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Belmont Club

The Law of Unintended Consequences

July 5th, 2013 - 7:05 pm

There are some achievements that one must simply stand in awe of. The Los Angeles Times reports that “A high-powered rifle lost in the ATF’s Fast and Furious controversy was used to kill a Mexican police chief in the state of Jalisco earlier this year, according to internal Department of Justice records, suggesting that weapons from the failed gun-tracking operation have now made it into the hands of violent drug cartels deep inside Mexico.”

That is sad repayment for good intentions. The administration has been trying to do good all around the world. It’s opposition to the Second Amendment, for example, probably motivated Fast and Furious. But though intended to benefit “the children” it proved hell on Mexican police chiefs. But that brouhaha may be as nothing next to the effects of its principled paralysis/intervention in Syria which Britain’s Home Office counterterror chief  now claimed posed the biggest threat to the UK and Europe “for a decade”.

Charles Farr said there are thousands of al-Qaeda-inspired fighters now operating in the war torn country with many wanting to attack the UK and other Western nations. He said there has never been so many groups and fanatics linked to the terror organisation so close to Europe.

Mr. Farr ain’t seen nothing yet. The administration’s foreign policy is unwinding like a busted spring. David Ottaway, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former Washington Post Middle East correspondent, writing in the National Interest, described the effects of trying to be all things to all men. He says the administration in its desire to out-Reagan Reagan has accidentally gotten itself mixed up not just in the Sunni-Shia conflict, but also gotten between Saudi Arabia and Qatar and stuck its hand in the mangle of the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda.

It all started so well.

Saudi Arabia and the United States are now working closely together to bolster Syrian rebels seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad, reviving in the process an earlier model of covert military cooperation from the 1980s that successfully drove the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. This time their target is Russia’s last remaining Middle East Arab ally—the Assad regime, whose armed forces are equipped entirely with Russian weapons…

The Obama administration’s June 13 decision to provide weapons to the rebels aligns the United States with its two closest allies in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have been arming them for over a year now and pressuring a reluctant Washington to follow suit. But the decision also plunges Washington into entangling intra-Sunni Arab disputes, including between these two Arab monarchies, over which Syrian faction should rule in a post-Assad era….

One little-publicized consequence of the U.S.-Saudi alliance will be to curb the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, a key Saudi goal. This has put the Saudi kingdom at direct odds with its neighbor, Qatar, the Islamic group’s prime Arab protector and promoter.

It has also placed the United States in the awkward position of taking sides between its closest Gulf allies. Qatar hosts the Pentagon’s main forward operations center, while Saudi Arabia is the keystone of U.S. efforts to build an Arab military counterweight to Iran in the Persian Gulf.

Too little real estate promised to too many people often results in trouble. And nowhere more than in Egypt.  According to Adam Schatz, the fall of Morsi was the consequence of “leading from behind” two predatory regional powers, like a powerless lion tamer between the Ghost and the Darkness.  John Kerry’s vacation on the “Isabel” was symbolic of the administration’s abdication of American responsibility. The field was left to the Saudis and Qataris,  to the proxies who helped themselves to everything in sight and so began squabbling for the spoils. Schatz describes the fall of Morsi as a victory for the Saudis over Qatar:

The Morsi presidency now looks to have been a turbulent and highly contested segue between two eras of military rule. Qatar, which invested heavily in the Brothers, has lost a major ally. (The Saudis, who supported the more extreme Salafis against the Brothers, played their hand much better: the Salafis sided with the army and are likely to have a say in the transition.) Hamas, which reshuffled its regional alliances when its parent organisation came to power in Egypt, leaving its offices in Damascus for Doha, must be weighing its options. Bashar Assad is already gloating. Morsi was a passionate champion of the Syrian insurgency; only two weeks before his overthrow, he infuriated Assad (and, more fatefully, Egypt’s secular-minded generals) by appearing at a rally where one cleric after another called for jihad against the regime in Damascus.

It also exposes the rottenness at the core of Obama’s foreign policy. The cost of manipulating the region by proxy was loss of control. And now the Administration risks being blamed by all sides, as Shadi Hamid, writing in the New York Times, explains. The Muslim Brotherhood now believes Obama and democracy have betrayed them by denying them the elective dictatorship they so richly deserved.

