The World Ignites
What Could Get Obama into a Middle East War
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  • gabrielsyme

    The price for America’s early inaction in Syria continues to rise.

    The American Interest continues to imagine that the flaw in Obama’s Syria strategy was not to intervene more strongly on the side of the rebels when in fact the decision ought to have been to severely restrict aid for the Syrian rebels by leaning on America’s allies (Turkey, Jordan, the Gulf states). The Gulf States should have been threatened with cutting off their banks’ access to the international financial system if they continued to allow funds to travel to jihadist groups in Syria. Depriving the rebels of external support, at the very least ISIS would not have grown as powerful and the civil war would not have exacted as high a toll in lives.

    As in Libya, it probably would have taken a full NATO-led air campaign to dislodge and defeat Assad; even with such support, Assad would likely have continued to defend the Alawite heartland near the coast. Such an intervention was never in the cards; and even if it were, it would have still left religious and ethnic minorities at the tender mercies of various victorious Sunni Arab militias and armies, which (even in the early stages of the civil war) included substantial Islamist factions. Nor is secularism or “moderation” a guarantee against retaliatory attacks on minorities and other Assad-supporters. Imagine the factionalism of post-Ghaddafi Libya in a country with significant ethnic and religious minorities closely identified with the previous regime. Ethnic and religious cleansing and even genocide were and continue to be plausible outcomes of a rebel victory. A liberal democracy is not and never was.

    • Andrew Allison


      • Curious Mayhem

        Actually, the WRM/TAI line was and is sound. It was for the US to support the *non-jihadi* native Syrian opposition to Assad, the ones who started the rebellion. One reason to do that was precisely to pre-empt the arrival of *foreign* Sunni jihadis in Syria — that is, the prevent a repeat of what happened in Afghanistan in the 80s and Iraq in the 2000s, or more generally, in Turkey, Libya, etc.

        Like supporting the Kurds, this is one the few sound interventions that would have had little down side and, at the time, little risk. Now, the empty suit in the White House is left with few options. If Jordan goes, a general war in the Middle East will follow, and the US will not be able to stay out.

        How’s that for malign neglect? Enough hopenchange?

        • Andrew Allison

          Actually [/grin], the TAI line (hopefully not propounded by the estimable WRM) is stuff-and-nonsense. A geopolitical half-wit would have realized that jihadists would capitalize on an extended Sunni/Shiite conflict in Syria and a quick end to it was in our best interests. Absent the smartest move (a quick kill of the Assad regime), we should have gone all-out in support of the rebels, Our problem is not an empty suit but, as Clint Eastwood presciently suggested, an empty chair in the White House.

          • Curious Mayhem

            Not sure what you mean. But an empty suit sitting in an empty chair sounds right to me — like one of those Magritte paintings.

        • gabrielsyme

          I’m afraid I cannot agree. Such a strategy relied on far too many dubious assumptions. First, it presumes that the Syrian opposition would have remained a relatively unified group, unlike in Libya; second, it presumes the early Syrian rebels did not contain a significant Islamist element, third, it presumes that the intervention would have caused the Assad regime to completely collapse before jihadists grew into a potent force; fourth, it presumes that the “moderate” opposition would not have been interested in retaliatory attacks on minority communities; fifth, it presumes that Islamists would not attain significant political power in a post-Assad democracy.

          Finally, the pro-rebel position ignores the fact that the plausible democratic outcomes were only marginally superior to the Assad status quo. Assad protected minorities and allowed for a degree of freedom for women that is unusual in the region. Both of those terribly important issues would have taken a significant step backwards under Sunni domination. Yes, other rights could well be strengthened, and Assad’s fall would weaken Hezbollah; but given the importance of protecting religious and ethnic communities and the value in promoting the dignity of women in the Islamic world, we can’t reasonably anticipate a great windfall for justice in the fall of Assad.

  • Corlyss

    Nothing! Remember? His axiom is that the 52% that elected him did so to end American military intervention so he could spend the money on more transfer payments to them.

  • Fat_Man

    Bad physics metaphor alert: “the current conflict … would likely explode and grow more complex and costly by quantum degrees”.

    In the late 19th Century, physicists sought to understand why a “black body” did not conform to their mathematical models that would allow it to re-radiate more energy that it received. They discovered that radiation came in discreet packets they called quanta, and that this fact limited the amount of energy radiated to the amount received. Thus quantum degrees are a limit on re-radiation.

    Now. it is true that the physics that grew out of the discovery of quanta is complex and unintuitive, but the quanta themselves are limits on energy.

    • Andrew Allison

      Added to which, what in the name of goodness is a quantum degree? An intuitive leap tells me that it’s an oxymoron.

      • Fat_Man

        Can we agree on gibberish?

  • Fat_Man

    The real question is whose side would we be on. In Syria the US is on the side of ISIS in opposing Assad. In Iraq, the US is supporting Maliki and opposing ISIS. I don’t see an easy way out of this blind alley.

    • mc

      The US has not and is not supporting ISIS in Syria. ISIS in that country is best understood as an aspect of Asad’s response to the revolution against his barbarous rule. The argument that ISIS is somehow part of the revolution is advanced only by Asad, Putin, Khameini, Nasrallah, and their western dupes and enablers.

    • Andrew Allison

      We should be on OUR side! In other words, attack jihadism with every means at our disposal. When will the world wake up to the fact that these animals are serious about wanting to take it over?

  • lukelea

    “would likely explode and grow more complex and costly by quantum degrees.”

    That means by infinitesimal degrees I guess the writer [doesn’t] know.

  • lukelea

    “Jordan is one of the few Middle Eastern nations that is both stable and moderate. It is a key American ally, and neither the U.S. nor Israel can afford to let it collapse.”

    On the contrary. A Palestinian state in the western half of Jordan would open the way to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is a shortage of lebensraum for the Palestinian people as things now stand. The West Bank alone is not enough. Don’t make a fetish of stable, moderate, Bedouin Jordan.

  • FriendlyGoat

    “Obama” himself, will not be in a Middle East war. The title is moronic, because our soldiers and their families fight the wars and Congress is to declare them, if any. So tell your buddy Boehner to stop imagining he can sue the president over trivia and start taking role call House votes on exactly what war the members wish to declare. Blaming Obama is both unconstitutional and cowardly.

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