The Long Game

Liz Sly at the Washington Post says “Syria’s opposition coalition was on the verge of collapse Sunday after its president resigned and rebel fighters rejected its choice to head an interim government, leaving a U.S.-backed effort to forge a united front against President Bashar al-Assad in tatters.”


“The coalition is on verge of disintegrating,” he said. “It’s a big mess.”

The trigger for Khatib’s departure was the selection last week of Ghassan Hitto, a relatively unknown Syrian-born U.S. citizen, to head a proposed interim government. Khatib and his supporters had opposed the creation of an interim government at this time, as had the United States, whose diplomats argued against the move on the grounds that it created an unnecessarily divisive distraction from the goal of bringing down Assad’s regime, according to Syrian opposition members.

“I am personally sorry to see him go because I like him on a personal level,” Kerry told reporters on a trip to Baghdad on Sunday. Kerry is in Iraq asking Maliki to put a stop to arms shipments to Syria. The Wall Street Journal writes:

The strategic cost of President Obama’s election-driven total withdrawal from Iraq is now becoming clearer. On Sunday Secretary of State John Kerry was reduced to pleading with Iraqi officials to search Iranian flights that fly over Iraq on their way to arming Bashar Assad’s Syrian government.

With private entreaties doing no good, Mr. Kerry took his complaints public on Sunday on a visit to Baghdad, telling reporters that Iraq’s failure even to search Iran’s overflights leaves the American people “wondering how it is a partner.” Too bad Mr. Obama didn’t think about that in 2011 when he could have struck a deal to station 10,000 or so U.S. troops in Iraq for the long haul, which would have sealed the kind of partnership Mr. Kerry now wants.

Mr. Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton, thought she had secured a Baghdad pledge last year to search Iran’s flights, but U.S. officials say Iraq has searched only two of what have become almost daily trips to Damascus. Mr. Kerry implies that this is an Iraq betrayal, but with the U.S. seen as wanting to withdraw from the region and Iran able to stir up plenty of political trouble inside Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has little incentive to take a risk for U.S. interests.


On to Plan C, whatever that is.

One might think that the administration’s policy in the region was headed for disaster. But that is not the assessment of Mark Mardell of the BBC, who, reflecting on President Obama’s recent trip to the region wrote: “Obama plays a Long Game in the Middle East”.

Mr Obama has huge faith in the power of his own words. That is not said in simple mockery, but sometimes he seems to be happier as a prophet than as politician.

One of his favourite quotes, from civil rights legend Martin Luther King Jr, is: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The New York Times also gave President high marks for advancing the Palestinian Peace Process. “Obama was so effective in lobbying for peace that he has managed to raise expectations sky high that he’s actually going to do something about it,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel. “After all, if he really believes peace is possible, then as president of the United States he surely has to do something about it.”

They believe the President is good at what he does. But the unasked question is whether Obama is even addressing the right problem. It is the conventional wisdom among many pundits to assume that the Arab-Israeli conflict is at the heart of the unrest in the Middle East. Solve that and you cut the Gordian knot of war and peace in the region.


But others believe that the Middle East has endemic minority problem. The Shia fight Sunni in various combinations. And in between the Kurds, Druze, Maronites, Copts, Alawites and whatever else have you make their shifting alliances to survive. In this world the Jews are nothing special; simply another minority trying to survive in a tribal world.

If that view is correct, then solving the Palestinian conflict solves nothing. Even if Israel were to disappear into the sea tomorrow the conflict in Syria wouldn’t skip a beat.  Why should it?

To give them their due the CIA knows it. The LA Times reports that the agency has “stepped up secret contingency planning to protect the United States and its allies as the turmoil expands in Syria, including collecting intelligence on Islamic extremists for the first time for possible lethal drone strikes, according to current and former U.S. officials.” It is a sad commentary on human nature that the targeted assassination business looks to boom over the next decade. If Will Durant were alive today he might be moved to remark, “only the dead have seen the end of drones.”

Perhaps nothing in the region has changed in a millennium other than that you can read about “secret contingency planning” in the LA Times and the fact that the neighborhood is about to go nuclear. If Barack Obama is indeed a prophet, the setting is at least Biblical in scale.


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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