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Garfinkle: The Tough Lessons of Syria

Though we already weighed in the other day on the Obama administration’s change of heart (and, seemingly, policy) over what to do next in Syria, we’d be remiss not to point to our colleague Adam Garfinkle’s essay on the same subject. As always, Adam is both erudite and incredibly entertaining to read. A taste from his latest:

There is something to be learned here, and there is even a chance that some Administration principals may belatedly learn it: The mantra that the use of force, even the indirect use of force via arms provision to allies or would-be clients, should always be a last resort, is just that—a mantra with no relevance to real life. This is like, as I have said before, advising a cancer victim to wait until the very last moment to consider surgery. It epitomizes the Neville Chamberlain school of diplomacy.

Relatedly, the genuinely crazy idea that force and diplomacy are opposites rather than complements—crazy because it spites every significant historical example we have—must by now be an embarrassment to at least some sentient folks in the American halls of decision-making. Conducting diplomacy severed from the backdrop of relative power is like trying to conduct a serious foreign policy with a condom, so to speak. But these were the “engagement” biases of many in the Administration back in January 2009, as they remain today, somehow, the biases of a great many clueless liberals everywhere.

But all that’s a lesson for next time. Maybe. Really bad ideas never die; they just come back in slightly different (or sometimes the same) form. For now, to invoke the hallowed wisdom of Buckaroo Bonzai, wherever you go, there you are. So regardless of how we got here, here we are, and so we’re entitled to ask: What now? What next?

Excellent stuff. Regular VM readers won’t necessarily be surprised by where Adam ends up with his analysis. But getting there is more than worth the price of admission—a small sliver of your time this Saturday afternoon. Do read the whole thing.

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  • ljgude

    It is interesting that Mr. Garfinkle uses two Buddhist ideas rather loosely in his piece. A mantra is a mindfullness practice, not just repetition of the same words, as we should all know and ‘Wherever you go, there you are’ is the title of Buddhist teacher John Kabat-Zinn’s book on mindfulness. Both of these things are about getting unstuck from bad ideas. Nonetheless I appreciate Garfinkle’s humorous use of the terms. My own preferred metaphor for the endless repetition of bad ideas is AA Milne’s tale of Pooh and Piglet following their own tracks around a copse in the snow and each time around discovering a new pair of tracks while they scare themselves silly trying to figure out if they are being followed by the dreaded ‘woozle’.

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