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Belmont Club

“Let it Burn”

December 4th, 2012 - 12:14 am

There’s a new first in the Middle East. “For first time, Britain, France may recall ambassadors to protest Israel’s settlement construction”.

Moves against Israel will be made in the next few days following Netanyahu’s decision to move ahead on planning in E1 and build 3,000 housing units in the settlement blocs, and in East Jerusalem, say senior European diplomats.

Why now? Maybe that’s because the West has run out of other ways to stop the fire in the Middle East. Getting Israel to appease the growing unrest is one last thing to try. But will it work?

General Carter Ham has described the inexorable spread of al-Qaeda in Africa. Al-Qaeda. You know, the agency that President Obama has declared dead? The New York Times reports that: “Al Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa is operating terrorist training camps in northern Mali and providing arms, explosives and financing to a militant Islamist organization in northern Nigeria, the top American military commander in Africa said on Monday.”

This came only a few days after an Obama administration official mulled the possibility of ending the war on terror in order to legally close Guantanamo.

In Johnson’s view, once al-Qaida’s ability to launch a strategic attack is gone, so too is the war. What will remain is a “counterterrorism effort” against the “individuals who are the scattered remnants” of the organization or even unaffiliated terrorists. “The law enforcement and intelligence resources of our government are principally responsible” for dealing with them, Johnson said, according to the text of his speech, with “military assets in reserve” for an imminent threat.

The war’s over. But who won?  Ham’s report said that “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has used the momentum gained since seizing control of the northern part of the impoverished country in March to increase recruiting across sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Europe”.

“As each day goes by, Al Qaeda and other organizations are strengthening their hold in northern Mali,” General Ham said in remarks at the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University. “There is a compelling need for the international community, led by Africans, to address that.”

In addition to the risks inside Mali, General Ham also said that members of Boko Haram, an extremist group in northern Nigeria, had traveled to training camps in northern Mali and have most likely received financing and explosives from the Qaeda franchise. “We have seen clear indications of collaboration among the organizations,” he said.

West African leaders have been increasingly alarmed at deteriorating situation in Mali. But any hopes that General Ham’s command could stop it were quashed by him. Maybe the West African leaders should wait for General Steiner. The AP reports that “Ham said that any military intervention done now would likely fail and would set the precarious situation there back ‘even farther than they are today.’” Negotiation, Ham said, is the best way.

By coincidence the previous Belmont Club was about the Fall of South Vietnam.  On the subject of negotiations –  even as the PAVN tanks were closing in on the Presidential Palace some diplomats still thought the conflict could be resolved by negotiation. “It was widely assumed that Minh … who had long-standing contacts with the communists, would be able to establish a cease-fire and re-open negotiations. This expectation was totally unrealistic, as the North Vietnamese were in an overwhelmingly dominant position on the battlefield and final victory was within reach, so they saw no need for power-sharing, regardless of any political changes in Saigon.” Negotiations don’t always work, especially when the ground belongs to the enemy.

The African Union and United Nations are currently discussing the funding, troops and other assistance necessary to take back northern Mali from the extremists that took control there earlier this year.

“Negotiation is the best way,” Ham told an audience at George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute. “Military intervention may be a necessary component. But if there is to be military intervention it has to be successful, it cannot be done prematurely.”

How do you negotiate with al-Qaeda when it’s dead, via a ouija board? But Thomas Donnelly at the American Enterprise Insitute says political Islam isn’t dead. On the contrary, it’s out of control. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Donnelly says the true character of Obama’s foreign policy towards the Islamic world is “let it burn”. He’s given up trying to put it out. In a hold-my-beer moment he lost his chance at stopping it. All that is left is to make the fire look like a good thing.

Obama began, Donnelly says, by reassuring everyone he would not do precipitately abandon American interests in the Middle East. He then proceeded to abandon it. And what do you know?

In 2008, the United States looked as though it was in Iraq to stay. Even Barack Obama had moderated his campaign promises of a precipitate retreat. His lieutenants, particularly in the Pentagon, where Robert Gates still ruled and a cadre of Trumanesque Democrats filled most policy posts, talked of a continuing if lesser garrison and a renegotiated “status of forces” agreement. And in 2009, the president pledged his own “surge” of troops in Afghanistan. But that commitment was hedged by an even stronger commitment to a date-certain drawdown, and Obama was out of Iraq by 2011. Since then, there’s been a series of events—the abandonment of Hosni Mubarak, the “leading from behind” campaign in Libya, persistent public displeasure with Benjamin Netanyahu, the empty call for Assad “to go,” the “Pacific pivot,” reductions to the defense budget—that adds up to a pretty clear signal: The Middle East is now, at best, an “economy of force” interest for the United States. The Obama Doctrine—let it burn—has supplanted the Carter Doctrine, under which control of the Persian Gulf region was deemed a vital U.S. interest.

When Obama says ‘resistance is futile’ his actions appear to mean that Western resistance is futile — not political Islam’s. Donnelly continues his analysis:

When Barack Obama declared, “the tide of war is receding,” what he meant was that the United States would no longer play the directing role it had previously assumed in the greater Middle East. That role began well before 9/11. It grew out of the enunciation of the Carter Doctrine in 1979. The 1990-1991 Gulf War marked a further Rubicon. Then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney famously promised the Saudi king that U.S. troops would leave once the job of kicking Saddam Hussein’s army out of Kuwait was complete, but they didn’t. There wasn’t a stable status quo to return to. There isn’t one now. We have chosen what’s likely to prove a very bad time to tire of intervening in this region. …

“Offshore balancing” in the emerging Middle East will be very much like shelling the continent of Africa, as Joseph Conrad put it: emotionally satisfying but without purpose or result. Some of the satisfaction will be lost when we balance the human cost of letting local conflicts run their course, as in Syria. But beyond what our moral sense can tolerate, there will be more tangible consequences. No one can predict with precision what they will be, but it’s a pretty good bet that the one thing worse than trying to put out all the fires will be letting them burn.

We are now in the magical phase of Western diplomacy. Like a shaman without any real cures they are now resorting to mumbo-jumbo. Unable to affect events in the Levant, helpless in North Africa, powerless even in Mali Paris and London now want the world to believe that by withdrawing their ambassadors from Israel some purpose is served. What will it do in Damascus? In Libya? In Iran? In Mali? What will it do about Assad’s chemical weapons. Nothing and nothing and nothing. And nothing. These shambolic incantations are the last gasp of a failed policy. It’s the Three Card Monte of international affairs.

What happens when this too fails like all the rest of it?

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No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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