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Belmont Club

Lose-Lose

March 24th, 2013 - 8:24 am

“The evidence”, wrote Liz Sly of the Washington Post, “was incontrovertible, captured on video and posted on YouTube for all the world to see. During a demonstration against the Syrian regime, Wael Ibrahim, a veteran activist, had tossed aside a banner inscribed with the Muslim declaration of faith. … Islamic law comes to rebel-held Syria … And that, decreed the officers of the newly established Sharia Authority set up to administer rebel-held Aleppo, constitutes a crime under Islamic law, punishable in this instance by 10 strokes of a metal pipe.”

Welcome to Free Syria. At least part of it, anyway.

What has haunted President Obama since the eve of his debate with Mitt Romney is Benghazi: the nightmare of an insurgency burning down a consulate with money provided by Washington. That dark image of blowback has hovered over the Administration’s policy in Syria. The Obama administration is torn between to supporting an increasingly Islamist-dominated Syrian insurgency or to leave it unaided to fight Assad.

It has  tried to split the difference by aiding the Syrian opposition short of publicly arming it. It may no longer be able to put off the choice now that  Moaz al-Khatib, leader of the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC), has resigned his position over a lack of Western support for his forces. The Guardian reports:

The leader of the western-backed Syrian opposition coalition has resigned, citing what an insufficient lack of international support for those seeking to topple president Bashar al-Assad.

Mouaz al-Khatib, a respected preacher who has led the Syrian National Coalition since soon after its creation in November, said in a statement posted on his Facebook page that he was fulfilling a promise to quit if certain undefined red lines were crossed.

“I am keeping my promise today and announcing my resignation from the National Coalition so that I can work with freedom that is not available inside the official institutions,” he wrote.

The translation of al-Khatib’s statement on Facebook is even more forceful than its newspaper abstracts. He says, “we have been  slaughtered under the watchful eyes of the world for two years, in an unprecedented manner by a vicious regime. Many have offered a hand on a purely humanitarian basis and we thank them for that. But there is a bitter reality [to] tame the Syrian people and besiege their revolution and attempting to control it.”

Our message to everyone is that Syrians decisions will be taken by Syrians, and Syrians only.

I had promised our people, and vowed to God on that, to resign if the situation reaches certain red lines. Today, I honour my promise and I resign from the National Coalition to be able to work with freedom not available through official institutions. We understand that official posts are means to serve noble ends, not goals to be sought or for us to maintain. …

A little bit of patience, our people. Isn’t the morning near?

High Noon, to mix the metaphors, may have come and gone for the Obama administration with Will Kane still trying to make up his mind whether to meet the noonday train or hightail it out of town. Al-Khatib’s words are an open accusation of the Obama administration’s policy or they are nothing at all.

He writes: “Everything that happened to the Syrian people, from destruction of infrastructure,­ arrest of tens of thousands of their children and displacement of tens of thousands and other tragedies is not enough for the world to take an international decision to allow people to defend themselves.”

It’s a brutal way of asserting that after all was said and done, more was said than done. Attempts to fine-tune support for Syria; to be for it while being against certain parts of it; to lead it “from behind” so to speak, has proved a shorthand for letting the conflagration spread notwithstanding.  If the administration’s policy was to manage the Syrian conflict it ain’t working.

For one Lebanon is falling apart. The Carnegie Middle East Center said, on the heels of the recent resignation of Lebanon’s Prime Minister, that his departure “at a minimum … ushers in a period of further drift and weakening of the country’s political and security institutions. At worst, it might herald a serious entry of the Syrian conflict into Lebanon, a showdown between the country’s factions, and challenges to its basic constitutional order.”

And just the other day President Netanyahu apologized with a forced smile to Turkey because the crisis in Damascus has become so urgent. Republican Senators are clamoring for a definite plan to control Assad’s chemical weapons.

The Syrian problem, far from being contained, is metastasizing.

Some fundamental calculation has gone awry. What and why?

War is different from politics in that nobody has yet invented a way of doing warfare halfway.  Not everything can be “fixed” because in combat one tends to be either dead or alive; victorious or defeated. It is binary; zero-sum. Both former Lebanese PM Najib Mikati nor Mouaz al-Khatib have left the stage, knowing you either on it, or off it.

But poor John Kerry is still trapped between bases. The Washington Post notes that “Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Sunday lobbied Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for greater scrutiny of flights the United States claims carry Iranian weapons and fighters across Iraq to Syria. The Obama administration has been unable to persuade Iraq to block such flights or even to perform regular inspections, and Kerry didn’t make much headway.”

