ISIS, oh ISIS – What drives us to you is what drives us insane: In Reuters, Middle East expert Andrew Bacevich has some serious doubts about a military solution to the newest Big Bad (who, let’s remember, are a threat at all precisely because of all the weapons we’ve already dumped in the area — Gee, it’s almost like our always getting involved makes everything worse.) “Rudderless and without a compass, the American ship of state continues to drift, guns blazing.”
He’s not alone. While they’ve been highly complicit in the collective freak-out over the past few weeks, the media — as welcome returning blogger Dan Froomkin notes — are starting to get skeptical too. “Allam notes that Yemen and Somalia are hardly examples of success; that the new Iraqi government is hardly ‘inclusive'; that training of Iraqi soldiers hasn’t worked in the past; that in Syria it’s unclear which ‘opposition’ Obama intends to support; and that it may be too late to cut off the flow of fighters and funds.”
Keeping in mind that Obama himself seems to think this is all a terrible idea, let’s recall what we’re really dealing with here, via the very worthwhile “War Nerd,” Gary Brecher: “ISIS, compared to any of the groups on that list, is about as scary as your neighbor’s yappy Shih Tzu: all noise and no teeth. Let’s just sober up, for Christ’s sake, and remember we’re talking about a half-assed Sunni militia that couldn’t face up to Assad’s mediocre Syrian Arab Army and still hasn’t found a way to occupy Sunni Iraqi towns that were outright abandoned by the Army, left totally undefended.”
Along the same lines, see Brecher on ISIS’s initial advance back in June:
|“Actually, topography has everything to do with what’s gone well or badly for ISIS. in this latest push. If you know the ethnic makeup of the turf they’ve taken, their ‘shocking gains’ don’t seem so shocking, or impressive. After all, we’re talking about a mobile force — mounted on the beloved Toyota Hilux pickup truck, favorite vehicle of every male in the Middle East — advancing over totally flat, dry ground in pursuit of a totally demoralized opponent. In that situation, any force could take a lot of country very quickly…So this isn’t the second coming of Erwin Rommel by any means. Everything has conspired to push the Sunni advance, from the lousy opponent they’re up against to the terrain, which is a light mechanized commander’s dream.
Flat and dry is how a mechanized force commander wants his ground — and believe me, you haven’t seen flat and dry until you get to Iraq. Once you’re south of the Kurdish mountains, you’re on a dried mudflat…This is, after all, Mesopotamia, a land literally built by the sediment of the Euphrates and Tigris. It’s river mud, but nice and dry because very little rain falls,..On ground like that, any force with good morale and enough fuel could advance as quickly as the Sunni have. It’s the Bonneville Salt Flats of insurgency, the place you go to set new speed records.”
The point being, we have to stop losing our minds and letting a hysterical media and the same gaggle of Neocon pricks who’ve been wrong about everything for two decades get us involved in every opportunity to make war in the Middle East. Are ISIS a bunch of Bad Men? Undoubtedly. But that doesn’t make them an existential threat to the republic. So how about we all take a deep breath before, yet again, expending ever more blood and treasure in the region?
“As for Clinton, well, it’s not entirely her fault, I guess — unlike Obama, she’s been with us for a decade and a half now, and is nothing if not a known quantity. But she came across to me as the same cautious, methodical, triangulating centrist she’s shown herself to be over the past fifteen years in public life, and it’s getting harder to imagine myself being anything but underwhelmed by her as a candidate in the general election.”
Of course, the 2008 primaries thereafter grew quite heated, and, suffice to say, I didn’t think HRC accorded herself very well. So instead of the cautious, methodical, triangulating centrist we knew, I and millions of others took a gamble on Hope and Change…and ended up with a cautious, methodical, triangulating centrist regardless.
So here we are six years later, with an American electorate that has moved demonstrably to the left, and the former Secretary of State and presumptive Democratic nominee just held her first almost-a-candidate townhall on CNN. And what have we learned so far about the all-new, tanned, rested, and ready, 2016 iteration of Hillary Clinton?
