The main line of criticism of Obama from advocates of waging war against the Syrian regime, including Hillary Clinton and John McCain, is the U.S. failure to arm the anti-Assad/pro-American rebels. There is no reason to believe that insofar as such rebels exist, the U.S. could find them. As many have pointed out, supplying Syrian rebels is tantamount to supplying ISIS.
Belief in such an opposition is of a piece with delusions of limitless American power. We will be greeted as liberators anywhere we choose to go. We can bust a place up and we will always find friends waiting for us, as in Iraq, Libya, etc. etc. etc. Old folks will remember “Vietnamization.” Why doesn’t Hillary?
All is not well on Planet Hillary. Her wretched interview with Jeffrey Goldberg will not only alienate some of the more alert liberals. It will, or it should, also anger President Obama’s most fervent supporters. She’s doing him like Bill did Sister Souljah, twenty years ago this past June 13.
The most important thing in the interview is that HRC reveals dissatisfaction with President Obama’s disinclination to wage war against the murderous Syrian dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. This recalls her early support for the disastrous invasion of Iraq. It was not a mistake; it’s who she is. Moreover, this decision is not a dead letter. Syria’s tribulations could very well persist with Senator Clinton in the White House. In fact, it could get worse if ISIS continues to strengthen its grip in both Iraq and Syria.
The 2016 Democratic primary contest will beg for a peace candidate, and HRC has disqualified herself from that role. She might not even win the election if she’s runs on a neocon-lite foreign policy. Voters deluded into thinking Obama has failed to exercise America’s overwhelming, actually overrated power in the world may opt for stronger stuff.
The condescending attack on Obama rests on a pseudo-intellectual footing. Obama’s stance — memorialized in his determination “not to do stupid stuff” — she describes as shallow:
“Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”
Remind you of the primary campaign in 2008, does it?
So what are HRC’s great and grand organizing principles? These have yet to be revealed. Perhaps there is a secret plan. Or perhaps she is all bluster and ill-considered action, just like George W. Bush.
The other sore point in the interview is the utterly bull-headed, unambiguous support, not for Israel, which could be expected of any Democratic politician, but for the Full Maximum Bibi. All of the Israeli government’s lies about the run-up and conduct of their grotesque “Operation Protective Edge” are endorsed. These lies have been well explicated elsewhere by liberal Zionists Peter Beinart and John Judis.
Here as well is an implicit disparagement of Secretary of State Kerry’s feeble efforts to get this U.S. ally to be a little more solicitous of U.S. peacemaking efforts regarding Gaza. It’s almost as if Israel is giving us the privilege of subsidizing its war machine to the tune of about four percent of Israel’s GDP.
And finally, to add insult to bone-headedness, criticism of Israeli policy is likened by HRC to anti-Semitism. We have to wonder, are the liberal Zionist Israelis who demonstrate for peace and are assaulted in the street by right-wing goons, are they anti-Semites too?
We now have the odd case of an unambiguous imperialist-Zionist project, namely Kurdistan, that is an appealing alternative to what threatens it, namely the crazy-fascist so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). I previously linked to John Judis on the oil connection. Here’s background on the Kurds that I don’t necessarily endorse in all its details. I’m no expert. I do know the Kurds have been screwed multiple times over the decades, including by the U.S. Their national aspirations are legitimate, as far as I’m concerned. If they get rich from oil, good for them. If they make Exxon rich, who the hell cares. Exxon is already rich. If Turkey doesn’t like it, fuck Turkey.
The U.S. government always exaggerates the savagery of its target-of-the-month. Noriega and his cocaine that turned out to be tortilla powder. Saddam’s invading army knocking over baby incubators in Kuwait, but not really (a great Alex Cockburn exposé). Poor Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, winning those damn elections. In the case of ISIS, however, I have heard nobody offer any defense of them. If you want to give it a shot, be my guest. It’s kind of like discerning the moderate Nazis. No ISIS doesn’t threaten the world like Hitler, but it promises to cause a good deal of trouble in its own right. Invading Iraq to extirpate them looks hopeless. Keeping them out of Kurdistan seems doable. Rescuing the Yazidis on the mountain, I hope so. Perhaps some political progress in Baghdad would help, but I wouldn’t hang my hat on that as any sort of short-term remedy.
Some on the left will look foolish putting forth diplomacy and political reform in Iraq as an alternative. It is ill-suited to the real-time situation on the ground. Total U.S. abstention is morally unsatisfactory, even though the motives for intervention are always impure. Then there was some stupid shit about ISIS being a ploy of Israeli intelligence (no I’m not linking to it). A good example of how conspiracism is bad politics, in this case gratuitous anti-Zionism and a dumb distraction.
No daylight here between our next president and Bibi the Butcher. Her moral obtuseness is awe-inspiring. And she wishes Obama had jumped into Syria. So we’re in for a mixture of aggression, incoherence (help the Syrian opposition without somehow helping ISIS), and demagogy (accusing Israeli critics of anti-semitism).
I’m no pacifist. Those ISIS fuckers can’t die fast enough. The problem is how it could get done, and at what cost to innocent people.
It feels a bit like a replay of the Kosovo affair. The Clinton Administration cried genocide, and I supported intervention. Not that my support mattered. For the sake of Serb vilification, depredations of the Bosnians and Croatians were downplayed. I was critical of the intervention being confined to aerial bombardment, which in some cases deliberately entailed civilian casualties. The U.S. accepted innocent Serbian casualties for the sake of precluding any American ones that would have resulted from “boots on the ground.” Some moral foreign policy. Afterwards I felt bamboozled. There was no genocide; there were atrocities from both sides. The new Kosovo statelet does not impress as an island of freedom.