Now supporters of the Brotherhood will ask, with good reason, whether democracy still has anything to offer them. Mr. Morsi’s removal will breathe new life into the ideological claims of radicals. Al Qaeda and its followers have long argued that change can’t come through the democracy of “unbelievers”; violence is the only path. As the Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri once said, “What is truly regrettable is the rallying of thousands of duped Muslim youth in voter queues before ballot boxes instead of lining them up to fight in the cause of Allah.” …

When I spoke to one of Mr. Morsi’s top advisers on the night of June 30, he was already pre-emptively blaming the United States. If a coup takes place, he told me, it means that America either supports it or is willing to look the other way. …

Along with 1954 and 1992, 2013 will stand as a historic moment in Islamist lore, shaping future generations of Islamist activists and deepening their already powerful narrative of persecution, repression and regret. America is blamed for enough as it is.

By outsourcing events in the region to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, just as the Justice Department outsourced its pointless fast and furious campaign and hoped for the best, the Obama administration became the fall guy while the wheelmen drove off with the loot.

Like the man who withdraws the control rods from the nuclear reactor without knowing how to put them back, Obama started a chain reaction the limits of which he can only guess. He may be the first man in history to be blamed by both the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda for the actions of each other. That’s so awesome that it beggars description.

However Victor Davis Hanson, ever the classical scholar, has just the right metaphor for the occasion. “In the old Dr. Faustus story, a young scholar bargains away his soul to the devil for promises of obtaining almost anything he wants.” Those who know the story will remember it is Faustus who gets shafted and the devil who winds up with the pile of chips in the end. The media, Dr. Hanson argues, also tried to lead from behind; to get something for nothing — engage in its own Faustian bargain —  with identical results.

In return for empowering a fellow liberal, the press gave up its traditional adversarial relationship with the president.

But after five years of basking in a shared progressive agenda, the tab for such ecstasy has come due, and now the media is lamenting that it has lost its soul. At first, the loss of independence seemed like a minor sacrifice. …

But then a Faustian thing happened. This year it was also revealed that the Obama administration had monitored the communications of Associated Press reporters on the suspicion that they were publishing leaks. For the first time, outrage arose: Liberal presidents were not, in Nixonian fashion, supposed to go after liberal reporters.

In one version of the tale, Dr. Faustus at least got 24 years of freebies before being hauled off to Hell. Our poor media did not even get five years of adulation before Obama called in their souls.

It’s soul-repossession time now, maybe not just in Mexico or the Middle-East but across the board. Terminat hora diem; terminat auctor opus.

Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo’s laurel-bough,
That sometime grew within this learned man.
Faustus is gone: regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise,
Only to wonder at unlawful things,
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practise more than heavenly power permits.

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Top Rated Comments   
"Who says these consequences are unintended. I think the preponderance of evidence indicate these consequences are exactly what was and are intended." - Unsk

You know, NO ONE is that smart. NO ONE can anticipate 50 moves ahead on the world stage as if manipulating a chess board. NO ONE can control all the actors and player, though I believe Obama's staff thought they were just that smart to pull it off. "Lead from behind ...".

They are clueless. Obama's team is so clueless that it's positively scary. To think that if America was attacked by a capable force of any kind (a state or terrorists), the life or death of millions of Americans would hang on whether or not Obama could make an intelligent decision on the defense of America, is terrifying. We can reliably assume that Obama would not pull the trigger, and unfortunately, so can America's adversaries.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Perhaps one explanation for the administration's difficulties is that Obama, Hillary and Kerry were never governors. Hagel was never a governor either, but before entering the Senate had a successful career in business. Thus, the top ranks of the administration are dominated by people without any significant executive experience.

They are idea men. They words people. And while words and ideas have an important part to play in politics, ultimately the President is the Chief Executive, and his cabinet officers are part of the Executive Branch. But more some of the most important of them, this will be the first serious executive experience in their lives.