1) She thinks Edward Snowden pals around with terrorists. “I think turning over a lot of that material—intentionally or unintentionally—drained, gave all kinds of information, not only to big countries, but to networks and terrorist groups and the like. So I have a hard time thinking that somebody who is a champion of privacy and liberty has taken refuge in Russia, under Putin’s authority.”
2) Her favorite book is…the Bible. “[T]he Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking. I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it. I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement.” Edgy!
3) She won’t take a position on Keystone. “‘I can’t respond,’ she said…’This particular decision is a very difficult one because there are so many factors at play.'”
4) She was actually against the Iraq War last time around, but just couldn’t come out and say it because she supports the troops. “[I]n fact, in the Democratic Party at that time, the smart political decision, as so many of my colleagues did, was to come out and say ‘Terrible mistake, shouldn’t have done it,’ and you know blame the Bush administration. I had this sense that I had voted for it, and we had all these young men and women over there, and it was a terrible battle environment…So I felt like I couldn’t break faith with them.”
5) By the way, those troops should still be in Iraq right now. “When — President Bush decided, before President Obama became president, that we would leave Iraq in 2011, the United States would end its combat mission, unless the Iraqi government agreed to ask us to stay, under the same conditions that we have all around the world. It’s called a status of forces ingredient. I was involved in a lot of the efforts to come up with what our offer would be. And we made such an offer to then Prime Minister Maliki. And he would not accept the status of forces agreement…[W]e knew Iraq would be quite dangerous for a long time, unpredictable, at the very least — you have to have the host government, in this case Iraq, say, OK, here’s what we want…We didn’t get that done. And I think, in retrospect, that was a mistake by the Iraqi government.”
6) She won’t come right out and endorse paid maternity leave in America. “I think, eventually, it should be, but, right now, we’re seeing some — some very good proposals being implemented in other parts of the country, so that we have answers…I don’t think, politically, we could get it now.” By the way, you know who else doesn’t have paid maternity leave? Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland. That’s it.
7) She won’t come right out and say racism may be a factor in anti-Obama sentiment. “Well, I know that — I don’t want to — I don’t want to say that I verify that, because that would be generalizing too broadly. I believe that there are people who have trouble with ethnicity, with race, with gender, with sexual orientation, you name it. And therefore, they are not developing a reasoned opinion — even if it’s an opinion in opposition, but they are a reacting on a visceral stereotypical basis. And that’s unfortunate.” YES, Madam Secretary. The answer here is “YES.”
8) Her family is apparently shielding wealth from the estate tax, a tax both she and the former President support. A common move among 1%’ers, but nonetheless one that doesn’t inspire confidence.
And so on. Secretary Clinton has moved left on immigration (though she wouldn’t badmouth Obama’s draconian deportation policy), on marijuana (though she said medicinal marijuana “needs more research” and gave the “let the states lead the way” hedge on decriminalization), and on gay marriage (she came out in support…last year.) In all of these, she’s lagging behind the country as a whole, much less the Democratic Party.
TL;DR: Secretary Clinton is still, indisputably, the same cautious, methodical, triangulating centrist as ever. And yet, for some reason — even though it’s hard to think of a single solitary stance she’s taken that would move our party in a new and progressive direction — she’s not only the party of the left’s presumptive standard-bearer — For all intent and purposes, she’s running unchallenged!
Politics these days is depressing, and no mistake.
As armed US intervention in Syria seemingly passes the point of fait accompli — despite the fact that, as usual, any desirable outcome is unlikely, and blowback almost inevitable, from such a campaign — veteran Mideast correspondent Roger Boyes voices his concerns about the imploding Middle East. (Paywall-free summary here.) “In August 1914 there was a lot of grouse shooting going on. In August 2013, politicians prefer to read doorstopper biographies in Tuscany and Cornwall. Yet the spreading Middle East crisis, its multiple flashpoints, is every bit as ominous as the prelude to war in 1914.”
