Kerry. The Israeli and Egyptian leadership have responded without our lead and in their own rational interests, a move which seems to have taken the current administration by surprise, as it has been busy simultaneously withdrawing U.S. influence from the region while still trying to pursue its aims.

Say you’re a committed isolationist, and you’re tired of the being the ‘world’s policeman,’ or at least believe U.S. interests may well be unsustainably overextended.

But now also think about what’s important to you (I’ll try to find one that’s near and dear): Your safety and security here at home, a sustainable economy and energy prices, free trade and human flourishing, less dictatorship and human suffering under autocrats and some recourse for human rights, human freedom, and international law and order of one kind or another.

When we withdraw, other interests fill the void. We may not like what we get.

On that note, not only is ISIS an ideological coalition of savage, ahistorical true-believing Islamists, blowing up ancient tombs (just like the Taliban did with slave labor those Buddha statues in Bamiyan), ISIS is also on a campaign, as I write this, to exterminate Iraqi Christians:


They’ve also driven a group of Yazidis from their homes into the surrounding mountains to starve and die or return and be butchered:


Perhaps the administration feels burned by the time it pursued humanitarian intervention in Libya, which has turned into a disaster, and thus has since withdrawn into a peace cocoon.  Perhaps it’s still trying to bridge the Iran gap, and keep that deal alive.  Of course, this relies on us doing business with the Ayatollah at the end of the day, a man whose power derives from the Islamic revolution in Iran.

On that note, Dan Drezner notes in the WaPo that in order to get to this point in our diplomacy, the administration has been concentrating foreign-policy decision-making in the White House. I suspect this is how you arrive at youthful, earnest hashtag activism (the kinds of people most willing to work with Obama on campaigns and follow his lead).


‘But I’ve written before that the foreign policy process matters significantly, and while it’s good for the White House to be interested in foreign policy, this does seem like an over-concentration of authority.’

Here we are.

Ukraine, Redlines And Deadlines-Two Foreign Policy Links

The situation in Ukraine is ramping-up, and we could be looking at potential engagement between Russian and Ukranian forces. Putin is still leveraging his position with alternately militant and vaguely conciliatory language.

It’s true that as in Georgia, our likelihood of going to war on this far Eastern front of Western interests was small to begin with, and not necessarily in our best interests, any more than playing Putin’s Cold War gamesmanship is in our best interests.

Putin and the Geneva Conventions?


Something needs to be done and we need some kind of Russia policy, but which kind exactly?

This is not particularly reassuring:

The current diplomatic team still seems to be telegraphing its intentions and aims too easily, with a particularly naive use of social media while setting deadlines it often can’t meet.  This can undermine our credibility.

Many folks like the idea of Western interests banding together, rowing in the same direction to promote liberal democracy by enticing those with divergent and opposing interests to join or face consequences. Human rights, democracy promotion, and tough-as-nails diplomacy through international law and institutions are presumed to be the best foundations for the kind of world we’d like to live in (better than the consequences of Iraq, for example).

Yet, promoting democratic elections in Egypt hasn’t worked out particularly well for our interests (little as we could do there), leading to the return of what will likely be another military-controlled autocracy after the Muslim Brotherhood failure. The surgically-controlled coalitional strikes to take out Gadhafi in the hopes Libyans could put something together in his wake has led to instability across North Africa, and a haven for Islamic radicalism pouring into Syria. Libya was in rough shape, and is still in rough shape.

Meanwhile, in Syria, we emboldened a weakened Putin to leverage us heavily, while allowing Assad to buy himself time. As a result, the country’s Civil War rages on, Islamist radicals have poured in, and as Adam Garfinkle pointed out on April 10th, this has had consequences for us in Crimea.

The world is watching:

‘The Syria point? The Obama Administration should watch its mouth. It should say as little as possible about reports of the Syrian regime’s use of poison gas unless it’s prepared to actually do something appropriate to the challenge. Its feckless posturing only drives its credibility further down the crapper. It’s not time to wring hands and blurt out Hamlet-like soliloquies; it’s time to wring necks. Again, if the facts prove that a poison gas attack has occurred and the Obama Administration does essentially nothing about it, it will be open season on every American and allied interest worldwide. It’s nice that Chuck Hagel went recently to Tokyo to calm our Japanese allies down, as though their jitters are not fully justified by the facts; a lot of good it will do, however, if the President does another duck-and-cover over the enormities of the Assad regime.’

From CBS News: ‘U.S.: Syria Used Chemical Weapons, Crossing “Red Line”

Full video and post here.

Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communication:

“Any future action we take will be consistent with our national interest, and must advance our objectives, which include achieving a negotiated political settlement to establish an authority that can provide basic stability and administer state institutions; protecting the rights of all Syrians; securing unconventional and advanced conventional weapons; and countering terrorist activity,” Rhodes said.

The rebels have been fighting what’s become a brutal proxy war with all kinds of bad actors involved.  From non-military aid we’ve also had SpecOps on the ground, logistics, and support for across the border countries handling refugees like Jordan.  This conflict has been enflaming the fault-lines in the region and dragging on, spilling out all over the place.

Assad’s Alawite minority regime has now been confirmed using chemical weapons (we pretty much knew that already), and been holding onto power by nearly any means, getting help from Iranian Shia fighters and the Iranian government, Hezbollah, Russian money and weapons, and other assorted interests in the region.

Now it looks like we’ll be sending military aid, creating a no-fly zone, and possibly more (Addition: not confirmed, but possible Another Addition: confirmed arms to the rebels).

