"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, September 12, 2013

US Foreign Policy Idealism–Syria And Egypt

The combination of American exceptionalism and unremitting idealism has sent us reeling down from the post WWII aerie in an ungraceful and pitiful free fall into a foreign policy morass.

In Vietnam, we were out to save the world from godless Communism and completely misread (or never read) the long history of Southeast Asia and Chinese-Vietnamese hostility.  We underestimated the fervent do-or-die nationalism of Ho Chi Minh and backed the corrupt, ineffective, and discredited Diem because he represented ‘democracy’.  We underestimated the brilliance of Gen.Giap and overestimated American firepower; and ultimately suffered an ignominious and humiliating defeat as TV viewers back home watched the last helicopters take off from the roof of the American Embassy.

We went to war in Iraq because of the loud and insistent drumbeat of Paul Wolfowitz and the Neocons who, once again, felt it was America’s duty to spread democracy through the Middle East.  According to them, it would be a reverse domino theory – once Iraq became democratic, so would the rest of the region. Yes, there was the issue of oil, but Exxon Mobil knew very well that it could do without Iraqi oil and that we were not going to war for them.  The fight was about re-establishing America’s moral authority (eroded since Vietnam), military primacy (by picking on a weakling), and perhaps above all vindicating the Bush family.  There was nothing rational or reasonable about the war.

Just as the US misread Vietnamese history, misjudged Uncle Ho and Giap, and overestimated the supposed transformative power of democracy, we badly misread Iraq.  We only had to turn to the Balkans to see how the fall of the Soviet bloc and the demise of Tito led to an outburst of religious and ethnic violence.  There was every reason to believe that the same would happen in Iraq once Saddam Hussein was deposed; and yet US forces went in unprepared, expecting hurrahs and garlands, and instead found themselves caught in a web of the the most baffling political complexity. Again, an idealistic, exceptional United States simply assumed that democracy would prevail.  There has always been a religious foundation to this belief, and it is no different from that of American missionaries around the world – only bring the savages to Jesus, and civilization will follow.

The war in Afghanistan was even more perplexing.  Did we not realize that the Afghans have never been defeated or colonized?  From Alexander the Great to the mighty Soviet Army, the wild, untamed Afghans prevailed.  Did we not realize that the Taliban were Afghans, and just as committed and ferocious as the mujahidin rebels that we and Charlie Wilson supported against the Soviets?

The reason for war in Afghanistan was revenge and payback.  No one destroys the Twin Towers without America the Great reigning terror down on its enemies.  Does this verse sound familiar?

"The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children.

And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you! Ezekiel 25:17

Bang! Bang! said Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction) and George W. Bush.

We did not invade Afghanistan to remove the Taliban, although we intimated that because they harbored Osama bin Laden they would have to pay.  We didn’t invade to rid the world of al-Qaeda although we went after Osama up in the caves and hoped that if we could cut off the head of the hydra, the body would die. We didn’t invade Afghanistan to free women from medieval laws; but would be happy if that were a by-product.

It felt good to invade Afghanistan.  It was a macho thing to do to show the world that nobody can kick America the Great around; but it was ill-advised because anyone who had an even cursory knowledge of history could have predicted the outcome – that the Taliban would win and take over as soon as the US was completely out of the country.  Karzai, a clear Taliban supporter, may stay in power as a wealthy puppet, but the Taliban will rule and continue their disruption of Pakistan.  India is happy.  Iran is happy.  The Taliban are happy.  The United States is unhappy.

Then we come to the Arab Spring. “See”, said the resurrected Neocons. “We were right after all.  Democracy must out. This is America’s triumph”.  Wrong, of course.  The United States felt compelled to support Morsi even though anyone in the CIA basement could have predicted his amateurish rule and the inevitable ascendance of radical Islamist groups.  We turned our backs on our longstanding ally, the Egyptian military, and in the blink of an eye we had not one but two enemies – radical Islam and the generals.  The military had always told us that they were the strongest, only, and last bulwark against the savages at the gates and, perhaps more importantly, a protector of Israel; and now we we reject them.

Of course, with Morsi gone bad, and the excesses of the Muslim Brotherhood out in the open, the only course we can take is to back the military who will exact a big price for our conversion.

If all this were not bad enough, civil war breaks out in Syria. What’s a mother to do? Politically the idealistic, exceptional America has to back the rebels against the despot Assad, despite the fact that these rebels, although at first home grown, quickly became the pawn of Islamists all over the region.  al-Qaeda had a field day. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Obama dithered.  The American public has no appetite for another war; and no matter how much the President has tried to assure the electorate that there will be no boots on the ground, ever, his pleas fall on deaf ears.

As Chili Palmer says to Bear in Get Shorty, “Hey, Bear, look at me. Tell your boss I don't ever want to see him again. He made a deal with Harry and a deal's a deal”

“Look at me”, says Obama to the American public, stealing Travolta’s trademark line. “I will never put boots on the ground”.  Of course nobody believes him.  A Cruise missile attack on Syria will of course lead to an even greater conflagration in Syria and in the entire region.  Eventually the US will be drawn in to another full-fledged war.

Enter the Chess Master Vladimir Putin who with a few brilliant moves (P-K4, BxQ) checkmates Obama. He deflects Obama’s call for a military strike by getting Syria to agree to turn over all its chemical weapons (which Secy. Kerry obtusely, dumbly, and totally ignorantly claimed would be the only way to avoid an attack).  Putin strengthens Russia’s standing in the world for being a peacemaker.  He helps Obama avoid a disastrous Cameron-style defeat in Congress; and best of all, he plays Kissinger-style realpolitik with élan. It is not Assad we have to worry about, he says, it is the savages at the gate.  Radical Islam is our joint enemy, and we must do all to stop its advances.

Putin knows what he is talking about.  For years Russia fought a war in Chechnya and the southern Russian provinces to assure that no radical Islamic movement would threaten Moscow and the Russian state.  He won; but realizes that it is only a matter of time before it will happen again – unless ruthless action is taken.

This is what the strategists in basements all over Washington really want – a strong Assad in Syria, a strong military in Egypt. Fuck democracy. Look what happens when we let democracy rule – Hamas in Gaza and Morsi in Egypt.  Radical Islamists use democratic means to legitimize authoritarian rule.  Putin knows this and is bloody-minded about it.

Obama needs to thank his friend, Vladi, for saving his political ass and allowing him to take the only way out of the Syrian morass.  Leave Assad alone, let Russia keep supplying him with weapons, and stand by while the brutal dictator, in it for the long haul, prevails.  There is no way that the rebels can win against a well-organized, disciplined, and committed military which is supplied with Russian advanced weaponry. 

The moral of the story is that idealism and exceptionalism always get you into deep trouble. We were better off in the good old days when we backed the Shah, Pinochet, Videla, and the Brazilian military.  That was realpolitik at its best.  Protect American interests in the best way possible, and dictators certainly helped to do that if they were paid enough. Sure, we could have engineered the removal of the Pahlavi family in Iran and replaced it with a democrat; but how long would that regime have lasted?  The Ayatollah and his henchmen would have simply come to power earlier.  Same result.

Under this new, retro-Kissinger foreign policy, America would: a) go to war only if American interests were truly, incontrovertibly, and inexorably at stake; b) leave moral considerations on the shelf; and never go to war for principle; c) win any war at all costs.  No more concern for civilian casualties or winning their hearts and minds; and no more namby-pamby policy of exaggerated military risk-avoidance; and d) be prepared to stay the course, establish martial law and enforce it harshly and punitively.

In other words, listen to Putin. 

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