Michael Totten On The Problem From Hell In Syria

Samantha, Powerless: Obama’s Problem From Hell In Syria

Totten applies Power’s logic to Syria:

‘No ideology in the world right now is more inherently genocidal than that of ISIS.

It began its life as Al Qaeda in Iraq under the Jordanian jihadi Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, also known as the Sheikh of the Slaughterers. He hated no one on his planet—not Christians, not Jews, not atheists—as much as he despised Shia Muslims. The Shia, he wrote, are “the insurmountable obstacle, the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion, the spying enemy, and the penetrating venom.”

Food for thought: Not only did the current administration pull-back from Hilary Clinton’s more hawkish interventionist logic that helped get ‘kinetic military action’ approved in Libya, but even the humanitarian-cum-policy maker Samantha Power’s logic could reasonably be applied, a person who made a case for the use of force only once the genocide starts, as it has in Syria (who still recognizes her ideals depend on men willing to fight).

A very important conversation needs to be had about the Islamic State meaning what they say:  Bombing the Russian airliner in Egypt, planning and carrying-out the massacre in Paris, and potentially having involvement (inspiration) in the San Bernardino murders here at home.

Instead, as I see it, American citizens got a speech trying to leverage the nation into another tired debate about gun control; dragging us all into the same ideological box, while offering no real new information, ideas, nor leadership.

So, is there more peace in the world now?

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.’

A quote from this piece over at the Atlantic: From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s Work

“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.”

What happens when you try and go ‘full peace’?

My two cents: We should figure out a good way to destabilize and destroy IS, depriving them of territory, revenue, clout and murdering capacity.  Then, we should go forward; enacting and reacting to events (by proxy if necessary).

Let me know if you disagree, and why.

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’


American Foreign Policy-Somewhere Between Peace Activism & Humanitarian Intervention?

Walter Russell Mead at the American Interest:  ‘Obama, Anti-Semitism, and Iran:’

Mead riffs on Obama statement from this interview with Jeffrey Goldberg.

Goldberg and Mead suspect that the anti-Semitism found in some quarters is not rational, and doesn’t lead to rational decisions.


‘The problem here is that the President, ironically enough, doesn’t seem to understand diversity. He thinks diversity is trivial: that people of different religious faiths, ethnic backgrounds and ideological convictions are not all that different in the way they look at the world.’


‘Essentially, Goldberg was asking the President whether his years in the White House have taught him that real diversity exists, and that it matters. He was asking whether the President understands that people from different cultures can sometimes operate on the basis of such radically different presuppositions that their mental world maps are fundamentally incompatible with the norms of reason as the President sees them. He was asking whether the President had considered whether Iranian leaders in particular reason so differently from standard cosmopolitan Washington liberal thinking that they may not, in fact, be approaching these negotiations from what the President, and most Americans, would recognize as a logical point of view’

The ‘rational actor’ model the President relies upon has distanced American interests from many allies, while getting America close enough to try and do business with various non-allies, adversaries, and traditional enemies.  It has done so on the assumption that American threat and use of force is part of the problem.  It has assumed that Vladimir Putin, the post-1979 mullah State in Iran, and the Castros in Cuba are rational enough to have a hand extended to them during this recent change in diplomacy.

This approach comes with the obvious risk that such a model may not be universally shared, but rather one among many concepts shared by a smaller subset of Westerners with a worldview of their own.  It risks trusting that Vladimir Putin and the post-1979 mullah State (the Castros can probably really only hurt the Cubans under their control) will act under the presumption of a certain amount of good faith the ‘rational actor’ model requires.  It presumes we can trust these guys enough to reach deals, even without the threat of force, and that we’re on the same ‘plane.’

Of course, it may be just as rational to guide policy based upon actual behavior, expecting such regimes to continue doing what they’ve been visibly doing.  Both Moscow and Tehran have deep anti-American sentiment and have held loose alliance between themselves.  They are busy maintaining, expanding and exploiting their spheres of influence by means that set themselves and their people against American policy, as well as Western and international laws and much else besides (claiming American policy, international laws and expectations are aggressions and constraints against their interests).


Some other links:

From The New Yorker: ‘Journey To Jihad:  Why Are Teenagers Joining ISIS?

Informative piece which follows a Belgian jihadi from a Belgian Anjem Choudary wannabe organization to the Syrian desert.