To my mind, this further Left President may possibly just be taking the longer way around what’s traditionally been a spectrum of American foreign policy action (I think the President really still believes in a liberal internationalist, Cairo-speech movement towards freedom, arc of history bending towards justice worldview).  The Clinton team likely would have been more hawkish, having possibly acted already.

This has always been a lot to lose/little to gain problem, but here we are.

A quote from Kissinger:

‘On all sides of the Syrian conflict, the commitment of the belligerents to democratic values and alignment with Western interests is, at best, untested. Al-Qaeda has now entered the conflict, effectively on the side that the United States is being asked to join. In such circumstances, U.S. policymakers encounter a choice not between a “realistic” and an “idealistic” outcome but between competing imperfections, between considerations of strategy and of governance. We are stymied on Syria because we have a strategic interest in breaking the Assad clan’s alliance with Iran, which we are reluctant to avow, and the moral objective of saving human lives, which we are unable to implement through the U.N. Security Council.’ 

Joshua Landis’ blog here.

Al Jazeera live blog on Syria here.

Interesting paper here.

Related On This SiteUpdate And Repost: Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

A Few Thoughts On Foreign Policy-Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘Conservative Principles Of World Order’

Too late to act with lower risk and more gain? Ralph Peters At The NY Post: ‘Too Late For Syria’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Northern Lebanon Burning’

Full post here.

‘The Syrian civil war is spilling into the city of Tripoli, the second largest in Lebanon. Sunni Muslims in the poor neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh are at war with an Alawite militia in the adjacent hilltop neighborhood of Jebel Mohsen that supports Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Last week there was even a shootout at a hospital, of all places.

So far this is hardly original. What makes this conflict absurdly unusual is that segments of the Lebanese army are protecting both militias, and they’re doing so on behalf of a foreign government—Syria’s’

Joshua Landis’ blog here.

Al Jazeera live blog on Syria here.

Adam Garfinkle:  Map humor.

Related On This Site:Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

A Few Thoughts On Foreign Policy-Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘Conservative Principles Of World Order’

More on Assad From The Guardian: ‘Syria Conflict: Syria Fires More Scuds’

Full piece here.

“We’ve been clear that we have seen the regime in Syria use Scud missiles against its own people, and that continues,” a senior State Department official told the New York Times.’

Assad and the Alawite minority loyalists are still planning a retreat to the coast, but as the opposition gains enough strength this is likely to come to a bloody end for Assad, even after the retreat.  It’s the drawn-out, civil conflict spilling over Syrian borders that was feared, with possibly over 50,000 dead so far.  Regional instability is still the primary concern.

Al Jazeera live blog on Syria here.

Some in the current U.S. administration started out in human rights campaigns and then moved to security and diplomatic positions.  Many have adopted realpolitik, pursuing U.S. interests relentlessly and accepting limitations. The overall framework, however,  still seems to be liberal internationalist, which brings human rights to the fore, and seeks to defer U.S. interests to international laws, courts, and institutions.

The neoconservative model, which advocates the use of military force to advance our interests on our own, as well spreading our ideals of freedom and democracy through that force, ran into serious difficulties in Iraq, and is on the ropes.

The Libyan intervention was offered as a successful alternative:  Rid Libyans of the tyrant to advance freedom, but do so with a light footprint and as much international support as possible.  There has been some success, but it’s not clear at what current costs (ambassador Stevens, 3 Americans and a hit to freedom of speech as well as a projection of weakness) as well as future costs to American interests and security (though to be fair, this can be said about pretty much any operation).

Syria was argued as too complex, and too complicated a country for the same Libyan model to work.  There’s been a Western retreat into watching Syria devolve into civil conflict, offering mild and belated support to the opposition (still betting on horses, like we did with the insurgence against the Russians in Afghanistan back in 1979), and hoping the U.N. would be able to muster something (which it really hasn’t).  We’re offering some arms and other support inside Syria, and aid outside of it, but it continues to burn and molder.

The overall Obama doctrine remains unclear:  Do we continue to prosecute Bush’s War On Terror with drone strikes, special operations, Navy Seals, and intel operations, while simultaneously trying to appeal to non-terrorist and ‘moderate’ Muslims?

Can we reasonably expect Russia, and China, and other Muslim nations to align with our interests through international laws and courts?

Are we making our economy strong so that trade, business and educational interests can put our better foot forward?

Are we leading by example through our commitment to our freedoms, including the freedom of speech and the political and economic freedoms that allow the human rights folks and NGO’s to flourish?

Addition:  Egyptian voters adopt the Brotherhood’s constitution.

Related On This Site:Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

A Few Thoughts On Foreign Policy-Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘Conservative Principles Of World Order’

From The New Yorker: ‘Obama And Israel’

Full piece here.

“Even as they [sic Americans] rightly deplore the injustice of the occupation and last year’s war in Gaza, they fail to recognize the complexity of trying to reach a final resolution when the Palestinians are so deeply and ruinously divided and when so many Israeli supporters of a two-state solution have, after Oslo, Camp David, and Taba, despaired of getting a workable deal.”

Also On This Site:  The Hamas Charter is pretty scary:  Repost: A Few Thoughts On The Current Israeli Military Operation Into Gaza: A Shift In U.S. Attitudes?

It is not merely a partisan issue, but this quote from Samuel Huntington is interesting in this context:

“Although the professional soldier accepts the reality of never-ending and limited conflict, “the liberal tendency,” Huntington explained, is “to absolutize and dichotomize war and peace.” Liberals will most readily support a war if they can turn it into a crusade for advancing humanistic ideals. That is why, he wrote, liberals seek to reduce the defense budget even as they periodically demand an adventurous foreign policy.

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