Tag Archives: Syria

Who lost Iraq?

Who lost Iraq? Two views:

Fareed Zacharia says that first, above all, Nouri Al-Maliki lost it.

The prime minister and his ruling party have behaved like thugs, excluding the Sunnis from power, using the army, police forces and militias to terrorize their opponents. The insurgency the Maliki government faces today was utterly predictable because, in fact, it happened before. From 2003 onward, Iraq faced a Sunni insurgency that was finally tamped down by Gen. David Petraeus, who said explicitly at the time that the core element of his strategy was political, bringing Sunni tribes and militias into the fold. The surge’s success, he often noted, bought time for a real power-sharing deal in Iraq that would bring the Sunnis into the structure of the government. . .

But how did Maliki come to be prime minister of Iraq? He was the product of a series of momentous decisions made by the Bush administration. Having invaded Iraq with a small force — what the expert Tom Ricks called “the worst war plan in American history” — the administration needed to find local allies. It quickly decided to destroy Iraq’s Sunni ruling establishment and empower the hard-line Shiite religious parties that had opposed Saddam Hussein. This meant that a structure of Sunni power that had been in the area for centuries collapsed. These moves — to disband the army, dismantle the bureaucracy [Moe: thank you Paul Bremmer you creep] and purge Sunnis in general — might have been more consequential than the invasion itself.

Dexter Filkins, noting among other things that the border between Iraq and Syria has been erased, names three causes: 1) the Syrian war, and 2)  Al-Maliki, whose thuggery since the US withdrawal (which itself was necessitated in part by his absolute refusal to sign the usual Status of Forces Agreement to provide legal protections to remaining US Troops), and 3) . . .

Which brings us to the third reason. When the Americans invaded, in March, 2003, they destroyed the Iraqi state—its military, its bureaucracy, its police force, and most everything else that might hold a country together. They spent the next nine years trying to build a state to replace the one they crushed. By 2011, by any reasonable measure, the Americans had made a lot of headway but were not finished with the job . . .

Today, many Iraqis, including some close to Maliki, say that a small force of American soldiers—working in non-combat roles—would have provided a crucial stabilizing factor that is now missing from Iraq.

So Bush broke it and Obama left before it was finished (I’m surprised that Filkins beleives we could ever actually ‘finish’ it). By the way, Filkins is a war correspondent of the ‘old school’ and spent years in Iraq during the war and his book about that time, The Forever War, is just stunning.

 

Oh damn them damn them and damn them again

When (perhaps ‘if’ but I’m not hopeful) Iraq dissolves and brings eastern Syria and Kurdistan with it and the region falls into a few more decades of war, I will remember Paul Wolfowitz assuring the Senate before our 2003 invasion that ‘there is no history of sectarian violence in Iraq’. Really, he said that. In a neighborhood where sectarian war has been the norm for  a thousand years. He said that.

Damn them all.

Syria shares a border with Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. And that matters.

syriaIn a country where none of the news is good, this is very very bad. I’ve worried about Turkey since the Islamists started flowing into Syria – they’re Sunnis, determined to help overthrow a Shia government.

An extremist group linked to Al Qaeda routed Syrian rebel fighters and seized control of a gateway town near Syria’s northern border with Turkey on Wednesday, posting snipers on rooftops, erecting checkpoints and imposing a curfew on the local population . . .

Its seizure is likely to alarm Syria’s neighbors. Turkey, which has vocally supported the fight against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and allowed fighters and arms to flow freely across its southern border, now faces a bold al Qaeda affiliate. . . 

In recent months, jihadist groups have isolated local populations by imposing strict Islamic codes, carrying out public executions and clashing with rebel groups.

Lebanon is expressing some worry too.

Maybe they’re smoking dope in the Oval?

