Thursday, August 29, 2013

How to Screw up the World (Again)

First, take a tense situation, and lay down a marker -- make a demand that dares the addressee to defy it. (Oh, yes, and be sure you have an authoritative report to back it up. If they try to say you have no evidence, you will show them who's lying.)

After all, you head up a country that was once great and powerful, even though you may have presided over its decline of late. Still, you believe in the strategy of the environment you grew up in: if your opponent brings a knife to a fight, you bring a gun. Given your reputation as you perceive it, no puny little dictator would think of calling your marker.

Form an alliance with countries who egg you on, despite their having no dog in the fight. And ignore the warnings from those who claim to be allies of your opponent -- after all, they would never intervene in such a minor dust-up. No, they are bluffing, and this is poker. A single attack on a two-bit country could never lead to a world-wide war.

Above all, assert your supreme powers as Commander-in-Chief of your armed forces. The decision to attack, after all, is entirely up to you, since you (and not your country's elected representatives) laid down the marker.

Never mind having a clear goal or objective beforehand. You simply want to punish the upstart who dares to defy you in front of the whole world. Your opponent's regime may fall as a result of your attack; or again, it may not. At all events, you agree with this summary of another decision to attack without a plan by an earlier administration:
It may fail, and we cannot estimate the odds of success with any accuracy -- they may be somewhere between 25% and 75%. What we can say is that even if it fails, the policy will be worth it. At a minimum it will damp down the charge that we did not do all that we could have done, and this charge will be important in many countries, including our own. Beyond that, a reprisal policy to the extent that it demonstrates U.S. willingness to employ this new norm in counterinsurgency will set a higher price for the future upon all adventures of guerrilla warfare, and it should therefore somewhat increase our ability to deter such adventures.
Oh, but you left out Secretary Bundy's final sentence from that quote: "We must recognize, however, that that ability will be gravely weakened if there is failure for any reason in Vietnam ...". And there was a failure in Vietnam, wasn't there? It was the failure of a leader-made war to get the country united behind it -- again, because there was no definite plan to explain, or to ask the people to support. The leaders were interested only in punishment ("reprisal"), not (at least at the very first) in any wider goal.

And by all means, do not let contemporary voices deter you from your course -- after all, what do they know? You are the leader; you laid down the marker; that pipsqueak defied it, and now it's payback time -- Chicago style. (Oh, and don't be bothered by those pesky voices from the past, either.) You said it all when you came into office: can you be at fault if subsequent events have forced you to think differently?

No, perish the thought. You're in charge, and have been from day one.

And that's why you can cut that damned Assad some slack. You'll just rough him up a bit, let him have a taste of good old alpha-male whoop-ass -- something that offers "a level of intensity 'just muscular enough not to get mocked', but not so devastating that it would prompt a response from Syrian allies Iran and Russia." You want it to be "just enough to mean something, just enough to be more than symbolic."

When you take it all on yourself -- when you ignore the laws and make it all about you -- it can get a bit lonely up there, can't it? The whole world watching you, to see what you (alone) will do? Kind of empowering, isn't it?

Then again, you've never wanted it to be any other way.


  1. Agreed that there is much to criticise.

    But criticism is cheap. If you were president, what would you do when a foreign head of state began using chemical weapons against innocent civilians, on the scale we've now seen in Syria? Surely all the options are bad. Which bad one would you choose?

  2. Obama has painted himself into a corner, Rick Allen. But he's done it all on his own, and he's lost the country behind him. Despite the atrocities Assad is committing, less than ten percent of us are in favor of a US intervention.

    Choosing a weak option (e.g., cruise missiles from a safe distance) is not going to turn the tide in his favor. The attempts to calibrate a response according to how "muscular" it will be seen, instead of working to build some consensus and a coalition that will have some momentum, are simply beneath contempt.

  3. Until you finally mentioned Assad, I thought you were talking about KJS!

  4. But the question is not what will "turn the tide in his favor." That's not what it's all about. What do you think is the correct response?

    Admittedly, I'm picking on you, individually, arbitrarily. All I see in our politics is criticism--but no critic ever seems to want to commit to an alternative.

    You seem to be saying that Obama should work to build a coalition among allies before acting. That makes sense to me--it's what Bush, Sr. did before the first Iraq war, I thought he was quite right to work with the United Nations and the Arab League. But that was for an invasion, which I don't think is in the cards here.

    And of course Obama has painted himself into a corner. We are all painted in a corner, always. We can't go back and change the past, however easy it is to say, "The solution is, we shouldn't be here in the first place."

    Is anyone willing to say, "Obama is wrong," AND, "This is what he should do, instead:........."?

