Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Middle East Blowback and Syria

Jackson Diehl and I have different ideas of what constitutes "blowback". I see "blowback" as the unintended consequence of foreign policy and military actions. He sees it as... I'm not quite sure.
At best, Libya will be a steady, low-grade headache for Obama in his second term. But the worst blowback from his policies will come in Syria. What began as a peaceful mass rebellion against another Arab dictator has turned, in the absence of U.S. leadership, into a brutal maelstrom of sectarian war in which al-Qaeda and allied jihadists are playing a growing role. Obama’s light footprint strategy did much to produce this mess; without a change of U.S. policy, it will become, like Bosnia for Bill Clinton or Iraq for George W. Bush, the second term’s “problem from hell.”
Diehl complains that President Obama's approach to Libya resulted in Gadhafi's fall from power, but showed little concern for what would happen to the nation afterward.
[A] Rand study concludes that stabilizing Libya will require disarming and demobilizing the militias and rebuilding the security forces “from the bottom up.” This, it says, probably can’t happen without help from “those countries that participated in the military intervention” — i.e. the United States, Britain and France. Can the Obama administration duplicate the security-force-building done in Iraq and Afghanistan in Libya while sticking to the light footprint? It’s hard to see how.
Diehl does not appear to be arguing that we should now occupy Libya, disarm its mlitias, and rebuild the nation from the ground up. He presents no argument that U.S. policy in Libya contributed to the civil war in Syria.

The U.S. is faced with four choices in Syria: Cease all current efforts and let the chips fall where they may, keep on the current course of sanctions and selective support for certain resistance, escalate into a Lebanon-type limited military engagement designed to cause Assad's regime to collapse, or invade, occupy and rebuild. Obama's "light footprint" policies in Libya did nothing to produce the mess in Syria. Diehl seems to be choosing loaded language, irrelevant to the situation, to try to make the Obama Administration responsible for Syria's civil war, and then to convince his readers that the only responsible action that can now be taken is an Iraq- or Afghanistan-style occupation and "bottom up" nation building.

Does Diehl actually believe that's plausible given our nation's recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, even under a different President? Even if we weren't still in a painfully slow period of economic recovery? Can Diehl at least explain why "It will be different than what happened the last two times we invaded and attempted to reinvent predominantly Muslim nations as progressive democracies," or "It will be different from our most recent incursions in nations that are dominated by warlords"? Because if not, the blowback isn't what would be leading us into the conflict - it would be what we would experience if we follow Diehl's counsel.

Few outside of Iran, the Putin Administration and Assad's inner circle want his regime to survive, but policy on how to achieve that end and what might follow should be predicated upon more than wishful thinking and an implied blank check payable by the U.S. taxpayer.

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