ISIS looks like a clearer case. It’s clearly a murderous outfit with no redeeming qualities (Warning, nasty pictures here). Religious/ethnic minorities deserve protection, and the nascent Kurdish state is worth defending, or at least arming to the teeth. Unfortunately the cool weapons in ISIS hands are the result of our arming the Iraqi joke-army. Once you give weapons away it’s hard to get them back. ISIS may not be easy to expunge. They will use civilians as human shields. But if they try to advance in open ground, they are vulnerable to U.S. air power.
The U.S. motives here should not be taken for granted as wise or disinterested. The continuing policy of trying to preserve a unitary Iraq now looks idiotic. Joe Biden, who foresaw the need for partition, looks pretty good. The need to protect our consulate is obvious. I wager that will require “boots on the ground.” I have no idea how it would be possible to protect others without another invasion. The Kurds may be able to defend their region. The fate of others trapped in the savage new “caliphate” is a different matter. A defense of the Administration by Peter Galbraith is here. I might add that PG has business interests in Kurdistan. Other former U.S. foreign policy officials have business interests now in Kosovo. And so it goes. Here’s a good piece by Matt Yglesias explaining Administration policy. As far as I know he doesn’t own any oil futures.
I got an email from the Code Pinkies, whom I like. Their recommendation is the same as the White House — bring the different parties in Iraq together with diplomacy. They’ve been sniffing the peonies too hard. The Iraqi government is incompetent. Who would want to block with them?
There are other mass atrocities in progress that also beg for attention. If we can’t fix them all, can we fix any? I’d say yes, when it’s easy and there is less prospect of entanglement with conflicting U.S. geopolitical machinations. Of course the latter cases are unlikely to command U.S. government interest. John Judis notes the salience of oil in this affair. I don’t think he is saying an intervention is unjustified for that reason.
I can’t get too angry about blowin’ up these particular folks, though it pays to remember that from tens of thousands of feet up, it’s easy to blow up the wrong folks. The U.S. government seems to do it all the time.
Let me pick up the main arguments of Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). Here is an interview with her, here is an article she wrote. Phyllis is always worth consulting on this kind of stuff, and IPS is one of my fave organizations.
1. The slippery slope. PB fears the initiation of bombing will lead to a return of U.S. troops to Iraq and a big new war. This is certainly possible but I think very unlikely. There is too much sentiment against it. Nor is there any money for it. More likely if the bombing is unsuccessful, the end result will be U.S. declarations of victory-and-withdrawal and ongoing chaos in the region. Dangerous, but chaos is the outlook in any case.
2. Iraq as aircraft carrier. PB suggests Iraq has key significance as a location, in addition to its oil resources, in terms of afffording access to the U.S. military to other parts of the world. I see no conceivable use for any such access, nor any exclusivity to it.
3. The legal and hypocrisy arguments are irrelevant. There is no law and there is no honor in geopolitics. It’s a jungle out there.
4. That U.S. personnel on the ground can be easily evacuated is irrelevant. There is no reason the U.S. should let itself be chased out of Erbil by the likes of ISIS. And there are still the folks left behind.
5. Phyllis says ISIS could be undercut by a Sunni-friendly unity government in Iraq. This position is shared by the White House and Code Pink. I am skeptical. At the very least, that would take some time. We’ll probably have some kind of demonstration of the truth of this in any case. In the meantime, the humanitarian crisis remains.
Do we need to say a word about the Foxies? I saw a bit of a panel including George Will, Laura Ingraham, and Ron Fournier, among others. Their game is all about bemoaning how awful things are and why doesn’t Obama do more. Exactly what ‘more’ means is never elaborated. These are not serious people. I also caught remarks from John McCain. He decried the Administration’s lack of strategy. I don’t think they have a strategy either. McCain’s strategy is to turn the whole region into a paradise of democracy by massive use of force. So he’s still nuts. (There is some talk that the anti-Assad militants that Crazy John met with in Syria were actually ISIS folks, or would become such, which points up the futility of trying to intervene in the Syrian/Iraqi civil war on the ground.)
I don’t have a morally satisfactory resolution. Innocent people are under threat and the only conceivable instrument of their salvation is deeply flawed. It (the U.S. government) may be exploiting the human rights cause for ulterior motives and therefore not serve well the ostensible objective. It does that all the time.
Until we have some kind of social movement with a different strategic vision of foreign policy, we’re reduced to coping with the mixed motives of the State in the face of urgent human distress. I am anti-imperialist. I do not think that precludes acquiescence to some kind of U.S. intervention. There are some things worse than imperialism.
Also, as my friend Bob Dreyfuss said, folks are murderin’ folks.
We have soldiers; they have fighters.
We are even-tempered; they are militant.
Our bombardments are self-defense; theirs are aggression.
Any civilian that we kill is actually killed by them.
We left Gaza. Blockading it is not an occupation.
Our roads into Gaza are aboveboard; their tunnels into Israel are devious.
They use tunnels to come into Israel and murder soldiers. We use roads to go into Gaza and “mow the lawn.”
We support a two-state solution, as long as the Palestinian state is not a state.
A continuing, endless series. This morning in response to the BLS jobs report, he suggested the numbers were cooked (“We’re all conspiratorial here.”) — in other words not too high, not too low — for the sake of propping up Fed policy of gradual contraction of monetary stimulus. CNBC’s fixed income expert. Right.