  5. Thanks, Rick, for coming back to talk some more. I don't feel as though you are singling me out -- it goes with the territory here.

    As to what Obama should do now, the question is too little, too late. Like the man in a rowboat heading for the waterfall, he should have changed course long ago, and not listened only to those telling him "yes, you're a genius -- you're on the right course."

    Only he will refuse to acknowledge the role he has played in bringing himself to this point, where nothing he can do -- including doing nothing -- is a good option. He now has to brazen it through, and hope that he will not come out too damaged from what ensues.

    My larger point is that our government is more than just the chief executive and commander-in-chief. The military is not a toy for Obama to deploy at whim, without plans or principle. We have laws in place (the War Powers Act) to try to ensure that the nation's armed forces are not put in harm's way just to even a score. But Obama has steadfastly been oblivious to his duty to work with the legislative branch -- and with the United Nations, our allies, and those countries in the Middle East who have such a stake in the current situation.

    There is so much that has been wrong with Obama's foreign policy that the mistakes were bound to come home to roost. His present quandary in Syria is the direct consequence of his having backed the wrong horse (the Muslim Brotherhood) for too long, in his rush to validate the "Arab Spring", and of his having dumped Mubarak for an unknown. If he could just acknowledge that he made a mistake, and make amends with Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia, he might -- might -- be able to form a meaningful alliance again that will advance our interests again.

    But don't look for any such "mea culpa, mea magna culpa" anytime too soon.

  6. Isn't there a point at which Presidents (like the rest of us) encounter situations where , to intervene, the choices are all so bad that we CANNOT make a good choice ?
    Are people who are killed by explosives less dead than those killed by chemicals?
    Are the rebels of the Muslim Brotherhood more deserving of our compassion than the Syarian Christians, Alawites and
    Drues, which the Syarian government somewhat protects?
    Sometimes we really cannot do something to help, and therefor have to do nothing.

  7. There are two sides, both backed by radical Islamic groups, that have committed atrocities. Now we seem to be backing one side with our men and money. We are being played by forces that want our support, yet hate out guts. George W. Bush did not understand this in Iraq and look what happened. Syria is another quagmire into which we will be sucked and later say, "How did this happen?" Unless we finally understand the Arab mind and that we, no matter what we do, are the infidels, we will continue to stumble along on a foreign policy that is not in our best interests. The UK learned it could not be the police of the world only when they were bankrupt. When will we? The lessons of history should keep us from repeating the same errors.

  8. Note to those who have commented, and to those who are just lurking: for a dispassionate and thorough analysis of just how badly Obama has screwed this one up, read Caroline Glick's latest column.

    Her column is now a regular stop, and I have added it to the "Cannon Fodder" section on the right.

  9. When it comes to U.S. foreign policy, the inmates are running the asylum.

  10. What do you do when a foreign head of state begins using chemical weapons against innocent civilians?


    Overall, that is a far superior choice to bombing or droning the innocent civilians yourself.

    The America First'ers (including I might add JFK and Gerald Ford) were right.

    Perpetual war for perpetual peace has undermined our society.

  11. Rick Allen said, "
    Is anyone willing to say, "Obama is wrong," AND, "This is what he should do, instead:........."?"

    I will say it, Rick. Obama is wrong. He is always wrong. I cannot think of a thing he has done in his dispicable life that was not wrong.

    As to what he should do --- He should write out his resignation, put it on his desk in plain sight, slink out of the White House in hopes that he can do so without being seen, and run like crazy because he will become a hunted animal. He is vermin!! I would rather have rats, mice, fleas, and ticks in my house than to have Obama and his "family" in my home.

    He is in far over his head. This is not hard to do when you are not as smart as a third grader (as O is). He does not know how to do anything good for this nation, and he has no interest in doing anything good for this nation. He lied to be elected, he has lied endlessly since his election, he has used cheating and fraud as his everyday tools, and he is corrupt to the core. Shame, shame, shame Obama and all his supporters. Get out of the way, scoundrels!!

  12. I'm speaking as an Eastern Orthodox Christian. One thing left out of the geopolitical equation is the question of the Christian minorities in Syria and other mid-East countries. Now we have a huge refugee population in Syria who escaped from the bloodbath in Iraq. Not to mention the historic importance of the various hierarchies and Patriarchates in and around Damascus (People who have lived there since before the advent of Islam!)
    Do we just say bye-bye to them and let the Salafists wipe them out? Is this our 'job' as the 'leader of the free world'? And since when is Al Quida our friend? Are any radical Muslims actually our friend and would they stand next to the USA and back us up against say, North Korea?
    I think our foreign policy, if we have one, is nuts.