What now?

The Arab Digest features a video of “Libyan Islamists applying the strict Sharia lashes code on a number of men in Sirte, the late Libyan dictator’s hometown. According to local sources, the Islamist ‘Ansar Al Sharia’ group, allegedly responsible for a lethal attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, is now the leading force in the city.” It is a pointed reminder of what happens when Washington tries unsuccessfully to have it both ways at once.

That is what Syria will look like unless Washington determines the nature of the successor regime.

President Obama, who has wanted to compare himself to Abraham Lincoln may find that history will ultimately liken him to Lyndon Johnson. Professor George Herring, reflecting on LBJ’s conduct of the Vietnam War, recalls that he too tried to micromanage outcomes. “Although he took quite seriously his role as commander in chief, personally picking bombing targets, agonizing over the fate of U.S. airmen, and building a scale model of Khe Sanh in the White House situation room, Lyndon Johnson, unlike Polk, Lincoln, or Franklin Roosevelt, never took control of his war.”

Thus “leading from behind”  maybe nothing more than our old friend, Lyndon Johnson’s poorly executed policy of keeping the boys ‘from bombing an outhouse without my permission’.  The not-so-smart adhocracy of the Vietnam War. The same old blundering style, the same old infatuation with riskless politics that ended in the last helicopter out of Saigon. Of Johnson, Herring wrote:

Strategy was primarily a matter of sending signals to foes, of communicating resolve, of using military force in a carefully calibrated way to deter enemies or bargain toward a negotiated settlement. This approach must have appeared expedient to Johnson and his advisers because it seemed to offer a cheap, low-risk answer to a difficult problem. It also appeared to be controllable, thereby reducing the risk of all-out war…

He could not have been more wrong, of course, and the reliance on limited war theory had unfortunate consequences. It encouraged avoidance of costly and risky decisions. It diverted attention from real strategy and caused the military problem of how to win the war in South Vietnam to be neglected. It led the decision-makers into steps they must have sensed the American people might eventually reject. And when Hanoi refused to respond as bargaining theory said it should, the United States was left without any strategy at all.

To Johnson it was all about asking a question until he got an answer he liked. What he failed to grasp was that enemy understood the question perfectly but had decided to say ‘no’.

Strategy is, above all, the recognition of choices;  an accurate perception of the topologies in a decision tree. It is of no help to those who think they can having things all ways at once. Freedom is ironically available only to those who understand that to get something you give up something. There exists no free lunch. That could be true of Syria as it is true of everything else.


The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99

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

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All Comments   (26)
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The tragedy is that the bad guys are so weak and the good guys had a winning hand. The feverish efforts over the last 20 years of the Left to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory are coming to fruition.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
“War is different from politics in that nobody has yet invented a way of doing warfare halfway.”

Said another way, a sign over the main gate at a WWII military base:

“It takes a lot to win a war; it takes everything you have to lose one.”

But to the contrary, the Denizens of DC invent a half-assed way of doing war at regular intervals, at least once per generation, more if they can manage it. They suffer seemingly no consequences from those faultlessly failed innovations, and are thus encouraged. Even the triumph of Desert Storm fell short of ultimate victory. These guys just couldn’t seem to screw up; the Design Margin they had was enormous.

But at least in the past there was an appreciation of the need to keep the eye on the larger objectives. Reagan failed in Lebanon and G.H.W Bush in Iraq; that was understandable given the negative consequences possible relative to destruction of the USSR. Now, though, we appear to be doing it half-assed as an end in itself, with no larger objectives in sight, save the domestic political.

Obama was against the Arab Spring before he was for it, opposing our actions in Iraq and pulling our troops out based on an absurdity, refusing the support the opposition in Iran, ignoring the opposition in Lebanon, focusing on an unwinnable war in Afghanistan. You name it, he missed the opportunity or torpedoed the ones we had already created with considerable blood and a great deal of treasure.

Half-assed used to be bug; now it seems to be a feature.

P.S. I have found that it is MUCH faster to log in at the overall columnist level rather than down at the specific article level.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
those reports about Assad's imminent demise seem pretty hinky. Maybe something happened, maybe it didn't, but there certainly isn't any info out yet that can be trusted.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Spreading indeed. Today I saw a report about how the dastardly Israelis had fired into Syria. Only after digging into the story did I find that the Israeli fire was in return for machine gun fire attacking Israeli troops on the Israeli side of the border. The machine gun fire was silenced, presumably with deleterious effects on the crew(s) of the machine gun(s).