So it is possible that their groping, confusion, tentativeness and poor execution can be traced to this one simple thing. They never had a real job before in their lives.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It's somewhat premature to proclaim that the ME debacle will actually hurt Obama. First, he really doesn't care about foreign policy. For him, its a dog and pony show for the rubes. So what if conservatives are upset? So what if knowledgeable foreign policy observers are upset? How many votes do they have? That for Obama and the democrats is the ONLY important consideration.

After all, he never (gag) claimed that he personally was going to make the world a better place, that was a joint effort job. "Yes we can heal this nation. Yes we can repair this world. Yes we can."

As long as the MSM controls the narrative, any foreign policy blunders will be ignored where possible and denied, minimized and historically revised as needed. Ensuring that low information voters keep electing democrats, who'll with the assistance of our RINO's, continue the 'bread and circuses' of the growing entitlement society.

His focus is upon what's truly important, his domestic agenda. If he can get some version of the "Comprehensive Amnesty Bill" through Congress, then his legacy is set. Amnesty will provide 33 million future 'undocumented democrats', ensuring permanent one-party rule in America. ObamaCare, always intended as a transitional step toward single-payer government healthcare, is a critical first step toward nationalizing 1/6 of the US economy, from there it's FORWARD!

That's quite a record, an easily sufficient legacy for inclusion on a new, 'liberal' Mt. Rushmore. Perhaps Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Barry Soetoro aka Barrack Hussein Obama?

The Founding Fathers are spinning in their graves and God weeps in heaven.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (64)
All Comments   (64)
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Ms Jarrett, oops I mean Obama, seems to be backing the wrong pony.
Like Ms Clinton did with the Paleostinians.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
My take on the administration is that they have never had to lead from the middle nor get the cooperation of a majority. Their whole shtick is based on representing the interests of a virulent and vocal minority demanding special rights, perks, and goodies to shut them up. Works on a small scale but Obama has put it to good use on a national scale and except for the obvious, that ruling for a pissed off minority against a majority is structurally unsound too, giving away welfare, food-stamps, and citizenship for votes is unsustainable. It is a final desperate act. That is why it particularly irks me when people complain that congress has passed less bills than any other. Our democracy is under assault and they last finger in the dam saving it is not passing bills of usurpation. These people don’t know how to govern because they do not know how to represent the interests of a nation. They were always the outsider fighting for their cause on the periphery and like the dog that finally caught the car they do not know what to do with it but further the chase, the campaign, the shaking fists of anger about GWB or the man or whoever.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hey! Can we get someone to unreport Mr. G. Britain's comment? It does have over 15 likes and it has no offensive language. Thank you kindly.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As far as dealing with countries that are ruled by the cult that is islam our best policy is to stay as far away from them as we can and turn every mosque in the USA into a Boys or Girls Club. Kick out all the mooslims and seal the borders. As far as the islamos are concerned we area and always will be infidels. We should learn that and live it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Wretchard: "So it is possible that their groping, confusion, tentativeness and poor execution can be traced to this one simple thing. They never had a real job before in their lives."

I think that people from earlier times people would have said more concisely, "You have a fool for a president."

Others might say, "he's an empty suit with a head full of worthless platitudes."

Or some wags might liken him to a political version of the "pointy-haired boss out of the Dilbert comic strip."

The Russians think that he's genius who is pursuing some kind of very deep, nefarious plan; hence, all the chaos breaking loose. And they are fearful. They simply cannot fathom how a once great country could ever be headed up by a fool or empty suit.

Or maybe he's the Anti-Christ. Or maybe just one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, possibly the first one with a bow and a crown who goes to conquer, but after him come Pestilence, Famine, and Death On a Pale Horse.

One thing seems sure: Obama is Many Things. He is multifaceted, with many faces. He speaks with many tongues.

But will we survive him? The future is unclear. I do not know. I do suspect that if the Founders could see our republic now and what it has become, they would quickly disown it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I am not against going to war if in doing so there is a reasonable likelihood that we will further our interests and/or produce results that are beneficial to the United States. I am against going to war if we do not intend, from the very start, to win it, and win it decisively. We must stop going to wars that we do intend to win decisively.

