Belmont Club

Where Have You Gone, Admiral Ackbar?

Ralph Peters and Barry Rubin wring their hands in despair over Obama’s decision to bet the farm in Syria — bet the house without even wanting to win the pot. Peters writes that calculation has nothing to do with it.”You might as well try to teach a snake to juggle as hope the Obama administration will think strategically.”

Before launching a single cruise missile toward Syria, Team Obama needs to be sure it has a good answer to the question, “What comes next?” … If al Qaeda and local Islamists seize Damascus, what will we do? …

What if we weaken the regime to the point where the fanatics rev up their jihad to drive out Christians and other minorities? What’s your plan then, Mr. President? After your night of explosive passion, will you still love the opposition in the morning?

Barry Rubin is so sure that President Obama is heading into a trap that he confidently predicts “America’s Impending Defeat in Syria”. The reason? How can you win when you don’t want to win?

The administration has trapped itself with two problems: the rebels who are being supported in Syria are extreme radicals who may set off bloodbaths and regional instability if they win; and a challenge has been given to the very reckless forces of Iran, Syria, and Hizballah. When the United States threatens these three players, the response is always: “Make my day!”

So this is the situation, and the Obama administration is bluffing.

it does not want to exert force and probably won’t. Iran and Syria would be quite willing to fight a war, but the United States –people and government — do not have the will to do so.

Speaking for myself, I am not so sure defeat is in the offing. The tactical power of the United States military is so great that it can give mediocre, even insanely incompetent commanders in chief mastery of the physical field. It can avoid defeat, but it can’t give victory to somebody who doesn’t want it either.

What is of greater concern than Syria is watching Washington in its blindness. It’s like seeing an out-control Michael Jackson in his last days, a disaster waiting to happen. You might think Jackson can make it through the day and even through the next day. But sure as shooting the day will come when too much Propofol, too little sleep, too little thinking will do its work. And in that sometime, somewhere the unbridled penchant for destruction will finally push the thing over its final limit.

It’s not Syria I’m worried about, but what comes after that.

There is about the impending Syrian disaster something of the air of a fait acompli. Right now the political system is almost too astonished to call for a Syrian strategy,  to do anything but shamble along sheepishly, having been habituated to act without thinking; having been conditioned to drool, like Pavlov’s dogs on basis of talking points shopped by failed novelists now working as national security advisers for strategic communications to talk show hosts. In that sense Syria is a lost cause — perhaps not in the military sense — but because Obama himself is a lost cause.

If the Republicans themselves understood strategy — another forlorn hope — then they too would even now be preparing for pursuit. Of course they are not, being Republicans. But as Obama’s mistakes pile up he will be forced to retreat with or without the GOP on his heels, much as the Old Guard did at Waterloo, first a step at a time, then at a halting trot, then finally at a full-fledged, pell-mell run, chased by forces he himself has unleashed. So too will the headlong confusion ensue, whether the Republicans prepare for it or not.

The Democrats, whose next generation have so long been stunted by the suffocating shadows of Clinton and Obama, are ironically presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. Their younger members can survive the wreck of the Obama’s next year in office, seize the once in a lifetime chance to form a new coalition unhampered by the dead weight of the 1960s past — if they prepare now. Charles Krauthammer is right. The era of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton is over. What’s important now is jobs. And those won’t return unless things change.

The President really did fundamentally transform America. Look what he did to the Middle East. Look what his policies have done to the economy.  He is potentially taking the torch to the Jewish pillar of the Democratic Party soon. There is now no scenario in which Israel escapes unscathed from the blunders of the administration. And that will feed back — as all his blunders eventually must — into the Democratic Party. It is not inconceivable that Obama may become the Democrat’s Richard Nixon — he is already being openly compared to Nixon even by the press. It will be recalled that Nixon was persuaded by members of his own party to take a well deserved rest, advice which they presented upon realizing he was an albatross round their necks.

The comparison to Nixon is actually unfair to Nixon, who was guilty of a third-rate burglary. Nixon withdrew from Vietnam (which was Johnson’s boo-boo and which fell after he resigned when Congress withheld aid); he checkmated Russia and generally left things ship shape. No Benghazi, NSA, IRS, none of that mar Tricky Dick’s legacy. Compared to Obama Nixon was the model of competence.

One may laugh. Doubtless the Beltway crowd are looking round and comforting themselves with the fact that it still all looks the same today, so it will look the same tomorrow. But years ago I read an account of the Vietnam-era battle of Operation Apache Snow. The surviving NVA records indicated that the defenders, realizing they were to be attacked by American forces, and probably with a sense of their own impending demise, ordered their machine gunners to set up firing positions facing the dense, impassable forest.

“But sir,” one NVA machine gunner expostulated, “there is no field of fire there!”

“Ah my dear private,” the Vietnamese officer replied,  “there is a forest there now. But you have never seen the American air force in action. Tomorrow there will be no forest there at all, not even a sapling. It will be smashed to matchwood. Set up the machine guns where I told you to.”

And the fields of fire open up where we least expect them to. Brett Stephens at the Wall Street Journal writes that Obama would be well advised to kill every member of the Assad family. Every last one.

Should President Obama decide to order a military strike against Syria, his main order of business must be to kill Bashar Assad. Also, Bashar’s brother and principal henchman, Maher. Also, everyone else in the Assad family with a claim on political power. Also, all of the political symbols of the Assad family’s power, including all of their official or unofficial residences. The use of chemical weapons against one’s own citizens plumbs depths of barbarity matched in recent history only by Saddam Hussein. A civilized world cannot tolerate it. It must demonstrate that the penalty for it will be acutely personal and inescapably fatal.

Maybe this strikes some readers as bloody-minded. But I don’t see how a president who ran for his second term boasting about how he “got” Osama bin Laden—one bullet to the head and another to the heart—has any grounds to quarrel with the concept.

There used to be an implicit Red Line prohibiting the assassination of a foreign head of state arising from the well-founded fear that Western leaders might themselves become targets of revenge. The way around that was to get the locals to do it. Saddam was convicted by Iraqis and hanged. Khadaffy went into the meat freezer at the hands of Libyans. What happens when or if you go after the president of a foreign country and his whole family with drones?

Won’t happen you say? Oh they’ve thought about it then … have they? Have they thought about anything? Red Lines ain’t what they used to be. Like that NVA commander said “there’s a forest there now boy …” But there’s not a forest there forever.

To the question, what does Obama do for an encore once he’s fired off two billion dollars worth of missiles? Your guess is as good as mine, but if he did have a plan then what is it?  It’s a Brave New World out there, with such people in it.

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