Skepticism At Home And Abroad-Two Friday Links

Michael Totten at The City Journal: ‘A Real Downside To Any Deal With Iran

Will the relatively weakened Sunni coalition try and use ISIS fighters as a proxy against Tehran, Damascus, Hizbollah and the government in Baghdad?

‘The U.S. hardly supports the malignant Assad, but all of Washington’s air strikes have landed on Sunni jihadist targets even after President Obama accused Damascus of deploying chemical weapons in civilian population centers. Like the government in Baghdad, the House of Assad is firmly in the Iranian camp. The state, along with the ruling family, is heavily packed with members of the Alawite minority, adherents of a heterodox religion that fuses Shia Islam, Christianity, and Gnosticism.’

Well, it’s nearly impossible to do deals with Sunni Ba’ath fascism, nor Saudi funded Wahhabism, but you can do deals with the mullahs in Tehran and the post-1979 crowd, desirous of deliverable nukes and working alongside Damascus, Hizbollah etc?

If there’s any one place on Earth right now where a nuclear arms race would be a bad idea, this is it.

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Ross Douthat at the NY Times: ‘Caesarism Without Apology

‘…A given move is a success if the opposition fails to find a way to block it, the hemmers and hawers are proven wrong if the president isn’t impeached, and the state of your party doesn’t really matter because an unbound presidency is all that progressivism really needs.’

If, as this blog does, you don’t see too many limiting principles on much of modern liberalism, (i.e. how does one ever know how much equality, economic regulation, central planning, tolerance, democracy etc. is enough?), then progressivism and activism is a much trickier beast: Ideologically predisposed towards vast expansions of federal and executive power through activism and majoritiarian populism.  This, quite aside from the executive-heavy trends we’ve been seeing in Washington the last generation or so.

Politicians aiming for the White House love controlling messages, and images, and Obama is no exception.  In fact, being a relative unknown in 2008, he was particularly reliant on analytics, social media, and the promotion of an image of himself.

All those promises of transparency, hipness, coolness and pop culture work against many realities of politics, and the job itself.

Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘What The MSM Is Failing To Tell You’

Full piece here.

‘Hizballah is an Iranian proxy operating for many years now in and out of Lebanon and, more recently, in Syria. Its past forays have extended all the way to Buenos Aires, and not long ago to Bulgaria. It is part of an Iranian-supported, and in many cases Iranian-directed, network that also includes several murderous Shi’a militias operating on Iraqi territory.’

Now that Syria and Iraq have fallen apart, and ISIS is filling in, Hizbollah, what’s left of Assad’s regime, and higher-up Iranians are managing what they can of their interests, and continue to run guns, ideology, influence, and terror, if necessary, around the region, and further afield:

This particularly threatens the Saudis and the Israelis:

‘…contrary to what most Westerners think they understand, Saudi Arabia from the start has been a ruling biumverate: The Al-Saud has worked the temporal, political side, and the Al-Wahhab has worked the spiritual, religious side. Each respects the others’ domain. We care about the Al-Saud because we see succession in the Al-Saud part of this arrangement, but we don’t know the names of and don’t pay any attention to changes in the Al-Wahhab part.

Why do these people care about what we think, one way or the other:

‘Great powers are in the protection business. The United States, as a great power, deserves a more formal and less misanthropic description of the same thing: U.S. grand strategy since the end of World War II has included prominently the suppression of security competitions in the world’s main regions, so as to minimize opportunities for would-be regional hegemons—the Soviet Union in Europe and the People’s Republic of China in Asia—to profit from mayhem.’

Now that we’ve pulled out…

‘And the United States? It’s too late. Having abdicated responsibility to suppress such a major regional security competition, there is no way now to get back to relative stability. Not that it would have been easy or cheap for the Obama Administration to do its duty effectively, and not that its predecessor did not make the situation worse; but abdication is now yielding bad and much more expensive options, whether of passivity or activity, in all directions. At least for the duration of the Obama Administration, respect for American power and trust in American judgment are all but gone. We have made ourselves, in effect, spectators; we are not likely, however, to enjoy the show.’

