The US in Syria

Trump has upped the ante in Syria

What to make of that given the unambiguously appalling nature of the Assad regime? This is bad news.

Way back at the start of this decade, when the drumbeats for war against Iraq were growing, there were multiple arguments about the merits of deposing dictators and regime change. Some were from neo-conservatives but many were from people in the centre or the centre-left of politics. Such debates do matter but I’m not going to rehash them. Simply put ALL such arguments rely on an assumption of COMPETENCE.

I hate the X is a cancer and we need to surgically remove X style arguments for oh, so many reasons, not least of which is that it’s a bad analogy and cancer survivors have enough on their plate without being dragged into bad geopolitics analogies. However, it does illustrate one point: even if the analogy was right/appropriate it IMPLIES THAT YOU NEED A VERY GOOD SURGEON. Applying this logic it was obvious wayyyyy back, that even if arguments for regime change in Iraq were sound on principle, that George W. Bush was a simple refutation of each of them.*

If you are attempting something both dangerous and difficult and which has a very poor record of success then you need somebody VERY competent organising it.**

Now, arguably, the US military has gained more experience of how to handle these kinds of conflicts by virtue of long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but, BUT, the actual executive branch of the US government is at a level of competence that makes George W look like a genius.

For those who may have felt they should support interventionist actions by Clinton or Obama or even supported George W Bush’s Iraq adventure, there is NO hypocrisy in not wanting Trump to engage more deeply in Syria. The man is a dangerous incompetent and the checks and balances on him are weak in this arena.

*[I suspect Tony Blair actually followed similar reasoning but ended up in a different place i.e. Bush was going to do this anyway and mess things up so Blair felt he had to step in and help. This demonstrates how clever thoughtful people can perpetuate dangerous stupidity.]

**[Putting ethics, geopolitics and military aside – which in itself is a bad idea]


19 thoughts on “The US in Syria”

  1. I end this day with a very heavy heart and lots of trepidation for what is to come. I was supposed to visit Syria and Jordan in 2011 and had to cancel the Syria part four days before departure in 2011 when the British FO changed its designation to no-go. Ever since then, that conflict has felt like an open wound. The pictures are so horrible, the devastation so vast, the suffering and displacement so intense. There are no clear paths to resolution because so many vested interests are involved. It is one of the shames of our generation.

    Like you, I hate the cancer metaphor (along with the pink branding and all the positive thinking rah rah stuff). It’s not a cancer. It’s a catastrophe created and sustained by human venality and cruelty, and grotesque political chess games. If we want to use a medical metaphor, let’s call it necrotising fasciitis (which has a nice tie-in with fascism).

    I am terrified not just because of the incompetence you mention, but because it is bound up with the regime’s collective hubris and stoked by end-times evangelical fervor among many in the inner circle. Some of these people WANT to bring on armageddon. It’s a goal, not a deterrent. And, with the whole Putin connection (backing Assad, mixed in with Domald Tromp), it’s now gotten very complicated. Did Tromp just provoke Putin too? Erdogan is a wild card. Europe is in shambolic disarray. This is about as horrible a conflagration as I remember in my adult lifetime.


  2. We’re at the “shaky early details are shaky and early” stage, but right now I’m not seeing how the stated problem (chemical weapons were used) is getting solved here except in the most general sense (hurting the Syrian military degrades their abilities to use them). I fear it’s a matter of “something must be done, this is something…”


  3. Hey, I saw a post on Facebook saying that the world admires Trump for his decisive action and only a few liberal cowardy-custards are trembling in typically abject SJW fear. Or something like that.


      1. It’s been interesting watching his supporters trying to square their “trump is peace; Clinton will initiate WW3” arguments with what was clear from the start: That he’s a belligerent idiot with no understanding of geopolitics or even consequences, and who treats every interaction as a dominance ritual.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. This is important – Vox D and a section of both the alt-Right and the more libertarian right where sceptical/opposed to Bush’s Iraq adventures and have expressed some doubts about this move by Trump (without directly attacking their sweet-leader). Trump himself used anti-Bush rhetoric during his campaign.
        This move by Trump isn’t going to turn the alt-right against him but it will cause some un-settlement in his base.