***As to the title, I’m guessing you have to write titles like that at the New Yorker.  For some people, understanding is to Terrorism what PTSD can be to War.  If we just understand and explain terrorism, it might not go away, but it will get better.  If we just have the experts explain why terrorists want to kill us, or why wars happen and how badly people can be affected by them, they might not go away, but it will all get better.

This can be an exercise in reinforcing a set of beliefs about the world rather than what’s going on in the world itself.

This can have political, social and institutional consequences that don’t necessarily make the world any better.


Meanwhile, Iranian backed Hezbollah is still active, of course:

Claudia Rosett:

‘Reports out of southern Lebanon tell us that the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah  continues to expand its network of tunnels along the border with Israel, preparing for another war. That’s not an accusation by Israeli sources, but a boast by Hezbollah, detailed in a series of recent articles in a Hezbollah-linked newspaper, As-Safir.’

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’

Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘Remember Libya?’

Full piece here.

Our author, as he examines a New York Times piece on the growth of militias in Libya, points out that Libya is not doing so well:

‘Be that as it may, Shadid does his usual good job of selecting representative data to paint a larger canvas. And his conclusions, foreshadowed in the subtitles quoted above, are unmistakable: Things are bad in Libya, and they are liable to get a whole lot worse.’

Worth a read.

I’ve heard Libya hailed as a model for at least two reasons:

1. The U.S. is not committed to military engagement nor a long costly war in Libya.  We don’t have troops on the ground, and have served to topple tyranny on the cheap, with a coalition of French and British capabilities.  At the very least, we’ve let our European allies pursue their interests without doing all the dirty work for them.   The West may at least sit back and observe the broken spirit of many Libyans, and the ruined institutions in Gadhafi’s wake from afar while  the problems of Libya are to be solved by Libyans’ own self-determination or by diplomatic, humanitarian and coalitional efforts that could presumably be provided by the West.

This could be argued to be a form of neoconservatism lite (showing similar concern for human rights but with a less aggressive pursuit of American interests) or as a form of aggressive humanitarianism which still requires the threat of force behind it.

What seems to be lacking in this approach, as Garfinkle points out, is dealing with potential future threats to American security at home from another failed Muslim society with no functional State.  Also, is the broader threat that many groups in the Middle-East pose to their own people and the West simply by following their stated goals to logical conclusions (the Hamas Charter, the holocaust-denying Iranian regime and Israel, Al-Qaeda and other groups that rely on Islamic grievance and moral absolutism).  Liberal internationalism has limits.

2.  The other argument runs that morally, this definition of freedom is more inclusive, and more considerate of “the will” of the people whose countries with whom we engage ourselves militarily.  This administration’s goal has been to promote an ideal of freedom which it assumes to be universal and more appealing to the Muslim-on-the-street.  I think it is in the hopes that this Muslim-on-the-street would not be as easily rallied behind the anti-American, anti-Western, anti-modern impulses that his authoritarian leaders and ruling parties would use for nationalistic aims, or that his “radical” Muslim cleric would use to foment violent and terroristic acts, or that his Muslim brotherhood would use for purposes of solidarity.

It is unsurprising that the domestic political base for such action at home is anti-colonial (MLK for Churchill), liberal internationalist (A New World Order), and might count among itself members of the New Left (where many of the Old Left have ended up, as the NY Times demonstrates).

Despite the successes or failures of this approach (and there are both), this blog is concerned about the limits of such ideas and their possible consequences, as well as the possible recoil here at home (due to the current political divide), and what that could mean foreign-policy wise in the coming years.

Related On This Site:  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

The materialist Left: Paul Berman At The New Republic: ‘From September 11 to the Arab Spring: Do Ideas Matter?’

Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft…Kant often leads to a liberal political philosophy?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

John Mearsheimer’s offensive realism (Israel can’t go on like this forever, the Israel lobby leads to bad U.S policy decisions): Repost: From Foreign Affairs Via The A & L Daily: ‘Conflict Or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited’From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington….is neoconservative foreign policy defunct…sleeping…how does a neoconservatism more comfortable with liberalism here at home translate into foreign policy?: Wilfred McClay At First Things: ‘The Enduring Irving Kristol’

From Beautiful Horizons: ‘Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ramadan at the 92nd Street Y’

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From Foreign Affairs: ‘The Problem With Obama’s Decision To Leave Iraq’

Full post here.

‘The ostensible reason for America’s withdrawal is that the two sides could not agree on the legal terms for an ongoing U.S. military presence — specifically, whether American troops would be subject to local laws. Indeed, Obama was right to make immunity for U.S. troops a deal-breaker. Yet this impasse was probably surmountable.’