I do not believe that the United States has a blueprint for securing a prosperous future for Syrians and Egyptians. Such is is not within our power to provide. That is something the Syrians and Egyptians must secure for themselves.

In his magnificent book on the history of Christianity, Paul Johnson likened the Roman empire at its height to a sleeping lion. Lions sleep away most of their lives, snoozing for up to 18 hours a day; and the "Roman lion" would lie sprawled for lengthy periods, sleeping easily and peacefully and benignly while smaller animals frolicked between its outstretched legs. But if one of those animals caused any trouble to the other animals, or to the lion itself, the lion would raise its head and, with a swipe of its mighty paw, utterly destroy the troublemaker. Whereupon it lie back down and resume sleeping.

That's how a wise hegemon acts. That's how the U.S. should act. If Syria and or Egypt or anyone else go too far, and in doing so cause harm to our country or interests--we should swipe it with our paw, decisively.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
How about if we just stop going to war if the conflict has nothing to do with our interests?

I have no problem with WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan relative to protecting our interests. Even our covert ops during the Cold War fit.

But Haiti? Bosnia? Kosovo? Libya? Whathell was that about?

Each and every member of the U.S. Military takes an oath to “uphold and defend the Constitution of the U.S.” That’s the real acid test. What did someone in Bosnia or Kosovo or Libya shooting another of his countrymen have to do with the Constitution? Those places offered no real threat to us, in neither a simple direct or wider overall strategic sense. Our only reason for going there was real, personal politics. For Bosnia, Clinton, draft dodger, used it as a club to attack Bush, war hero and eventually decided it was the one campaign promise he could brag about keeping. For Kosovo, Bill was in the doghouse and Hillary offered him a way out of he would go to war in Kosovo; she wanted photo ops with the refugees, and that was all there was to it.

Now for Syria, does getting involved defend the U.S. Constitution? Nobody freakin’ knows! They are not even thinking in those terms! They are looking at it from the photo op and soundbite aspect, about “optics” and worming their way around previous lies.

Actually, I think that controlling events in Syria probably does fit the Constitution criteria – if it was part of a coordinated strategy to defeat Islam, block Russia and China, and secure oil supplies. But once again, nobody in DC is thinking in that fashion. Indeed, they would seem to consider it an insult to think that way.

And one problem with going to war over Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya is, “Any job not worth doing is worth doing only half-assed.” The kind of people to get upset over RTP are the very ones who are horrified when we do actually kill some bad guys. Thus, they set an impossible standard.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Of your "good" list I have the most qualms about Desert Storm aka Gulf War I, their being a moderately good chance that without that there would not have been a 9/11 and Gulf War II. Which is not to say that it wasn't overall a good thing, but justified and on principle, I dunno. Not to mention they were both hideously expensive. Maybe #1 was better run than #2, but even so. But at least they both abounded in unintended consequences, both good and bad. The point, such as it is, is to agree with you, that one should act in one's own interests, enlightened and long-term as that may include, since you never really know what's to come as consequences and you might later need the justification.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We have the blueprint that MacArthur left us through his transformation of Japan from a culture where there was no democratic institutions, all individuals belonged to the Emperor that reigned as a god to a free and democratically elected govt of socialist bureaucrats.

We have the Marshall plan from our foray into Europe. Still ended in various levels of Socialism but hey nothing is perfect. Well, except Teh Won's intentions...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Oops. "We must stop involving ourselves in wars that we do not intend to win decisively."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Interesting article, Wretchard. A few observations, if I may:

1. In the Middle East, the USA cannot win morally no matter what she does. When, in the interests of stability we supported the Mubarak dictatorship, the people clamored for the Muslum Brotherhood and free elections. So, the USA turned on our long time ally, supported the Muslum Brotherhood, and free elections were duly held, which the Brotherhood and their Salafist allies won. They then proceeded to wreck what was left of the Egypian economy, wear down her foreign currency reserves, destroy her tourist industry, and today there is not enough food for the people nor fuel for the irrigation pumps. So, the people take to the streets, demand the Muslum Brotherhood be overthrown, the Egyptian army obliges them - and all of this is somehow America's fault? Why, exactly, cannot the people of Egypt take responsibility for their own actions and votes?

2. In Syria and elsewhere, there are no good options. Trying to impose decmocracy on societies where there is no history of democratic institutions, no respect for individual or property rights, no seperation of Mosque and state, in other words, no cultural, historical or social institutions that would support democracy - would be like trying to grow mangos in the desert. Difficult at best and unlikely to succeed. It is worth remembering that when Egypt was a British colony the British too, tried to build democratic institutions. When they left Egypt had a constitutional monarchy, an elected parliament, an independent judicial system and a free press - none of which lasted more than 10 years before being overthrown in a coup.

3. America's approch to the Middle East should be governed by Kissinger style Realpolitik, not foolish fantasies of yes, we can. The reality is no, you cannot. You cannot run foreign policy on the cheap, you cannot cut the military and expect to be taken seriously, you cannot let words substitute for actions, you cannot lead from behind and still have any influence over outcomes.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Roughcoat2: "In other words, what, precisely, should America do--or have done?"

Three options, from history:

1. The Roman model -- They make a desert, and call it peace. Wouldn't get a Noble Pees Prize for that today.

2. The British model -- Divide & conquer. Needs a small highly-empowered team of brutually cynical, unusually well-informed, & highly intelligent bastards, who will set tribe against tribe & religion against religion in a continuous balancing act which cunningly exploits the natives at low cost to the Empire. The Obaminoids are cynical enough, but lack both the knowledge & the intelligence. And the New York Times would not like it.

3. The American model -- reconstruction. It worked in the Southern States after the Civil War, and in Germany & Japan after WWII. Two prerequisites are (a) first beating the enemy into such a bloody pulp before accepting surrender that the fight is all beaten out of them, and (b) having a fat wallet which one is ready to open. Obaminoids cannot meet either prerequisite.

The only other option is to look the other way. Pious statements from the Head Obaminoid are simply window dressing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It worked in the Southern States after the Civil War
How so? If you define success in that case as putting the kebosh to secession and outright slavery, then yes, it was a qualified "success." But the South itself was not transformed.
"The South Shall Rise Again"
That was not an idle boast. After Reconstruction was over and done with, the South reaserted itself on the national scene, as well as introducing official segregation, and increasing the power and inlfuence of the insurgency known as the Klan.Republican administrations in various southern towns were thrown out of office by force of arms, and blacks were disenfranchised. By the end of the 19th century, sympathy for the "Southern Cause" became widespread, white supremacy was a major influence, and even avowed progressives like Wooodrow Wilson applauded "Birth of a Nation," and also re-segregated the civil service. The memory of Lincoln was often openly villified, and the opening of his memorial was actually controversial.

From that standpoint, Reconstruction was a failure. Both viewpoints have merit.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

Kin I would like to add a slight modification to your point 3, The American Model. (a) sub paragraph...and reducing the able bodied male population of those people by 25%.
The Romans, when riled, would also reduce the male population through war, conscription and slavery. They recognized that to passify, and get the subject population to pay attention, it helps greatly that if the hot heads are eliminated the sheeple will listen and obey, much less cause problems.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We have a blueprint that provides "The Hegemon" with a way to deal with and secure a prosperous future for both the Syrians and the Egyptians. Problem is that our govt no longer possesses the moral and virtue to use it properly...

We, the U.S.A. is no longer in the position to dictate to anyone.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Sorry to break my own rule, but I feel compelled to add that hegemonic power -- the necessity to make arbitrary choices guided by your own conscience -- is a dangerous and corrupting unless watched carefully.

Lie a little, cheat a little, kill a little for the greater benefit. That's how it begins. This is something that might have been offered by the Lord of the Gifts. The genius of the founding fathers was they understood this and therefore wanted power used sparingly both internally and internationally.

They saw limits on government as a "feature" and power to be used the way a fire axe is employed -- only in cases of emergency. And therein lies the danger in President Obama's belief in its ability to "improve the world". He wants to use American power to help the MB become better people. It can't do that. That is something which must come from the Egyptians alone. Power is a fire axe or nothing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Power is a fire axe or nothing.

I like to say it like, "Government is a blunt instrument."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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