Monday, November 30, 2015

Obama is Incoherent; the Rest are Insane

OK, so I have made the case that Obama's critics are more hawkish than he is.  But why does that prove that they are any more incoherent?  Because of the way that they are hawkish.  Their approach to the Middle East is one of omni-directional belligerence.

Syria is the most obvious example of complete incoherence in our foreign policy establishment, even more incoherent than our current policy under Obama.  Taking the most simple, dumbed-down (though somewhat outdated) map of what is going on in Syria's civil war, in March, 2014 it looked something like the picture on the right.  Pink represents the Assad government; green represents the non-ISIS rebels, and gray represents ISIS.  (Yellow is the Kurds).  We are on the side of the green forces. It should be obvious that our friends are facing the classic two-front war problem.  They are trying to defeat the pink guys and the gray guys simultaneously. One might think that this is a bad situation to be in.

It gets worse.  The map on the left (updated to December, 2014) distinguishes between rebels we might actually support (light green) and mixed our guys and jihadis (dark green).  Yes, that is right, we are hoping for the light green guys to take over the entire country.  This map also makes clear why Putin, though nominally fighting ISIS, is actually supporting Assad mostly against our guys.  The government-held areas do not border on the ISIS-held areas, so there is no direct war between then.  It is our guys getting it from both sides.

Unsurprisingly, it hasn't gone so well for our side.  The map on the right shows that ISIS has been growing, largely at the expense of mixed rebel territory, but also at the expense of government.  (See also this article with a map showing the change in control over time).  Not good!  But then again, let us not forget that the Syrian rebels aren't exactly nice guys either. They are rife with foreign jihadis, Al-Qaeda offshoots, and the like.  All right, you may say, granted Syria is a mess and our policy is incoherent, but after all Obama has been the one in charge, so why is anyone else to blame for the mess.  I would answer two reasons.  One is that his intervention was (to all appearances) against his better judgment, in response to pressure by our larger foreign policy establishment.

And if Obama's response has been inept, his rivals' have been just plain nuts.  Consider Hillary Clinton.  What is her response to the growing power of ISIS?  Why, to step up the war against Assad, of course, and to be more confrontational with Iran.  As this critic caustically put it:
[N]ot six days after ISIS slaughtered 130 people in Paris; a few more after it brought down a Russian airliner over Egypt and blew up a Hezbollah neighborhood in Beirut, Hillary Clinton is calling for tougher measures against… wait for it… ISIS’s enemies in the Mideast. . . . . Does it need to be spelled out? For Hillary, the ISIS terror may be a sort of pretext to take the war to those whom Bibi Netanyahu considers his primary enemy, Iran, and Iran’s Lebanese Shi’ite ally, Hezbollah.
Still, at least Hillary is not proposing to tear up the nuclear agreement with Iran.  Republicans are all for scrapping that and doing all they can to ramp up tensions with Iran.  Can we face facts?  Iran is a major enemy of ISIS.  By contrast, our dear friend Saudi Arabia is funding the madrassahs where Islamic militants are trained, backing fellow travelers even as they oppose ISIS, and enabling al-Qaeda in Yemen.  And we consider Iran and enemy and Saudi Arabia an ally why?  Maybe because because Iran has a nuclear program that could lead to an atomic bomb and Saudi Arabia does not? That makes some sense, but then why are so many people dead said against any sort of curb on Iran's nuclear program?

Look, I am the first to agree that there are no good guys in the Middle East, only bad guys and other bad guys.  When confronted with such a situation, there are two reasonable, coherent responses:

  1. Stay the hell out.  If bad guys fight other bad guys, why should we make it our problem?  OR
  2. Choose the lesser evil as a reluctant and limited ally.
Our foreign policy establishment, including Obama, but with others denouncing him for not being aggressive enough at it, has chosen exactly the opposite approach:
  1. Fight everyone at once and try to conquer all Mideastern actors on behalf of a handful of "good guys" who exist mostly in our imagination.  OR
  2. Choose the greater evil (Saudi Arabia and its cohorts) and back it for no apparent reason.
Obama basically seems to know that these latter two are not great ideas, but cannot resist the pressure to act on them.  The others are denouncing him for being "weak" in not carrying one of these policies even farther.  

So those are our apparent options in the Middle East -- incoherence, or insanity.

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