That’s a vital issue as to what this last election in the U.S. was about:  Will we lead?  To whom, to which ideas or principles, organizations and institutions, laws and contracts do we entrust our interests and military capabilities?  With whom can we do business?

*What about all the budgetary waste and undoubted overspending in D.C?

What about an unadventurous foreign policy, but still very risky nonetheless?

-Dexter Filkins on Iran here.

-Scowcroft and Brzezinski may be offering plans, but they were conditional and required competence: ‘George Shultz & Henry Kissinger At The Hoover Institution: ‘What A Final Iran Deal Must Do’

Which Ideas Are Guiding Our Foreign Policy With Iran.’ Some Saturday Links On Iran-Peace At What Price?

Israel, Iran, & Peace: Andrew Sullivan Responds To Charges Of Potential Anti-Semitism

Update And Repost: Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘The Coalition That Isn’t’

Full piece here.

The options were never good in Syria, they were bad and protracted Civil War worse. Now that IS has sprung-up from that protracted Civil War worse, and spilled over into Iraq, we’ve got a national security threat similar, or greater to, that in Afpak.  Most recently, after withdrawing our leadership, and having severely lowered our profile in the region and fumbled around incoherently, it’s unlikely we can field a coalition of willing partners.

Would you join a U.S. coalition in an act of war under such leadership, given past redlines, even if your national interests were at stake, and even if you happened to ally with many U.S. interests on this issue?

The logic of the threat compels us forward, dragging, apparently, this President along.

Garfinkle:

‘If we have no Sunni state allies willing to do the military scut work, and if we are not willing to attack Assad regime and Hizballah targets in Syria to show that we are not acting as a regional Shi‘a air force, then we have not acquired the means to accomplish the end: the extirpation of ISIS.’

For my part, hopefully it’s clearer now that the wages of community activism include having a President who constantly thinks in terms of politics, the base, and well, activism and ideology, even in matters of national security.  Some of this is political and has to do with the midterms and ‘optics.’

‘It is all well and good to point out that the President is largely to blame for his paucity of decent options—and it happens also to be true. It is true that, had he acted with a judicious use of U.S. power in the early stages in the Syrian civil war, he very well might have avoided the mess that he, and the nation with him, are in now. Plenty of people urged him, and plenty of people warned him—both inside his own Administration and out—that passivity would exact the highest price of all. He ignored them all.’

So, here we are.  Deja vu.

I keep putting this Kissinger quote up:

Book here.

“The purpose of bureaucracy is to devise a standard operating procedure which can cope effectively with most problems.  A bureaucracy is efficient if the matters which it handles routinely are, in fact, the most frequent and if its procedures are relevant to their solution.  If those criteria are met, the energies of the top leadership are freed to deal creatively with the unexpected occurrence or with the need for innovation.  Bureaucracy becomes an obstacle when what it defines as routine does not address the most significant range of issues or when its prescribed mode of action proves irrelevant to the problem.”

and:

“Moreover, the reputation, indeed the political survival, of most leaders depends on their ability to realize their goals, however these may have been arrived at.  Whether these goals are desireable is relatively less crucial.”

Kissinger, Henry. American Foreign Policy:  Three Essays.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.  1969.

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When does reality enter into it?

From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’Lawrence Wright At The New Yorker: ‘The Man Behind Bin Laden’

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

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?’

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

Two Links On The President’s IS Speech 09/10/2014

Here are some links on the President’s IS speech, all written before the speech, because I suppose we’ll see how much has really changed in the last few hours.

It’s tough to see how one degrades and destroys IS without ground-action, as well as coalitions of people who trust our leadership and strategy enough with their interests, as we pursue our interests in the manner laid out in the above link.

