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Decision time

It’s coming soon now.  Next week we will have the votes in Congress that determine to a large extent whether the US attacks Syria or not.  The administration has certainly been trying its best to stir up support both at home and abroad without a great deal of success.  The media seems to be behind Senator McCain’s pro-war, pro-rebel stand to a great extent, but the larger public keeps saying, “no”.  Little of the mainstream media is skeptical of this possible effort, and the reports that cast doubt on Administration propaganda are mostly ignored.  If the President decided to  wait for a Congressional decision, he doesn’t seem to have wanted to use it to change his mind, which I hoped for at one point.  This morning’s New York Times talks of air raids by US and French planes as well as the missiles to “degrade” Assad’s ability even more.  That would mean even more civilian casualties, death, and destruction than there has been already.  I fail to see how such a plan would deter the Assad regime from the path it is already on.  If it is true, that the regime feels itself as backed into a dire corner between life and death, as I believe it does, it is bound to choose its own survival by whatever means.  Nothing much that the West can do aside from wiping the slate clean as in Iraq, will have much effect.  All sides in this fight have been incredibly brutal, and to pick one as the incarnation of evil is to misread the people involved and the facts on the ground.

The article also contains this statement:

“They are being pulled in two different directions,” a senior foreign official involved in the discussions said Thursday. “The worst outcome would be to come out of this bruising battle with Congress and conduct a military action that made little difference.”

I think that’s what’s likely to happen anyway, no matter what John McCain and the hawks say. The President has not seemed to want another war, and has tried to reassure people about no boots on the ground.   That doesn’t mean he can’t be dragged into more agression.  Once begun, military action of any kind has been rather self-perpetuating.  If the military action makes little difference, it might cause an uproar here at home among the war party, but it will not change the ultimate outcome in Syria, even if there are cries for more attacks.  The Syrians themselves have to sort out what is to become of them.  Whoever or whatever caused the deaths by poison gas, our entry into a local civil war will not change the ultimate resolution on the ground.  Morality has nothing to do with this other than as a propaganda tool.

Nothing we did in Iraq turned the country into that shining example of democracy that President Bush promised.  It only served to make most Iraqis detest us for the foreseeable future.

Thoughts on surveillance and Senator McCain

In the last couple of days I’ve read posts by Englehart, Van Buren, and now Juan Cole  (whose post I can’t find).  On the NSA etc they seem to agree with what I’ve been saying, and it occurs to me in the light of all the hoopla over the embassy shut downs that the government is desperately trying to distract us from its egregious flouting of the Constitution.  Juan Cole wonders if we are waking up to the Soviet Union of America.  I suspect we’ve been there since 9/11, and it’s only going to get worse unless more people start to make a great deal of noise.

Senators McCain and Graham went to Egypt to try to “save” the situation.    All they did was insult the military and the interim government and destroy the quiet diplomacy Undersecretary Burns was attempting.  How, you say?  Well, at their press conference, these oh-so-smart and all-knowing Senators said outright that what had happened in Egypt was a coup, and that the Muslim Brotherhood should be let out of prison and house arrest and allowed to participate in the senators’ idea of Democracy.  How to start a civil war in one easy lesson! The last thing Egypt needs right now is the return of the Muslim Brotherhood. All the Senators did was undermine the people who actually believe in democracy which the Muslim brotherhood showed under Morsi’s rule that it does not.  

 It’s quite possible that if the US hadn’t meddled in the first place in 2011 that the Muslim brotherhood never would have been elected.  But no, we must rush everyone who’s never had it to instant Democracy!  Egypt needs time – time to come together as a country, time to develop the institutions that underlie something like democratic rule.  Elections by themselves won’t achieve anything in the winner-take-all minds of recent victims of dictatorship.