“The consequences of Bush and Rice’s passivity were disastrous. Israel didn’t lose the war, but it didn’t win, either, and that’s what it had to do to maintain its image of invincibility, which has long deterred hostile neighbors from contemplating aggression. Hezbollah didn’t win, but all it had to do was not lose, and it clearly achieved that goal, enhancing its reputation as the power that had stood up to the Zionists and faced them down.” In his discussion of the recent Mideast summit in Annapolis (which publicly aimed to kickstart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and privately aimed to pry Syria further away from Iran), Slate‘s Fred Kaplan brings up a crucial — and missed — opportunity for diplomacy last year, during the Israel-Lebanon crisis. “(By the way, this may have been the genesis of a new Israeli verb, lecondel—in Hebrew, ‘to Condel,’ short for ‘to Condoleezza’ — meaning, as the New York Times’ Steven Erlanger has explained, to come and go for meetings that produce few results.)” And, speaking of political linguistics, it turns out that Annapolis, however picturesque, might not have been the best place to hold the summit — In Arabic, “Annapolis” roughly translates to “I am the Police.”
“‘We screwed up and left Saddam Hussein in power. The president [then George H.W. Bush] believes he’ll be overthrown by his own people, but I rather doubt it,’ he quotes Wolfowitz lamenting [in 1991]. ‘But we did learn one thing that’s very important. With the end of the Cold War, we can now use our military with impunity. The Soviets won’t come in to block us. And we’ve got five, maybe 10, years to clean up these old Soviet surrogate regimes like Iraq and Syria before the next superpower emerges to challenge us … We could have a little more time, but no one really knows.‘” According to Salon‘s Joe Conason, Wesley Clark’s new book suggests the existence of a smoking-gun 2001 memo that outlined in full the neo-cons’ delusional ambitions for the Middle East before the Iraq War. “‘Six weeks later, Clark returned to Washington to see the same general and inquired whether the plan to strike Iraq was still under consideration…”Oh, it’s worse than that,” he said, holding up a memo on his desk. “Here’s the paper from the Office of the Secretary of Defense [then Donald Rumsfeld] outlining the strategy. We’re going to take out seven countries in five years.” And he named them, starting with Iraq and Syria and ending with Iran.’ While Clark doesn’t name the other four countries, he has mentioned in televised interviews that the hit list included Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Sudan.”
“There’s a broader lesson here, and it speaks to the Bush administration’s present jam throughout the Middle East and in other danger zones. If the British had adopted the same policy toward dealing with Pakistan that Bush has adopted toward dealing with, say, Syria or Iran (namely, it’s an evil regime, and we don’t speak with evil regimes), then a lot of passenger planes would have shattered and spilled into the ocean, hundreds or thousands of people would have died, and the world would have suddenly been plunged into very scary territory.” In light of yesterday’s foiled plot, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan points out one of the critical flaws of Dubya Diplomacy (which, thankfully, the British do not share.)
“This has constrained U.S. foreign policy in many damaging ways…The United States does not have effective diplomatic channels for managing the situation, much less resolving it.” Former members of Bush administrations past and present criticize the Dubya White House for their complete lack of diplomatic avenues with Syria, Iran, the Palestinians, or anyone else that might be able to mitigate the current Middle East crisis. “As unattractive as they are, the Syrians are in a position to affect U.S. interests in Iraq and Lebanon…We should be having a broad-based dialogue with them — not as a favor to them but as a favor to ourselves.“
“‘What about Kofi Annan?’ Bush asked Blair. ‘I don’t like the sequence of it. His attitude is basically cease-fire and everything else happens.’” Dubya and Tony Blair get caught (apparently) off-guard and on tape discussing the escalating crisis in the Middle East. “Bush said that he feels ‘like telling Kofi to get on the phone with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad and make something happen. We’re not blaming Israel, and we’re not blaming the Lebanese government.’” (A lot of news sources seem to be fronting Dubya’s use of the S-word — “See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it’s over.” — but, really, who gives a shit about his language?) “Bush also told Blair that he would be sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region soon. ‘She’s going,’ Bush said. ‘I think Condi’s going to go pretty soon.’” Update: Watch it online, just to get a sense of how boorish and out-of-his-depth our president seems on the world stage. (Exhibit B: Dubya’s ill-fated and cringeworth back-rub attempt.)