From Blackfive:

First, let us bring in four brief (not all encompassing) but important lessons learned from the last foray into Iraq (and Afghanistan).

  1. We didn’t pressure Turkey enough to allow use of their territory/airspace.
  2. We didn’t go after Iran for killing our troops and Iraqi civilians.
  3. We didn’t surge soon enough.
  4. We needed more troops during almost every major initiative.

So, questions for the President about our defense would start with:

Click through for more.

Michael Totten: Iraq’s Kurdish Firewall:

‘I doubt the Kurds will get sucked into a war with Iraq’s Shia population, but it’s possible. What’s more striking about this and other recent developments is that Iraq’s Kurds are frequently fighting outside their autonomous region in the northern three provinces.

They’re doing it defensively—they have no interest in conquering and annexing Arab parts of the country—but they’re doing it nevertheless.’

The Kurds have a thankless task, and given the giant mess the Shia coalitions have made of the government and military (also with plenty of Iranian control), the disenfranchised Sunnis which have been supporting IS in some cases and don’t appear ready to have another Anbar awakening and surge, and given the continued Civil War between IS as part of rebel groups against the Assad regime in Syria, I’m not sure Iraq and Syria have anything resembling viable governments and the will to form, fight and die for anything resembling viable governments under current borders and conditions.

Can anyone defeat IS at the moment?

The Saudis, UAE, and even European partners must see a larger strategy for their own interests in order to buy-in, having been given many reasons to doubt Obama’s words, commitments and leadership.

At the moment, I choose to see a humanitarian idealist President, reluctantly dragged to this point, and generally not committed to any overarching strategy using force because the use of force and boots on the ground don’t line up with his own ideological commitments and worldview, despite much evidence to the contrary.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.

Addition:  I’m profoundly not looking forward to the prospect of war, and IS is more of an upgraded Al Qaeda threat at the moment rather than some looming titan.  This means thousands of jihadis flocking to the area, as well as some from our shores with American passports.  They have a large platform now.

To the libertarian folks interested in peace, I’d suggest to think of all the State security apparatus like the Department Of Homeland Security that have grown up since 9/11, and the possibility of what would happen should another attack occur on our soil.  It looks as though attacking and containing IS now is a good deal better than a possibly neurotic ever-expanding bureuacracy hamstrung by silly rules and the low probabilities but high consequences of another terrorist attack.

Ally yourselves with the more pro-peace Left and you tend to get all the impulses Statism and progressive utopianism create, but you’ll still have to go to war at times, but not even have politicians be able to tell much truth about why.  This will be defending a lot you don’t believe in (like legalized pot leads to State revenue and more bureaucracy and questionable incentives).  A big, rotting hulk of a thing.  An indebted, illiberal mess with horrible incentives.

Ally yourselves with those who are more pro-war on the Right and you tend to get a strong defense but many incentives leading to more Statism and supporting institutions that also interfere with individual liberty, like the Department Of Homeland Security and a lot of the waste in military procurement and constant defense build-up, sometimes without much direction.   Many incentives are off right-now, but the actual common defense logic compels much of this forward.  There are genuine threats, and freedom costs lives and sacrifice, whether for trade-routes, for limited government etc.

These are hard choices.

Battling against Islamism and such militants is going to take awhile, whatever form it takes.

I’m all ears to alternatives in order to do so, and logic to explain those possible alternatives that shows a pretty good understanding of our challenges.

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Walter Russell Mead on the logic that has led Obama to this point:

‘So America’s Middle East policy is in a mess, and the last thing President Obama wanted to do was to launch a new war in the Middle East on the anniversary of 9/11. He didn’t say it in so many words, but he didn’t need to: it’s clear to everyone that we are where we are because his chosen policies did not work. His diagnosis was off, and his prescriptions failed. The patient got sicker under his care, and the problem is going to be harder, more painful, more expensive to treat than it could have been.’