It is spreading, and while Obama can take a passing bit of pleasure in either suckering or arm-twisting Netanyahu into apologizing to the Turks for defending Israel; we can be reasonably hopeful that as Obama's Muslim Brotherhood friends take over Syria and move to open a front in Lebanon again, that Israel might consider any soothing words of restraint to be about as operative as Obama's public promises of support. And act in the defense of Israel's interests.

It is a sad but true fact, that Israel acting in its own interests is more beneficial to American interests; than what the American president does as a matter of deliberate policy supposedly on behalf of the United States.

Subotai Bahadur
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It's always been lose-lose in dar al-Islam since they invented it, with the exception of the discovery of oil, and that golden age looks to come to an end within the next few years. The "Arab Spring" was a lovely idea, but what has come of it yet? Our bringing democracy or at least self-determination to Afghanistan and Iraq is at best too soon to tell. So my only question is how is any of this news to anyone but a reality-challenged libtard?

The founding, survival, and life of Israel is perhaps the best example of how to get on in this environment, Obambus ought to be taking notes as the US Army has been taking notes there for twenty years. I don't guess that the Zionists really counted on this perpetual battle, although by 1948 they might have guessed, OTOH even with foreknowledge they might have gone ahead with it. And except for the bone-head move of bringing back Arafat after Oslo in 1993, ... well maybe it was already too late and there are a lot of what-ifs in the middle east.

With such a long tradition of lose-lose one has to expect more of the same, even if there are some hopeful sparks here and there it's just not likely to be over in thirty minutes, including advertising breaks, and the odds are always there of things heating up by about fifty million degrees on short notice, talk about your lose-lose.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"War is different from politics in that nobody has yet invented a way of doing warfare halfway. Not everything can be “fixed” because in combat one tends to be either dead or alive; victorious or defeated. It is binary; zero-sum."

Your ability with words is outstanding. I don't really have a comment since I agree with most of it, but your writing style is great.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"War is different from politics in that nobody has yet invented a way of doing warfare halfway.

I beg to differ. Since WW11 the US has not fought a full fledged war. Even the first Iraq war was called off before absolute victory by General Powell. He was upset by the carnage. Horrors. Modern politicians and lawyers have redefined warfare so that it is always fought halfway or some other fraction.

War requires an absolute victor and an absolute loser. Germany and Japan were absolute losers and yet they managed to become civilized after some extreme suffering.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Traditional war required an absolute victor and an absolute loser. Thermonuclear weapons and mutual assured destruction (MAD) created the entirely new situation where one side could have the stuffings beat out of it in limited war but at the the 11th hours destroy both sides with nuclear weapons. Because of MAD, the later half of the 20th century was defined by the United States and the Soviet Union fighting limited wars. It was a miracle that we survived the Cold War. It is imperative that we not find ourselves again in another situation of mutual assured destruction. Particularly if our opponents are religious fanatics who believe they will be rewarded in an afterlife.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A big problem with war is it introduces a random factor. As long as international politics can be restricted to diplomacy then the process remains deterministic. However once war has begun, almost anything is possible. History is full of examples where one side had the best soldiers, best generals and best equipment but lost anyway due to some foreseen fortune of war.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And that's exactly the difference between 'war' and 'warfare'. IMVHO Mr. Fernandez has aptly managed to define the two in a very short paragraph.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It is unfortunate that Obama decided to not fight the fight when he had the chance (uprising in Iran). Everything that is happening now in the middle east is happening because of this decision. IMHO
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What compelling reasons are there that we should help either side? We will gain nothing for our efforts but resentment and anger from those we help. Let's be honest, neither side is a natural ally; both sides are our enemies. Let them fight amongst themselves and deplete their men and materiel, not ours.

I find it odd that some of us are willing to be shamed for not helping those who wish us harm. Our philosophy toward our enemies should be no arms, no supplies, no servicemen for their cause. Without much doubt, we will soon enough be faced with a solid Islamist region ready to fight us using our methods, our guns, our tanks, our fighter planes and our ammunition.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Assad assisted, or at the very least turned a blind eye, to bad actors moving through Syria on the way to Iraq - so why would Obama have a problem with him? I'm a simple person. I see Obama actively work for the fall of those who cooperated with the US. All the others get the 'lead from behind' treatment. The message he seems hell-bent on sending is this: "Cooperate with us at your own risk."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Egads! The Greeks are everywhere! And the farcical tragedy plays on...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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