How else to explain this kind of thinking – some in the Administration  have put  out this projection for Obama’s presidency going forward. They draw it as an entirely passive future. They’re saying if we fail at this, we’ll fail at everything else because it’ll be out of our hands. Perhaps some staffers think saying this would be heard by the Congress as a threat; they would be wrong – a weak Obama is the opposition’s wet dream.

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — President Obama and his advisers view the coming decision on military action against Syria as a potential turning point that could effectively define his foreign policy for his final three years in office. . . .

Mr. Obama and his team see the votes as a guidepost for the rest of his presidency well beyond the immediate question of launching missiles at Syrian military targets. If Congress does not support a relatively modest action in response to a chemical attack that killed more than 1,400 people in Syria, Obama advisers said, the president will not be able to count on support for virtually any use of force.

Although Mr. Obama has asserted that he has the authority to order the strike on Syria even if Congress says no, White House aides consider that almost unthinkable. As a practical matter, it would leave him more isolated than ever and seemingly in defiance of the public’s will at home. As a political matter, it would almost surely set off an effort in the House to impeach him, which even if it went nowhere could be distracting and draining.

As a result, Mr. Obama would be even more reluctant to order action in the one case that has most preoccupied military planners: the development of a nuclear bomb by Iran.

Could it be a “wink, wink”?

I hate that we might do anything military at all in Syria. I hate that if we do, it could be because President Barry was a little careless with his language last year with “a red line”, and the year before with “Assad has to go”. (Hey, maybe he should go to Congress and let them say ‘no’ and then either he can have it both ways or if they say ‘yes’ he’s got cover and isn’t in this alone.)

But I’m also cynical. More cynical than a sweet woman like myself ought to be. So I will wonder: is this waffling and the promises of ‘limited strikes’ a ruse? Is it a delay so Assad can act now to mitigate the damage to come?

Do we perhaps want Assad to survive after all because we believe anything that follows would be more unstable? Have we made a quiet deal to buy some time to transition to another government without those Islamists rattling the palace gates?

UPDATE: He is going to Congress – just saw it at The New York Times; it must have been a few hours ago, so I’m guessing it’s not because of my post.

Exactly.

(George Packer has a chat.)

UPDATE : Dearest readers, as much as I’d like to lay claim to the words that follow, I cannot. They aren’t mine. The ‘dialogue’ here is from George Packer at The New Yorker, but reading now through your comments, it looks like I didn’t make that clear. The link above to is to his column. Packer begins:

“So it looks like we’re going to bomb Assad.

Good.

Really? Why good?

Did you see the videos of those kids? I heard that ten thousand people were gassed. Hundreds of them died. This time, we have to do something.

Yes, I saw the videos.
And you don’t want to pound the shit out of him?I want to pound the shit out of him.But you think we shouldn’t do anything.

I didn’t say that. But I want you to explain what we’re going to achieve by bombing.

We’re going to let Assad know that chemical weapons are over the line. There’s a reason they’ve been illegal since Verdun or whenever.

Except when Saddam used them against the Kurds—we knew, and we didn’t say a word.

Is that a reason to let Assad use them against his people?

At this point, I don’t think Assad is too worried about the Geneva Conventions.

Continue reading

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

And for ‘me’, read the United States of America.

According to Ramzy Mardini, someone who knows (caution – NY Times possible paywall):

The Syrian revolution isn’t democratic or secular; the more than 90,000 fatalities are the result of a civil war, not a genocide — and human rights violations have been committed on both sides.

Moreover, the rebels don’t have the support or trust of a clear majority of the population, and the political opposition is neither credible nor representative. Ethnic cleansing against minorities is more likely to occur under a rebel-led government than under Mr. Assad; likewise, the possibility of chemical weapons’ falling into the hands of terrorist groups only grows as the regime weakens.

And finally, a rebel victory is more likely to destabilize Iraq and Lebanon, and the inevitable disorder of a post-Assad Syria constitutes a greater threat to Israel than the status quo.

Mardini concludes:

Syria is like Iraq. But worse.