It seems our President might be happier amongst a group of assorted pro-peace activists and sometime radicals in about 1968 or 1972 or so…somewhere between a meeting hall scattered with leaflets and the faculty lounge.

Some Wednesday Links-Iraq No More?

The threat Turkey faces from the chaos in Syria and Iraq, taken advantage of by ISIS and others, would have to be greater than the threat an independent Kurdistan could pose, least of all by Kurds in Turkey…to Turkish national sovereignty and security.  Erdogan has incentive to ride his own authoritarian impulses along and have some identity with the Islamic resurgence going on, if not for an ISIS-controlled Islamist State/Caliphate.

I’m guessing part of this hinges on whether or not ISIS can hold together, and if so, conceivably put the FATA region of Pakistan to shame in terms of harboring all kinds of terrorists and malcontents.

I always feel put to shame (even as a lowly blogger, no less) when Adam Garfinkle brings out some of his knowledge: ‘Iraq: What A Way To Go

‘We should therefore not attack ISIS formations, either stationary or in motion—at least not yet. We should, on the other hand, rapidly and boldly move to support Jordan, which is dealing with a backbreaking refugee crisis. We should reaffirm our commitments to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, and Kuwait; we should let the nasty Bahraini and mischievous Qatari regimes guess our attitudes toward them.

Above all, we should further tighten relations with the Kurds in what used to be northern Iraq but is now an independent state in everything but name. We probably should try to get on the same sheet of music with them, offering support but counseling prudence—in other words, collecting some leverage so we can influence the behavior of Barzani et al. in future. Personally, I’m fine with the Kurds in Kirkuk, their traditional capital city, so long as they occupy and eventually stabilize the city with genuine justice for all of the city’s communities.’

I’ve got to give counter-culture VICE credit, they are offering dispatches from Iraq:

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The U.S. is seriously lacking in strategy, and that probably won’t change for a few more years, at least.  We helped break it, we can’t buy it, and so many interests are at stake that we ought to come up with a strategy, and soon.

Addition: Via Blackfive: The stability gained in Iraq was lost during the last three years of leaving it to its own devices?

Walter Russell Mead: ‘Kurdistan Exists: Now What?’

Some Saturday Links On Iran-Peace At What Price?

David Ignatius At The Washington Post:

‘What Gulf Arabs and Israelis fear most is that U.S. engagement with Iran will be accompanied by American disengagement from the region. This is why Obama’s incessant talk about ending wars in the Middle East and his blink on using military power in Syria frightened these countries. They saw it as a prelude to a general U.S. retreat. Obama must signal that an agreement with Iran is instead a bridge to a regional security framework in which U.S. power remains the guarantor.’

So are we in good policy hands?  When I think about Obamacare and the progressive ideals guiding it, the base supporting it, and the execution of the thing…well, I get a little uncomfortable.  A least there were some Machiavellian tactics and shrewd messaging which might be useful in dealing with Iran, but those tactics seem reserved for domestic political opposition while the worst-of-the-worst in the world are enticed into negotiations with liberal internationalist policy and democracy promotion.

I also think about the difference-splitting and dithering on Syria, allowing a window of opportunism for Putin to step-in, and Assad to stay while the war rages on for very little in return.  Assad is now recovering as the war rages on and the region becomes more unstable.

Walter Russell Mead from his site:

‘At its essence, it seems to us, the deal being debated right now in Geneva is some form of “nukes for Syria” arrangement: Iran promises to give up certain parts of its nuclear program in return for some sanctions relief and a freer hand for its hegemonic aspirations in the greater Middle East. This deal is premised on a number of uncertainties: that Iran will honestly and verifiably forgo its nuclear weapons program, and that its regional hegemonic aspirations won’t lead the region into more conflict ‘

Surely you trust our current administration to handle all of these moving parts even if you don’t trust the Iranians?

