This administration is invariably late to the fight, and consequently arrives with minimum leverage and minimum understanding of the contending forces, thereby depriving us of the most effective and least perilous courses of action. In Syria, as in Libya before it, we’re told that the administration doesn’t have a very clear picture of who’s who, and this ignorance is then used to explain our paralysis.
About which there are at least three terribly damning things to say:
First, there is no excuse for our ignorance. It means that the sarcastically named Intelligence Community has failed to do its job. When the shah fell, the CIA was lambasted for its failure to know who the Ayatollah Khomeini was, but failure-to-know has been the trademark of our intelligence for a very long time. These ongoing failures should have produced accountability (top officials should have been fired), but no. On the contrary, the spooks got more and more money (the post-9/11 avalanche of new funding, for example), new bureaucratic layers (the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, now employing thousands of people who do…what, exactly?), and the same menu of ignorance as before;
Second, there seems to be little if any recognition that you can only get certain kinds of intelligence if you engage. Our guys have to be there and earn a certain degree of trust, if we expect to be able to find out who’s who and what’s what. But we don’t engage (it can be very dangerous), so we can’t be trusted, and so we don’t know. Why are we paying these guys?
The administration says that we don’t know enough about the opposition forces to be able to decide whether we should work with them. But they’ve got it backwards. We need to work with them in order to know who and what they are. It’s a tough world.
Mind you, even when we do have contacts with the opposition, there is no guarantee that we will actually see them plain. We’ve long had contacts with Palestinian radicals and with the Muslim Brothers, and still decided to support them. As the Italians say, the mother of fools is always pregnant;
Third, this ignorance is especially–say it again, especially– prevalent when it comes to those fighting tyrannies, many of which hate America and kill our soldiers and diplomats. The great current example, in addition to Syria, is Iran, where we still don’t have contacts with the opposition Green Movement inside the country.
These two monumental intelligence failures are no doubt linked to bad policy impulses coming from the White House. The president wants to make a deal with the Iranian regime, and if we actually acted to help the Syrian opposition forces, it would enrage Supreme Leader Khamenei.
Since we don’t engage, we get the worst of all worlds: like it or not, we’re in a big regional war, and we’re largely blind about the forces on the battlefield, and deprived of the assistance and cooperation of those who might normally be expected to fight alongside us. The FSA despises us–we haven’t done anything for them while Assad, the Russians and the Iranians slaughtered tens of thousands of them–and the Iranian opposition, like the Iranian tyrants, are quite confident we’ll do nothing for them. Ditto for the Kurds, a natural ally if ever I saw one, who get the backs of our hands for more often than an outstretched palm.
You can call it “leading from behind” if you insist,” but I call it acting ass forwards.
The ancients said that if you want peace, prepare for war. If you insist on running away from life’s real risks and talking nicely to those who want you dead, you get the war you thought you were avoiding.
Or, as Churchill nicely put it, you thought you had a choice between war and dishonor, you chose dishonor, and you are now facing a war that is becoming far more threatening than it was, or needed to be.