        Another reason to use this turn of events to push the refugee angle. The most direct way Western nations can help Syrians is to LET THEM ESCAPE. Even token concessions from Trump on this would make a difference and save some lives but would also undermine the grip of the far right on the US government.


  4. It seems to me as if Trump only just now realised that “Hey, this Syria issue is a real problem” and promptly responded in the only way he knows, by throwing bombs on it.

    I actually do agree that the point of reasoning with Assad is long past, considering the horrific human rights abuses committed by the regime. However, the problem is that the Syrian opposition is so splintered and many of those splinters are highly problematic groups in themselves that whatever comes after Assad may well be worse.

    I feel strongly about this as well, because I teach German to refugees, many of whom come from the ruins of Damascus or Aleppo and still have family there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I’ll focus what I say to Australian politicians on Syrian refugees. Its the topic they WON’T want to discuss but with the focus on the appallingness of Assad, it will be hard for them to change the subject.


      1. This is also a large part of what infuriates me about Trump. If he really cared about human rights violations in Syria, then he would let at least some of the millions of Syrian refugees into the US rather than blanket accusing them all of being terrorists.


  5. Making the rounds among my circle of friends today, the take from Terrence Peterson of FIU’s School of Global and International Affairs (historian with a book mss on counterinsurgency in the Mediterranean Islamic world, 20th c)
    “Here my analysis of the US missile strike in Syria in ten points (because several of you asked):

    1. Russia was notified first and the target was an airbase, rather than critical infrastructure. This won’t be WWIII, so cool your jets.

    2. The decision to strike appears to come from the top – sources are already saying neither the NSC nor the State Dept. were informed ahead of time.

    3. That means that this is likely a decision motivated either by Trumpian rashness or a desire to rally Republicans of all stripes (and maybe even left hawks) behind the administration. Or both.

    4. Many people – myself included – did not agree with Obama’s decision to abandon his red line on chemical weapons in 2013. However, his decision was based on solid reasoning. The war in Syria is incredibly complicated, socially and politically. Assad is basically winning. The opposition has fractured into hundreds of splinter groups – many of them openly Islamist – meaning that there is no viable alternative to the current administration. The war has become a proxy conflict for every major power in the region, including Russia and Iran. This is an incredibly complex conflict and not one that can easily be solved through a few airstrikes. We don’t want to get mired in another endless, aimless war of occupation like Iraq or Afghanistan.

    5. There is likely no long-term plan nor humanitarian strategy behind these strikes. That is a problem for the reasons cited above and below.

    6. The administration WILL use this strike to try to build domestic consensus. Don’t be fooled by appeals to humanitarianism – true humanitarian action would mean opening our country to Syrian refugees and continuing to work toward a permanent cease-fire. American military intervention, like any military intervention, is guaranteed to produce casualties. People die in war. That’s the point.

    7. Whether intentional or not, this strike and any military action that follows will distract from ongoing investigations into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia – at just the moment when that investigation has begun to become more serious.

    8. Unilateral action is likely to further alienate our allies in the region and globally. These airstrikes likely violate international law.

    9. Military action justifies Trump’s budget in very material ways. Don’t expect the fight over domestic cuts to weaken; expect it to intensify.

    10. This is unlikely to remain a single-strike attack. Republican lawmakers are already calling for further action, and I think it is very likely given the recent troop buildups in the region that we will see a major, sustained military intervention in the region. Let’s be completely clear on what that means: another costly Middle East war that results in lots of death. Chemical weapons are a crime against humanity, but an escalated conflict means even more casualties in much higher numbers. U.S. airstrikes alone have killed hundreds of Syrian civilians in recent weeks. Military intervention will not bring humanitarian relief to Syria.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Point 6 is the key for US I think. Its the only place where the argument of what to do is both clear and right and arguable. Trump & the centre will appeal to humanitarianism as part of pro-military propaganda BUT we can use that to back actual humanitarian action. No, Trump isn’t going to do that either but other nations might and it keeps the pressure on.


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