Possibly, but it would have been a lot of work, and Obama would have had to break his campaign promise.  He’s a politician, after all.  Iran looms large, however, and many, many problems remain.  Republicans haven’t been making a lot of good noise about foreign policy.

There’s this quoted statement from Obama’s speech on the White House Blog:

‘The United States is moving forward, from a position of strength. The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year. The transition in Afghanistan is moving forward, and our troops are finally coming home. As they do, fewer deployments and more time training will help keep our military the very best in the world. And as we welcome home our newest veterans, we’ll never stop working to give them and their families the care, the benefits, and the opportunities that they have earned.’

I give Obama credit for sticking to his plan, though it may have brokered away some other positions of strength.  It’s been a long road and a difficult position to inherit. Politically, he clearly needs to appeal to any center he can, the troops, and of course, try to expand his base which seems to be anyone expecting the government to be an intermediary in most aspects of American life (though perhaps necessary in the case of the VA and benefits to soldiers).  One of his best bumps occurred after taking out Bin Laden.

On this view, America would need to leverage the support of the people of the Middle East toward some shared ideals of freedom against the Al Assads, Gadhafis, and Mubaraks as well as other assorted nationalist autocrats of the region.  As for the ideals, in Western circles they are often humanitarian, human rights based, Left democratic including the Anne Marie Slaughter vision…and for Obama perhaps some liberation theology thrown in…out with Churchill, in with MLK).

Of course, in the Middle-East this may all mean something quite different.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.

Related On This Site: David Ignatius At Foreign Policy: ‘What Happens When the Arab Spring Turns to Summer?’

Related On This Site: Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest Online: ‘Obama’s War’Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: ‘French Secularism Dies In the Middle East’From The New Yorker: ‘Obama And Israel’…The Hamas Charter is pretty scary:  Repost: A Few Thoughts On The Current Israeli Military Operation Into Gaza: A Shift In U.S. Attitudes?

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Charlie Rose Episode On Libya Featuring Bernhard Henri-Levy, Les Gelb And Others

Full video here. (52.52 min long, originally aired 04/04/11)

Bernhard Henri-Levy, Les Gelb, and others discuss the Libya intervention.  Henri-Levy defends the humanitarian approach (appealing to the ‘creeds’ of France, America and Britain).  The video gets interesting when Gelb gets involved at about minute 14:00, and wonders why the U.S. is stuck carrying most of the water, with so many downside risks (weak rebel forces, a still well-armed Gadhafi, a hypocritical and weak Arab league, high potential for deeper and deeper involvement).

Even if you are grateful for a change in U.S. foreign policy, and think like most people the humanitarian approach has worthy objectives (hammered from past atrocities and experiences on the ground in other countries, towards global governance) we are still using our political and military resources (people, maybe your friend or neighbor) and potentially subsuming our sovereignty to a framework for very questionable returns, and with so many risks.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.  Here’s a quote from a previous post:

‘According to my observations (for which I claim nothing by that they are all I have to go by) inaction is better than wrong action or premature right action, and effective right action can only follow right thinking. “If a great change is to take place,” said Edmund Burke, in his last words on the French Revolution, “the minds of men will be fitted to it.”‘

Addition:  As a reader points out, if you make the Gadhafi/Saddam Hussein comparison, there is general agreement on how tyrannical, and dangerous, both leaders were/have been, but also general [sic] agreement that the injustices each visited upon their own citizens partially led to U.S. involvement:

How are the two most recent president’s definitions of freedom (Bush’s human freedom…Obama’s arc of history…) getting crafted into foreign policy?  Any president will have to deal with the bureaucratic and institutional structures in place.

Another Addition:  Perhaps it’s worth noting the backdrop of French colonialism, Northern Africa, and the French intellectual Left (Henri-Levy, Derrida, Camus to some extent). Henri-Levy is essentially asking for more Western involvement (including the use of military force) because presumably, the Arabs can’t do it for themselves (neo-neo colonialism?).  So, if Henri-Levy did get Sarkozy’s ear on this, and Obama waited on the French to form some semblance of political consensus for action…was it worth the wait?  What American interests are at stake?

Related On This Site:  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 CSIS: ‘Turmoil In The Middle-East’From The New Yorker: ‘How Qaddafi Lost Libya’A Few Thoughts On Watching Operations In Libya