  • If Obama sent those two idiots to Egypt, he’s getting worse advice than I thought he was, or he’s beginning to lose his mind.
  • The drone wars have to stop.  All they do is make more terrorists.
  • Blanket electronic surveillance has to stop. It’s time we admitted that we have been ruled by fear and get over it.
  • Abuse of detainees, no matter where they are held, has to stop, and that includes Manning as well as the Guantanamo detainees.
  • Government secrecy and duplicity must return to the status quo ante 9/11.
  • Whistleblowers should be tolerated, especially when all they do is expose  government stupidity.  Embarrassment is no excuse to prosecute people for espionage.
  • Where’s our Harry Truman of the 21st Century?

John McCain seems to think he has superior knowledge and ability in foreign affairs than the President or anyone else.  He believes in the shoot-from-the hip style that was in vogue during the Bush administration.  He’s all for bombing people and forcing them to do what he thinks is right.  The only problem with that is, that it didn’t work in Vietnam, it didn’t work in Iraq, and its not working in Afghanistan, so why would it work in Egypt?  Someone should cancel his travel budget!

Ramblings in May

This is more of the same type of all-over-the-place stuff I posted earlier.

Wed., May 1


Yesterday I scanned through the newest items at Josh Landis’ Syria Comment.  With McCain and Grassley and their ilk shouting for war, reading through it made me realize how stupid that pressure is (as usual).  I got a picture of splintered groups of fighters, some true Freedom Fighters, some Salafi al-Nusra types, and some just thugs out to make money stripping factories and offices of equipment and other things to sell in Turkey.  There was even a video of people who have learned to “refine” Syrian oil for resale inside the country – gasoline, kerosene for cooking etc.  It sounds more like Somalia and Iraq than anything else, and it is certainly not a place for the US military.

(I’m sitting in the computer lab, baby-sitting kids who aren’t being tested, or who are late getting to school as well as those who finish before the rest of their class is done.  There are 2 “velcro” IA’s in the room plus the gym teacher, me and 6 kids.  Overkill.)

Richard Falk from his blog of April 19 on the Boston bombing and America’s place in  the world- the last paragraph:


     “Aside from the tensions of the moment, self-scrutiny and mid-course reflections on America’s global role is long overdue. Such a process is crucial both for the sake of the country’s own future security and also in consideration of the wellbeing of others. Such adjustments will eventually come about either as a result of a voluntary process of self-reflection or through the force of unpleasant events. How and when this process of reassessment occurs remains a mystery. Until it does, America’s military prowess and the abiding confidence of its leaders in hard power diplomacy makes the United States a menace to the world and to itself. Such an observation is as true if the more avowedly belligerent Mitt Romney rather than the seemingly dovish Barack Obama was in the White House. Such bipartisan support for maintaining the globe-girdling geopolitics runs deep in the body politic, and is accompanied by the refusal to admit the evidence of national decline. The signature irony is that the more American decline is met by a politics of denial, the more rapid and steep will be the decline, and the more abrupt and risky will be the necessary shrinking of the global leadership role so long played by the United States. We should be asking ourselves at this moment, “how many canaries will have to die before we awaken from our geopolitical fantasy of global domination?” “


Ok.  Ok.  So the hawks finally drag Obama into arming rebels, a no-fly zone and bombing raids.  Then what?  The FSA is not a coherent group, and doesn’t seem to have the capacity for governing.  It has set up no councils in its areas, nor has it seemed to hand out much in the way of relief to battered civilians.  Al-Nusra seems to be better at all that, and it is allied with Al-Qaeda.  Even if our help would bring down Assad, there is nothing but a vacuum to replace him, and there won’t be any Occupation as in Iraq to force unappetizing solutions down the throats of the locals.  What then?  And why is McCain so determined to get us into another war?  What’s in it for him?

Our own government seems to be falling apart.  1. The IRS over does going after TeaParty claims for 501(c)(4) status.  Really?  It’s too bad they weren’t smart enough to pepper “progressive” groups the same way, if only to cover themselves. (Only, as it turned out later, they did)

2.  The Justice department has gone after the phone records and other data of AP reporters who reported on an operation in Yemen that was supposed to be secret.  Part of the drone assassination plans?

3.  Then there’s the hoopla in Congress about the supposed cover up of the real “facts” about the tragedy in Bangazi.


On the first two.  The trend began in the Bush administration driven by Cheney’s fear of the “enemy”, but the administration under Obama seems to have taken it to a huge extreme charging people with violating the “Espionage” Act which has been used over time since 1917 as a government tool to punish people it didn’t like – “reds”, “Communists”, government employed leakers of information, reporters, and others.  Few of these seem to have posed any real dire threat to the US. Much of the time, the government simply wants to avoid being embarrassed as in the WikiLeaks affair.  If private Manning remains in jail for years, or gets the death penalty because he had a moral perception of right and wrong would be a gross miscarriage of justice.  Embarrassment musn’t produce that kind of an ending.


The President doesn’t have a magic wand.  He sits atop of the government, but he doesn’t have control over all of it.  These days, he can’t even put his own nominees in charge of the various departments.  Looking in from the outside, some of us Americans seem naively to think that the President personally directs every department of government.  He’d never get anything done if that were true.  His appointees must carry out the policies he lays down, and when such people turn out to be less than adequate managers, disagreements and scandals can happen.  Obama does not have a machiavellian prince like Cheney with hands on all the threads to make people push the same policies.  Congress also has itself to blame for stalling even the most mundane appointments, and basically crippling the State Department by denying it funds.  All the “leadership” in the world is not going to change that.  Bush sent  the military on diplomatic missions for this reason, but generals, no matter how intelligent and well trained, are not diplomats and that caused other problems, mostly in places like Pakistan where they don’t take kindly to being ordered around by America.  Lastly, we as voters need to take responsibility for our own government.  We put these people in office so we must share the blame for whatever goes wrong, and we have elected some pretty stupid people over the past 12 years.


May 22: Wonderful quote:

“You want another great president, pray for another great crisis. Only nation-encumbering calamity tames our political system, making elites and the public receptive to allowing a president to lead America the Unruly.”  Aaron David Miller in Foreign Policy

(Maureen Dowd should read this article.  Maybe then she wouldn’t keep harping on the lack of presidential “leadership”.  The office of the President doesn’t give the man a magic wand to make to world perfect in her eyes.)

Reflecting on the impossibilities of the job, Mr. Miller sums it up this way:

“What to do? Just get over it. Lower expectations. Don’t give up the search for quality leaders, but be honest about what a president can and cannot do. Don’t wait around to be rescued by The One — that’s not the American way. Maybe by controlling our presidential fantasies, we can stop expecting our presidents to be great, and allow them to start being good.”

Seriously, one of the most thoughtful pieces I’ve read in a long, long time.


Stephen Walt has a wonderful blog post in the same issue of FP titled “Top 10 warning signs of ‘liberal imperialism'”


As cure, he recommends the following:


…reading Alexander Downes and Jonathan Monten’s “Forced to Be Free?: Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Rarely Leads to Democratization” (International Security, 2013), along with Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan and Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.


I’ll have to look for the first 2.


May 28:


McCain has turned up in Syria for an obviously well-planned meeting with leaders of the Opposition.  They undoubtedly have told him exactly what he’s been wanting to hear, so he will come back to the Senate and demand that the US provide a no-fly zone, heavy arms and ammunition, and more to the rebels.  Trouble is that McCain’s credibility on these trips reeks of all the mistakes he made in Iraq, including the fraudulent walk in the market without a flak vest to prove how “safe” it was, ignoring all the hundreds of soldiers who had been detailed to protect him.  He wants to support the rebels in Syria hoping that “democracy” will emerge if they win, but there’s no guarantee of that, and it’s far more likely that the country will fall apart into fighting factions of warlords, spreading even more unrest in that part of the world than there is already.  He’s also undermining Obama’s efforts to gather a peace meeting between all the parties, which might have a chance of starting some negotiations between Assad and those fighting against him.   Some rebels have refused to meet with the dictator which may make that angle fruitless.