Previously on this site:

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On June 15th, 2007, Charlie Rose sat down with Henry KissingerZbigniew Brzezinski, and Brent Scowcroft to discuss foreign policy and geo-strategy.  That’s over six years ago!

I was surprised to find that Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor from 1977 to 1981, described very nearly what the Obama administration’s current Iran policy seems to be.  Runs from 32:52 to 35:10 (Sorry I couldn’t embed with the exact time-stamp).

A few minutes can explain a lot.  Well worth your time.

Addition:  Here’s a brief summary of that argument:

1.  The Iranians and the Iranian regime, despite what their intentions may be, have a right to enrich uranium up to 5% according to international law.   They’re doing this.

2. We’re asking them to abandon this right as a precondition to any negotiations, creating an asymmetry.  We should offer to lift sanctions first in return just to get them to swallow their pride and sit down for talks.  This pride may extend beyond the mullahs and regime, and go into the cultural and national psyche of Iranians.

3.  Whatever their intentions may be, unlike North Korea, the Iranian regime isn’t out and proud about nuclear enrichment and weaponization.  They’re at least claiming to follow international law which gives us some leverage.

Addition:  From the Jerusalem Post, it’s looking like the right to enrich uranium in the first place is a sticking point.  The clock is ticking, and many costs have already built up.

Israel, Iran, & Peace: Andrew Sullivan Responds To Charges Of Potential Anti-SemitismSome Saturday Links On Iran-Skepticism, To Say The Least

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

Dexter Filkins At The New Yorker: ‘The Shadow Commander’

Full piece here.

Filkins takes a look at Iran’s Qassem Suleimani:

‘Suleimani took command of the Quds Force fifteen years ago, and in that time he has sought to reshape the Middle East in Iran’s favor, working as a power broker and as a military force: assassinating rivals, arming allies, and, for most of a decade, directing a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq’

Related On This Site:   Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Repost-’Dexter Filkins In The NY Times: The Long Road To Chaos In Pakistan’

Dexter Filkins At The New Yorker: ‘What We Don’t Know About Drones’

Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: ‘Iran: Keeping The World’s Oddest Couple Together’…Materialism and Leftism Paul Berman On Bloggingheads: The Left Can Criticize Iran

From Via Media: ‘Middle East In Flames: The Fruit Of White House Policy In Syria’

Full post here.

‘At the moment, mainstream media criticism of the President’s foreign policy mostly centers around the issues that bother the legalist left: too many drones, not enough closure at Guantanamo, too much persecution of reporters trying to ferret the President’s dark secrets out of his staff. What isn’t taking place, yet, is a process of examining the consequences of key administration moves in the Middle East.’

Joshua Landis’ blog here.

Al Jazeera live blog on Syria here.

Interesting paper here.

Addition: What’s going on in Turkey?  More here.  The region is roiling.

Adam Garfinkle makes it sound almost mercurial:

So why is the United States not intervening in Syria? Because our level of affinity with the victims is low, our aesthetic sense is not much ruffled, and our cycle-sensitivity is very high. We actually do have interests and principles both at stake in Syria, but they’re no match for the real reasons why America does or does not intervene abroad

From a while back: Full video here. (Zbigniew Brzezinski, David Ignatius, Jim Jones and Michael Mazarr respond to Mazarr’s new article “The Risk Of Ignoring Strategic Insolvency“) More discussion of the piece here.

Many Americans are contented enough at the moment with a move away back towards isolationism, away from Iraq and Afpak, and to regroup and align our interests with our budget (our military budget is being cut significantly, presumably to spend it inefficiently at home).

Now, we’re never going to fix that part of the world, but we want to be strategically well placed within it.  The Republican establishment isn’t looking too good on foreign policy, and the neo-con wave crested a while ago.  Personally, I have little faith that the current ideals guiding foreign policy, and the political commitments that come with them, can place us as well as we need to be placed.

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 the least risk and the most gain? Ralph Peters At The NY Post: ‘Too Late For Syria’