More grim news in the world-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket department: So, obviously, there now seems to be a full-fledged firing war going on between Israel and Hezbollah, one which has already set back Lebanon years and threatens to bring in Syria and Iran as official combatants (a.k.a. Hezbollah‘s main backers) if it keeps up. For his part, other than having Bolton spike a UN resolution condemning Israel for “disproportionate use of force,” Dubya has been basically AWOL in terms of world leadership — in fact, he’s been more effusive about a German pig of late than he has a conflagration that threatens nothing less than full-scale war across the Middle East. Where have you gone Bill Clinton, our nation turns it lowly eyes to you?
As if the revelations of Syria’s role in the Hariri assassination weren’t disturbing enough, now the recently-elected president of Iran, a state with nuclear ambitions, is making nightmarish and freakshow statements reasserting the goal of Israel’s destruction. With rhetoric escalating and five years of Dubya’s “with-us-or-against-us” diplomacy helping to shore up hardliners across the Middle East, it seems Iraq may soon be the least of our problems in the region.
“‘This is simply the beginning,’ said Farid El-Khazen, a Lebanese lawmaker and political scientist. ‘There is little room for maneuver left…Syria doesn’t have a middle-ground option.” Hmmm. This is not good.
“Up through January of 2003, the cooperation was topnotch,” a former State Department official said. “Then we were going to do Iraq, and some people in the Administration got heavy- handed. They wanted Syria to get involved in operational stuff having nothing to do with Al Qaeda and everything to do with Iraq.” As Dubya accuses Syria of harboring terrorists, Sy Hersh examines the rise and fall of US-Syrian cooperation after 9/11.
Toning down on the Syria talk, the Bushies instead decide to invoke their post-Iraq mojo to launch a sneak attack on the economy, vis a vis the now phased-in Dubya Dividend Debacle. It’s not conservative to give out tax handouts to the rich during a time of exploding deficits, y’all. It’s radical.
Kerry’s got the loot, Lieberman’s spending too much, Edwards is bleeding support (I’m not sure if losing Shrum is a negative), and, even among nine candidates, Florida Senator Bob Graham has come up with a novel position on the Middle East: He’s against the war in Iraq, for a war in Syria. And we’ve got eighteen months to go, folks.
Second verse, same as the first. With the war in Iraq coming to a close, Dubya’s hawks start turning up the heat on Syria. “I think that we believe there are chemical weapons in Syria,” Bush said yesterday. Boy, that rationale never gets old, does it? Even with India now latching onto Dubya’s “preemption” to justify possibly bombing Pakistan back into the Stone Age, the Bushies don’t even make an attempt to forge a casus belli more in tune with international diplomatic precedent. Let’s just hope China also doesn’t decide to “preempt” terrorism in Taiwan anytime soon. (Second link via Follow Me Here.) Update: Bush and Blair try to kill the Syria war hype, for now.
Well, I must admit, the fall of Saddam’s regime occurred much more quickly than I had ever expected. (Ten bucks says the Iraqi cabal card decks are all over Ebay in six months.) But, as Michael Kinsley notes, our victory doesn’t answer the tough questions about why we got involved in the first place. And while the images of liberation coming out of Baghdad right now are undeniably stirring, my doubts about this conflict – and the amateurish diplomacy that preceded it – remain…and particularly if Gulf War II spills over into Syria or Iran.
Although Saddam’s regime appears to be on its last legs, the Bushies have not yet begun to fight. In fact, this administration now seems recommitted to the task of destroying whatever remaining credibility America has left in the Middle East and the international community. For, despite recent setbacks in Afghanistan, Rummy, Wolfowitz, and the rest of Dubya’s neocon hawks now turn to Syria as the best candidate for our next splendid little war, a war that even England is loath to enter. And one has to assume Iran, Irkutsk, and Yakutsk are next. (Then maybe the Bushies will be content to take a card.)