Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Unbearable Emptiness of a New York Times Op-Ed

A series of commonly perpetuated untruths, here purveyed by Peter Beinart.

"John McCain and Lindsey Graham want Obama to confront ISIS now. They don't specify how."
They do, just not in the paradigm Peter Beinart wants to impose on the conflict.
'It starts with a lie: that Obama said “we don’t have a strategy yet” to deal with ISIS. In fact, Obama was speaking solely about ISIS in Syria.'
And without a strategy to deal with them in Syria, there is no strategy.
"Last year, when George Washington University’s Marc Lynch surveyed scholars of civil wars, he found that “most contributors are … deeply pessimistic about the prospect for ending Syria’s civil war any time soon” because “Syria has among the worst possible configurations [of any civil war]: a highly fragmented opposition, many potential spoilers, and foreign actors intervening enough to keep the conflict raging but not enough to decisively end the war.” McCain and Graham don’t explain how to overcome all this."
Marc Lynch tells us, "The literature tells us", rather than analysis of what's going on in Syria. It isn't a serious counterblast to the reality that the FSA has been victorious against ISIS wherever it has received support.
"Any serious proposal for expanding American military involvement in Iraq into Syria must do one of two things. 1) Explain, in some detail, how bombing ISIS will strengthen the moderate Syrian opposition rather than other Sunni jihadist groups (for instance, al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate) and/or Bashar al-Assad. Or 2) explain why it’s worth bombing ISIS even if we strengthen other Sunni jihadist groups and/or Bashar al-Assad."
So setting to one side that arming the FSA properly would strengthen it in relation to all other groups, which would render the concern in 1) irrelevant. Beinart doesn't specify how bombing ISIS would strengthen their trading partner Assad, or suddenly convince the millions who have fled his rule in the last three years that he is a viable option. 
"They cite Jimmy Carter’s decision to abandon d├ętente with the Soviet Union after Moscow invaded Afghanistan, Bill Clinton’s decision to intervene in the Balkans, and George W. Bush’s decision to implement the “surge” in Iraq. What do these cases have in common? They’re the best examples McCain and Graham could find of when a president chose military escalation and it worked (sort of)."
I'd pick other examples which wouldn't appeal to the senators, such as the support the Soviet Union gave to liberation movements in Latin America in the sixties and seventies. Which highlights the problem that things could have been kept simple if the FSA had been allowed to overthrow Assad when there was no ISIS, and until they are, the inability of a genocidal government and a murderous caliphate to offer any future for Syria will continue to spiral the level of atrocities. Now it's more complicated. They had no interests to protect in Syria, whatever those who see geopolitical intrigue behind every revolution might say. Now the conflict has moved to Iraq where the do have influence, the chances that their fundamental interests in exploiting foreigners as much as possible will poison any intervention are that much greater.
Scott Lemieux* suggests that "the John McCain and Lindsey Graham Award For Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Wankery Goes To…John McCain and Lindsey Graham" for this, I wouldn't.

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