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Syrian Knowns and Unknowns

4) The Middle East is the Middle East: Syria reminds us of the Middle East paradoxes:

A) We don’t like either pro-American (e.g., Mubarak) or anti-American (e.g., Gaddafi) dictators.

B) We don’t like populist Islamic theocrats (e.g., the Iranian theocrats, Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas).

C) We don’t like chaos and rule by militias (e.g., Sudan, Somalia, Libya).

D) We accept but do not promote monarchs (e.g., Jordan and the Gulf sheikdoms).

So we keep hoping for a fifth way of pro-American "reformers" that come to power through elections (like a partisan Maliki or corrupt Karzai). But to achieve choice E, we must invade, overthrow tyrants, occupy the country, force reforms and protect the weak legitimate government -- something we are doing in Afghanistan and did in Iraq, but apparently never wish to do again.

So what are we doing in Syria -- given that bombing may lead to chaos or help al-Qaeda, but not empower pro-Western reformers enough to grasp power, hold elections, and institutionalize legitimate consensual elections?

Does anyone believe that the insurgents are mostly pro-Western reformers, will come to power by our bombing Assad, and will form a legitimate consensual government that appreciates American help?

5) Iraq? Syria, the administration promises us, is not Iraq. Yes, in terms of blood and treasure it probably will not be as deadly as Afghanistan or Iraq. But the latter two were more costly than Libya because the aims were so much more sweeping -- the creation of constitutional systems, not just the destruction of tyranny and a laissez-faire attitude about the very bad things that follow our bombing and killing. I wish there were a third way, but so far those are the two stark bad choices.

Tomahawks and Hellfires might even remove Assad, but they most assuredly will not lead to even mediocrities like Karzai and Maliki, warts and all, but rather to something like ... who knows what? (See the choices below.)

Second, Bush went into Iraq on four premises:

One, he had over 70% public support after a year of discussions and debates. Two, he had overwhelming congressional support, so much so that the 23 writs that were passed went beyond even his own casus belli. Three, he labored (in vain) at the United Nations. Four, he had 40 allies in his coalition of the willing.

All that effort was because Bush had an aim (removal of Saddam Hussein), a methodology (invade and occupy the country in a way we did not in 1991 or during the 12 years of no-fly-zones), and a desired result (some sort of consensual government, or something like the status of the Maliki government when Bush left office in January 2009). You can call it stupid, but there was an “it” to call stupid. There is no such entity in relation to Syria.

Most Americans supported the Iraq war until the insurgency in 2004 made the implementation of the strategy too costly. Then only a few of us believed that far worse than fighting an unpopular war were the consequences of losing an unpopular war we were in.

Promising not another Iraq (or for that matter Afghanistan and Libya) is no substitute for explaining the objective, the means, and the desired result.