And now a post in which I agree with George W. Bush’s White House

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

So who’s speaking out this time (except mistermix at Balloon Juice)? Atrios notes that the trip explains why McCain was mysteriously absent from all four Sunday morning shows.

Bill Keller wins – meet the new Joe Lieberman

The once (and never-again-please-I-beg-you) Editor of The New York Times, Bill Keller, steps up to speak out about Syria:

As a rule, I admire President Obama’s cool calculation in foreign policy . . . frankly I’ve shared his hesitation about Syria, in part because*, during an earlier column-writing interlude at the outset of the Iraq invasion, I found myself a reluctant hawk. That turned out to be a humbling error of judgment, and it left me gun-shy.

*Good old Bill, predictable fellow that he is, still thinks it’s all about him. (The whole sorry thing is here.)

Of course, there are important lessons to be drawn from our sad experience in Iraq: Be clear about America’s national interest. Be skeptical of the intelligence. Be careful whom you trust. Consider the limits of military power. Never go into a crisis, especially one in the Middle East, expecting a cakewalk.

Now, here we go . . .

But in Syria, I fear prudence has become fatalism, and our caution has been the father of missed opportunities, diminished credibility and enlarged tragedy.

Looks like he got over that gun-shyness thing just in time for Sock It To Me: Chapter II. I think John McCain and Ms. Graham should have the guy over for a few cocktails and high fives.

Biden’s strongest moment

Syria.

That’s where experience shows. Substance vs slogans and substance won.

Good on Joe.

Gunpowder in the air? The Three Amigos are ready – again!

Messrs McCain, Lindsay and Lieberman are calling for war again. They always do – this is their act and it’s getting stale.

Mr. McCain, Mr. Lieberman and Miss Graham

Of course they’ll insist they don’t want ‘real’ war, just ‘support for the rebels’. They’re not particularly concerned that there are many different kinds of rebels – now including worrisome Islamist elements.

The three gentlemen had an op-ed in The Washington Post the other day, laying out their case. It is – thank Elvis – not tea party reasoning and it’s not all about Jeebus either. But it is classical neo-con Middle East war hawk stuff, evidenced by this, reason number-whatever:

. . . ensuring that al-Qaeda and its violent brethren are unable to secure a new foothold in the heart of the Middle East.

I heard those exact words about Iraq – in 2003, 04, 05, 06 . . . from the same war party.

The people who are doing the best job right now of keeping the Islamists in check are the countries actually in the heart of the Middle East; for them, the danger is at their own front doors. Right now, even the new Egyptian government and its Muslim Brotherhood president are themselves taking aggressive action.

Syria isn’t Egypt. And Egypt wasn’t Libya. And Libya wasn’t Tunisia.

But Syria could be Lebanon, which would be a fearsome outcome. But no matter the danger, we can’t do it from here. You can’t kill an idea with a bullet. Only politics can achieve that.

Reagan’s failure in Lebanon proved it.

What goes around . . .

Remember how in 2003, Iraqis fled across the border into Syria?

Now, here we are in 2012: Syrians are fleeing across their border into Turkey.

As Linda Ellerbee used to say, “and so it goes”.

Hey! The Three Amigos are back in business . . .

Well, two of them anyway. McCain and Lieberman are on the ground again – smiling at Syrians, assuring them that our Presdient doesn’t know what he’s doing – and of course saying there’s no war they couldn’t love.

Lindsay had to wash his hair I think.

Beirut Roxx

POSTED BY ORHAN

“Whilst the idea of a flash mob isn’t a new thing, a Dabke / Hip-Hop flash mob in Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport (Beirut Duty Free) at a time when the region is in flux is certainly a first.

On March 5th, 2011, passengers experienced something a little different. A flash mob performed a mix of Dabke and hip-hop to entertain and delight passengers and airport staff alike.”

Dabke is the most popular Arab folk dance in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria.