Sometimes, it is too late to win. But it is never too late to lose.
The mid-September Paris conference on ISIS came and went. In the end, Russia and China attended -- a constructive step that would have been greatly enhanced by the participation of Iran and Syria, among others.
Speaker after speaker, including Secretary of State John Kerry, stressed the need for a "global" response. Catastrophically, the truly global Churchillian response we recommended in the prior post is not at all what they have in mind.
Gentlemen, look in any dictionary. Global means "involving the entire world." It does not mean something else. In your effort to have that something else, a warning: those who try to have their cake and eat it too tend to end up with neither.
Which brings me to catastrophically.
(i) ISIS is based in Iraq and Syria. Iraq has officially granted permission to America and its coalition partners to bomb and fight ISIS in its territory. Syria, however, has granted no such permission. There´s the rub. Unless America and its coalition fight and defeat ISIS in Syria, they are wasting their time and your money.
Washington agrees with the statement just made, which is why a few days ago it started bombing ISIS in Syria without the Syrian government´s express permission. Regarding those aerial attacks, we never thought we would agree simultaneously with Time Magazine, Syria´s Deputy Foreign Minister, Forbes, the Russian Government, and former Australian Prime Minister Malcom Fraser, but that is the case:
Without the Syrian government´s consent, bombing Syria is illegal.
The law in question is the United Nations Charter, Article 2, Section 4:
"All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations."
International law provides for two exceptions. First, the U.N. Security Council can authorize (Chapter VII and articles 24 and 25) collective action to maintain "international peace and security." And second, Article 51 authorizes self-defense "if an attack occurs against a state."
The United States finds a legal basis for bombing Syria in article 51. According to Reuters, the U.S. stated in a letter to U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon:
"States must be able to defend themselves...when, as is the case here, the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for such attacks...Accordingly, the United States has initiated necessary and proportionate military actions in Syria in order to eliminate the ongoing (Islamic State) threat to Iraq..."
For two reasons the Obama Administration argument should not be allowed to stand.
First, the air strikes on Syria included attacks on the terrorist Khorasan Group which is not part of ISIS (the Islamic State) but al-Qaeda. Threat to Iraq? Where? The Group was targeted for air strikes not because it attacked Iraq but because it was "planning" to attack the West.
And second, if the Obama Administration´s argument is accepted, a disastrous international precedent will be set. Any nation will have the right to "defend" itself/an ally by bombing any country where terrorists/other groups are allegedly carrying out/plotting attacks against them.
Make no mistake: Legally, every nation will become a potential target of unauthorized air strikes. The includes Spain, France, Australia, Mexico, China, Russia, Canada, India and Colombia All a would-be bomber nation will need as a legal pretext is the presence of a troublesome group, e.g., the communist FARC guerrillas in Colombia occasionally cross into the territory of their neighbor Ecuador, and presto -- the potential bomber can become an actual one. No Colombian government authorization required.
For those who believe that the United States, among other countries, "would never do such a thing," sorry, but thousands of years of history demonstrate time and again that something else referred to above:
If they can, they will.
Let´s come down hard, with both feet. The carte blanche the United States is demanding will make a mockery of the United Nations Charter, the first purpose of which is to " to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war..." Time will tell if Washington´s demand is the thin edge of the wedge of The Fourth Reich.
Neither legal exception, then, applies to U.S. air strikes in Syria. Now you know why European members of the coalition have agreed to participate in air strikes in Iraq but not in Syria.
Russia was quick to condemn the air strikes. But when all is said and done, are they illegal? To repeat, if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad authorizes them, they are legal. If he does not authorize them, they are illegal; case closed.
Now, what if al-Assad says little or nothing and de facto approves them? What if he was informed by the U.S. in advance of the strikes and he allowed U.S. aircraft to enter his airspace to bomb ISIS and the Khorasan Group with zero opposition from his military forces?
That is exactly what is happening this moment.
On the one hand, the unauthorized air strikes violate Syria´s national sovereignty; on the other hand, they help al-Assad destroy a dangerous enemy. This classic case of an ambiguous situation and of the corresponding ambivalent attitude on al-Assad´s part are components of the larger ambiguity that is the central characteristic of the Syrian puzzle.
To get a feel for that ambiguity, don´t listen to some politician or TV talking head. Go to the Damascus steel sword at the top of this post. You don´t look at metal like that; you watch it.
(ii) General Martin Dempsey, President Obama´s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, informed the United States Senate he would recommend sending U.S. ground troops against ISIS if air strikes and the international coalition proved to be ineffective. Dempsey´s statement made headlines around the world because it flew in the face of Obama´s repeated promises that he would not authorize the return of American ground troops to Iraq.
I believe Dempsey deliberately showed, for the entire world to see, America´s hole card. Most of the other coalition members will now do what they intended to do all along: little or nothing.
Question: by his announcement was Dempsey deliberately gut-cutting the coalition and preparing the ground for the very ground troops Obama says he opposes, or did Dempsey simply read the tea leaves correctly? Perhaps, both -- a self-fulfilling prophecy if there ever was one.
(iii) We noted in our prior post that, like a contagion, Syria´s ambiguity has spread to the American public. There´s the "good side¨: in a Wallstreet Journal/NBC News/Annenberg poll conducted September 11-13, fully 62% of Americans favor taking action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But/however, there´s the "bad side¨: even more Americans doubt that action will succeed:
"A whopping 68% had little or no confidence in Obama´s policy of ´degrading and eliminating the threat posed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.´
That plummeting confidence is no doubt in part due to the failure of the CIA and SIS to name publicly Jihadi John. After all, if with all their voice and vein recognition software, with all their outer space hardware, they cannot identify him, what else are they incapable of doing?"
As the 1955-1975 Vietnam War showed, without public confidence at home any American war abroad will slowly but surely capsize, sink.
To conclude this point: for the three reasons just given, this blog is squarely with the dissenting majority.
But wait -- there are two more reasons why Obama´s Syrian policy was born in a coffin.
* * *
A fool and his money are some party.
-- Paul Dickson, The Official Rules --
On September 17, the U.S. House passed Obama´s request for $500 million to train and equip anti-Assad Syrian rebels to fight ISIS. The measure was approved only reluctantly by numerous representatives in both parties.
We come to the fourth reason why we share the general skepticism.
(iv) Iran is clamoring that the entire anti-ISIS (or ISIL) war effort waged by the U.S. is a hoax.
"Iran´s Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Mohsen Pak Ayeen says that the anti-IS (Islamic State or ISIL) coalition purposefully deceives the world’s public opinion
Pak Ayeen accused the U.S. of supporting the IS in an interview to Trend on Sept. 15, saying ´the Congress of the United States already had approved several financial aids to ISIL and other Takfiri groups.´
´The coalition is supposed to be fighting a group that the U.S. itself has created, and has the leading role in its arming and supplying financial support for it,´ the ambassador said."
The U.S. created and sustained ISIS?* What on earth (or elsewhere) happened?
We noted in our prior post and also on June 10, 2014, ("The Baddest Terrorist: Poison, Dagger, Noose, etc.") that the United States trained and equipped ISIS and/or soldiers who later joined ISIS. America´s purpose for doing so was to overthrow al-Assad.
We agree, then, with the Syrian ambassador that the U.S. aided and abetted ISIS, but where he sees a U.S. conspiracy, we see something else. It is much deeper and a lot more disturbing. We will return to this subject.
The political and military alliances of the Syrian rebels are as secretive, labyrinthine and finely-layered as Damascus steel. Who is what? Where? When? To give you a quick idea of the ever-flowing latticework:
International Business Times reported that a "U.S.- backed moderate group" of Syrian rebels had signed a truce with ISIS. Sounds simple, direct, unambiguous. However...
Let´s go to the source of the IBT report -- the anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. There you will find that the cease fire agreement was actually made between ISIS and "Islamic battalions." Who are the "battalions"? Apparently, the Islamic Front.
The Islamic Front is somewhere in the middle between al-Qaeda and the U.S.-backed rebel Free Syrian Army. If you want to call the Front "moderate," go ahead. We won´t call it one way or the other; tell us which way the wind is blowing and we will hazard a guess.
As for the purportedly pro-U.S. Free Syrian Army, the New York Times reported the FSA co-operated with ISIS in an attack on Lebanon in August 2014.
John Kerry acknowledged not only the existence of the double and triple-bottomed boxes paving the Syrian rebellion but also that they had totally confounded the U.S. in its past efforts to remove al-Assad.
Kerry´s acknowledgement came in the form of his recent claim that he had finally, actually, truly found the most elusive of political allies -- a moderate Syrian rebel:
"Though Kerry did not elaborate on how the U.S. did so, he said that locating the rebel was ´the culmination of a months-long effort.´
The Secretary of State said that the Syrian had been appropriately vetted and was deemed ´moderately rebellious.´
´He definitely seems to be the sort of gentleman we can work with,´ Kerry said, adding that several millions of dollars would be spent arming and training the rebel in the days and weeks ahead.
Kerry said that the government’s successful identification of a moderate Syrian rebel was a major victory that should silence critics of the U.S.’s strategy in Iraq and Syria.
´To all of the naysayers who have been arguing that there are no moderate Syrian rebels, I am here today to say that we have found one,´ Kerry said. ´And if we have found one, that means that there must be others out there.´”
Who is the lucky Golden Boy, the Great Syrian Hope, that Shining Moderate on The Hill who the U.S. had failed to locate since the Syrian civil war began on March 15, 2011, until a week ago? Kerry didn´t say. (As I write these words, Harakat al-Hazm is being touted by Washington insiders as the one and only "moderate" Syrian rebel group worth backing.)
I suspect Washington´s $500-million contract to Syrian rebels to fight ISIS is "greased," i.e., not already gone but halfway out the door to secretly-designated individuals and groups. One thing is certain: with the prospect of becoming instant millionaires, there will be plenty of suitors.
And that is precisely the problem. Moderate or extremist, all Syrian rebels are anti-Assad. They are not anti-ISIS. ISIS is anti-Assad. To throw money at anti-Assad rebels to combat ISIS is a vintage U.S. government neurotic switch. (To illustrate the dynamics: you ask the CIA, "What time is it?" They answer: "September 30.")
The $500-million displacement shows that unconscious elements have welled up, seized control of Washington´s Syria policy. (For more on such upwellings, see our post of April 8, 2014 "Freud -- On Obama"). That seizure is more common than not in American foreign policy, as we shall see.
* * *
Buying somebody is one thing.
Will they stay bought is another.
-- Comandante Lentes, Pillars of The Sea --
The original method for making Damascus steel -- sharp, tough, beautiful, flexible -- was lost centuries ago. The method for making a Damascus steal, on the contrary, is perfectly known.
The bulk of the $500 million will boldly go where U.S. aid has gone before: ISIS and Swiss bank accounts. Cash donations (read: protection money) rounded up by men wearing diamonds in the daytime; machine guns "lost" when ISIS "captured" an unguarded arms depot or abandoned police headquarters; ammo and grenades handed out from the back of a tinted-window van with no license plate; suitcases of cash "confiscated" at ISIS checkpoints or gone "missing" from rebel coffers -- the forms of deliverance are endless.
Sidebar. We will now belabor the obvious. The half billion dollars would be better spent at home. Start with bankrupt Detroit.
(v) We come to the final reason why, along with most Americans, we don´t anticipate victory for America.
The best thing ISIS has going for it is that, with one exception, the U.S. has never won a war. We examined that unexamined fact of history in our post of July 4, 2014: "America´s Fatal Flaw: The Belvedere Conundrum."
We concluded that regardless how you look at it,
"the American war bottle is nowhere near half full. One win in 11...wars is, to say the least, unimpressive. Why, then, does the U.S. keep trying? An answer will be given shortly.
Our conundrum pertains to the rest of the bottle -- the bigger, empty part.
America helped finish many wars. It confuses -- unconsciously so -- finishing with winning. On that point, the entire country is in a state of denial, consequently, of fudging. Which is why you have never seen, and likely never will see, our viewpoint expressed anywhere else.
When something is unconsciously repressed, it resurfaces again and again in ever more puerile, violent forms...
Draws, incompletes, unacknowledged help, one tarnished win, one indisputable loss (two if the Canadians are right)... When a purported solution -- in this case, war -- fails but is attempted over and over again anyway, the unconscious is in control. In the affairs of nations, the cause is the consequence: unwise. Missing the mark.
Our conundrum: What is in the American character that causes it to enter late -- that prevents it from winning, i.e., starting and ending, a war?
If character is destiny, a question arises: what is character? If character cannot exist independently of hamartia or fatal flaw/ignorance/miscalculation, what is America´s hamartia?"
We offered a clue in the form of a second question:
"Why does the United States fabricate and/or assist ´creeps´ -- Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, bin Laden and now, apparently, the terrorist organization ISIS led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi... -- in order to combat them?
That clue is more than a clue. It identifies in another way America´s hamartia, the unconscious, psychological complex constellated by wars. Thus, the answer to the second question will solve our conundrum."
At the bottom of the impending failure of the U.S. alliance with anti-Assad rebels you will find one of the founding principles of this blog. Over and over and over again, the United States government has proven to be incapable of vetting terrorists because it does not know what a terrorist is. To start with, it knows nothing about middle class rebellion, the source of terrorism.
Prediction: Kerry´s bright-eyed assertion about finding a moderate Syrian rebel will prove to be grossly and grieviously mistaken. Those who take Kerry at his word had better look again at the Damascus steel sword.
At the end of the day, Washington cannot vet terrorists because it has no analysis.
The poster boy for that appalling inability is Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi whose photo appears at the top of this post. The CIA had vetted him as reliable, and even allowed him to go where no non-CIA personnel had gone before -- Camp Chapman, a CIA outpost in Khost, Afghanistan. In 2009, after being waved through by guards, al-Balawi blew himself up, killing nine people including four CIA officers. Styleless and guileless, they had brought al-Balawi a birthday cake. They bet their lives on him; they lost.
For all the reasons the CIA had approved al-Balawi -- he was an honors graduate, a medical doctor and a solid middle class family man approved by Jordan´s secret service GID, etc., etc. -- we would have disapproved him. In the coming months, as the U.S. vets thousands of Syrian rebels and hands them money and weapons, please remember al-Balawi.
There you have it, CIA boys and girls -- such is the unbridgeable difference between you and us:
No cake here.
* * *
Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous;
and if one holds his state based on these arms,
he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited,
ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before
friends, cowardly before enemies; ...destruction is deferred
only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by
them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is, they have no
other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle
of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing
to die for you.
-- Machiavelli, The Prince --
Al-Assad´s ambivalence; undisciplined and unfaithful coalition members; the quaking commitment of Obama´s Joint Chiefs of Staff; lack of confidence by the American people; inability to differentiate terrorist from non-terrorist; inability to win a war: Machiavelli´s observation on mercenaries has in spades all our objections to Obama´s anti-ISIS policy.
We saw Machiavelli´s observation in action earlier this year when the Iraqi army, after a decade of training, indoctrination, money, and arms from Washngton, cut and ran at the first whisper that ISIS was on the way.
Time to recapitulate:
Obama´s policy in a nutshell: to fight ISIS, Washington gives $500 million to Syrian rebels who are not anti-ISIS. They are anti-Assad.
Our case in a nutshell:
President Obama, you are building an army of mercenaries in Syria. You are building a submarine with a screen door.
* * *
To start to stop losing, we tweak our question posed in the prior post:
What would Winston Churchill do about Syria?
The answer is simple, direct, unambiguous.
On June 22, 1941, Hitler broke a non-aggression pact with Stalin and invaded Russia. Churchill despised Stalin who beyond question committed many more crimes against humanity than al-Assad.
However, Churchill equally despised Hitler. What to do?
Only hours after the invasion Churchill gave a radio address:
"The Nazi regime is indistinguishable from the worst features of Communism... It excels in all forms of human wickedness..., No one has been a more consistent opponent of Communism than I have for the last twenty-five years. I will unsay no words that I've spoken about it. But all this fades away before the spectacle which is now unfolding...
We have but one aim and one single irrevocable purpose. We are resolved to destroy Hitler and every vestige of the Nazi regime. From this nothing will turn us. Nothing...
Any man or State who fights against Nazism will have our aid. Any man or State who marches with Hitler is our foe. This applies not only to organized States but to all representatives of that vile race of Quislings who make themselves the tools and agents of the Nazi regime against their fellow-countrymen and against the lands of their births. These Quislings, like the Nazi leaders themselves, if not disposed of by their fellow-countrymen, which would save trouble, will be delivered by us on the morrow of victory to the justice of the Allied tribunals. That is our policy and that is our declaration."
Churchill did not fight simultaneously Hitler and Stalin. As of 1939, England was at war with Nazi Germany. Had Churchill prosecuted a war on Russia because Stalin, like Hitler, had committed atrocities, you would be reading these words in German or Japanese.
Instead, Churchill put his doubts and moral objections aside, swallowed a thousand social and personal snakes, and allied his country with Stalin. To dot the i´s, Churchill cut no deals with tools, quislings. Four years later, Nazi Germany lay in ruins.
Obama, to the contrary, seeks to fight both ISIS via bombing and al-Assad via proxy rebel troops that, given present political realities (see below), contain one-too-many quislings.
I believe we are witnessing the genesis of the second biggest American foreign policy blunder since World War II ended. Number One was the post-war transubstantiation by Washington of Ho Chi Minh from erstwhile ally into intractable enemy. (For more on the anti-Japan alliance of FDR and Ho Chi Minh, click here).
211,454 dead and wounded Americans in Vietnam tell the tale.
* * *
Definition: Quisling. 1. a person who betrays his or her own country
by aiding an invading enemy, often serving later in a puppet government;
fifth columnist. Origin: 1940; after Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945), pro-Nazi Norwegian leader.
We will say it again: to defeat ISIS a truly global coalition is necessary.
The Syrian government, as well as the Iranian government, should be included in that coalition. Cuba, Nigeria, Vietnam, North Korea, Venezuela, South Africa, Mongolia, Russia, China -- all nations and people should be invited to join.** "Any man or State who fights against Nazism will have our aid. Any man or State who marches with Hitler is our foe."
What would happen after that truly global coalition destroyed ISIS is a page of history to be turned at the appropriate time, not sooner.
As for Syrian rebels:
In building a Churchillian World Against ISIS coalition, there would be no need to ask if a given rebel individual or group is extremist or moderate, Sunni or Shia, pro or anti-West, Muslim or Christian or atheist, liberal or conservative, gay or straight. For such a coalition only one thing matters: are they allies of ISIS? Agents and tools of ISIS? Quislings?
Those allegiance questions can only be reasonably and justly posed, however, against the backdrop of a real global coalition. Anything less -- which is exactly what Washington is forming -- ipso facto leaves basic thresholds blurred, fluid. To wit:
Because Washington´s non-global coalition allows for ambiguity in its own ranks, in its purpose, in its methods,*** clarity and loyalty cannot be expected, must less demanded, of others -- most notably of Syrian rebels. Al-Assad´s tongue-in-cheek approval of the bombing of his own country fits the program perfectly.
* * *
Obama´s simultaneous war against ISIS and al-Assad has no foundation in reason, in war strategy, in political tactics, in humanity, or even in the narrowest view of material self-interest, i.e., American control of Middle East oil reserves. Rather, America´s war is a textbook example of a puerile, increasingly-violent resurfacing of repressed contents.
We come to the proverbial bottom line. Obama´s Syrian policy is the latest manifestation of the American hamartia, i.e., fatal flaw, miscalculation, missing the mark.
Obama of course is not alone. The CIA, Pentagon, NSA, Homeland Security, Secret Service, FBI and mainstream media -- all are unconscious spokesmen of the same unconscious process. It is bigger than they are. That is why you should not expect anytime soon to have a rational conversation with them about the American hamartia; they cannot hear you. Remember al-Balawi!
ISIS, incidentally, has a different version of who are agents, tools, quislings.
Only one version can prevail.
*The closest you will come to an admission by the White House that it ever helped ISIS came in a recent interview with Ben Rhodes, White House Deputy National Security Advisor.
According to Rhodes, the president didn´t change; rather, ISIS changed:
“Their ambitions seemed to grow with their advance. In other words, after Mosul, they declared a caliphate, they declared the genocidal intent on the Yezidis, they seemed to ratchet up the degree of their ambition in ways that were concerning for a lot of reasons.”
Sorry, Ben: ISIS did not change. As they grabbed more territory, what had been latent became manifest. Since you and your colleagues have no analysis of terrorists, it appears to you that ISIS changed.
The Rhodes interview displays the final act of the overall ineptness to vet terrorists. It is replayed everywhere and everytime a terrorist individual or group slips through the net. That act is an anti-climax without a climax preceding it. It has a name, the Blivet Trick, i.e., trying to shove 10 pounds of horse shit into a five-pound bag.
For those who believe in their bones that there is no way the United States would ever support a genocidal monster like ISIS, I have a two-word response: Pol Pot.
**What if al-Qaeda wanted to join a World Against ISIS coalition?
Lawyers love to ask such questions. When I was an expert witness in federal court on politics, I answered them this way:
Your hypothetical question is not even hypothetical.
Despite everything you read and hear in the mainstream media, al-Qaeda is an ally of ISIS. We know that fact because in the U.S. air strikes against ISIS in Syria, the al-Qaeda Khorasan Group was also bombed. There is no way the Group could have been in the area without ISIS´ approval.
There exist tactics to turn ISIS and al-Qaeda into mortal enemies. For an introduction, see our post of November 20, 2013 "Omar Hammami Killed. Split, Split and Split Again." Unfortunately, because it has no analysis -- Remember al-Balawi! -- of the middle class rebels who lead both groups, the United States government doesn´t have a clue how to activate innate antagonisms.
***Some recent textbook examples of ambivalence and ambiguity pertain to Iran:
Iraq "regretted" that Iran was not invited to join the coalition. Britain "hopes" Iran will support anyway the international coalition from which it was unceremoniously locked out. Kerry was even more ambiguous: he stated Iran "had a role to play" in stemming the ISIS flow. I give up: what role?
Is Iran in or out? Kerry should know from his senate experience you can´t vote "maybe." No such button.