Michael Weiss starts off with a humdinger of a lede in Politico:
It’s hard to pinpoint just when, exactly, Barack Obama’s Syria policy fell apart. Was it in December, when Islamists humiliated U.S.-backed rebels by seizing what limited supplies America had given them? Was it back in September, when Obama telegraphed his reluctance to enforce his own “red line” after the Syrian regime used chemical weapons on its own people? Was it in the months beforehand, when the administration quietly and mysteriously failed to make good on its pledge to directly arm the rebels? Or did it collapse in August 2011, when Obama called on Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to go, only to do almost nothing to make it happen?
But collapse it has, and more than 130,000 deaths later, the White House is now pinning its hopes on a peace conference in Switzerland later this month that is being billed as the last, best hope for a negotiated solution to a conflict that has displaced a staggering 40 percent of Syria’s total population, some 23 million people, in what the United Nations says is fast becoming the worst and most expensive humanitarian catastrophe in modern history.
The only problem with Weiss’s article is that it has drawn its compass too small. The mayhem is much, much more extensive than Syria. For example, Syria really abuts western Iraq, which is falling apart, too. Sarah Birke of the New York Review of Books reminds us “how al-Qaeda changed the Syrian War”:
Talk to any Syrian you meet on the Syrian-Turkish border these days, and in less than five minutes the conversation is likely to turn to Da’ash — the Arabic acronym for the rebel organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS. Linked to al-Qaeda, the fearsome group has swept across northern Syria, imposing sharia law, detaining and even beheading Syrians who don’t conform to its purist vision of Islam, and waging war on rival militias. … The influence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria is all the more startling given how recently the group entered the conflict.
The Washington Post reminds us that “a rejuvenated al-Qaeda-affiliated force asserted control over the western Iraqi city of Fallujah on Friday, raising its flag over government buildings and declaring an Islamic state in one of the most crucial areas that U.S. troops fought to pacify before withdrawing from Iraq two years ago.”
It seems al-Qaeda is everywhere these days, excepting Benghazi, where the New York Times assures us a video was responsible for occasioning the burning of the U.S. consulate there.
Still, al-Qaeda’s resurgence is disturbing, given assurances from as recently as the last presidential election that bin Laden was dead and Detroit was alive.
And what shall one make of Karzai a-fixing to double-cross the United States?
The Afghan government is now considering releasing 88 detainees who are of particular concern to the United States. Collectively, Graham said, they killed 60 members of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). … In March, the United States transferred control of the Parwan prison next to Bagram air base — with its roughly 3,000 detainees — to the Afghan government. Since then, Graham said, the Afghans have released 560 detainees without trial, and “some of those have gone back to the fight.”
You’d think the Taliban won that existential conflict; that they are going to take that place over shortly after the U.S. leaves. If the U.S. can leave, since the Pakistanis are making trouble over the amount they’ll charge to let Americans drive to the nearest port. And speaking of Pakistan, they “are determined to restore traditional peace of Balochistan” after 50 militant camps sprang up in it.