Friday, June 27, 2014

Congressional Letter on Middled East

I am coming to believe that America’s whole involvement in the Middle East (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, etc.) has been a mistake and/or handled very badly.  The most recent examples are President Obama’s decision to recommend $500 million to support “good” Syrian rebels, mainly the Free Syrian Army.  Ironically, Robert Ford just resigned a few weeks ago as US Ambassador to Syria because Obama had refused to do this.  Although I would like to support fellow Foreign Service Officer Ford, I agree with Obama’s previous position of not supporting the rebels.  The Free Syrian Army is caught between President Assad on one side and the terrorist rebels, including ISIS, on the other.  They are in an impossible position.  Obama’s flip-flop was obviously motivated by the ISIS invasion of Iraq, which I think is partially motivated by Assad’s success in defeating ISIS in Syria.  ISIS decided correctly that they could have more success in Iraq than Syria.  If we really wanted to defeat ISIS we should support Assad rather than the Free Syrian Army.  Of course, Assad is a murderous goon, but he’s winning.  Instead in Iraq, we have thrown our lot in with Iran, which is already supporting Assad (and Maliki).  No one seems to care that we have abandoned our long-term Sunni allies -- Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc.  Our interests may be diverging, but it’s hard to walk away and get nothing for the trillions of dollars we spent for Middle Eastern oil over the decades.

I think support for the Syrian rebels is a hopeless effort, illustrated in part by yesterday’s news from Benghazi, Libya, where somebody has murdered one of its leading human rights lawyers, Salwa Bugaighis, who was a leader of the rebellion against Qaddafi.  So far, our intervention in Libya has mainly created instability and violence.  Of course, Qaddafi was violent, but now we have other people doing the same sorts of things.  The recent elections seem unlikely to change that.  I am pleased that we have captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, who apparently led the attack on the US mission in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Stevens.  I commend the President and the military for his capture.

Of course, Egypt is a mess, too.  I am disappointed at Egypt’s decision to imprison three Aljazeera journalists for seven years or longer.  I don’t understand the politics, but apparently Qatar, where Aljazeera is based, supports the Muslim Brotherhood.  Aljazeera Arabic has been outspoken in support to the Muslim Brotherhood, which new Egyptian President Sisi has sworn to destroy.  However, the three imprisoned journalists work for Aljazeera English, which has been evenhanded in its treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian politics.  The US should at least put some serious pressure on Egypt to release them.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Don't Get Involved In Syria

I would like to agree with Amb. Robert Ford's NYT op-ed, "Arm Syria's Opposition," about the need to support the Free Syrian Army in its rebellion against Syria’s Assad, but I don’t think it will work.  Assad and ISIS, which is trying to overthrow Assad, are both bad.  The Free Syrian Army is caught in the middle.  I can’t believe that it is strong enough to win against two enemies, even with US help.  The US has not successfully won long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Syrian rebels have not won against Assad; in fact, Assad appears to be winning against the Free Syrian Army, ISIS, and random other fighters, including Iranians, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups.  We don’t need to join another losing effort, especially if there is no good outcome.  If Assad wins, we are not happy.  If the rebels win, the Free Syrian Army will be a weak competitor for power with the terrorists.  It’s hard, but we should stay out of involvement in Syria.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Anne-Marie Slaughter on ISIS

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s op-ed in the NYT today strikes me as ridiculous.  She wants to fight ISIS in Syria as well as in Iraq.  I don’t think we should be fighting in either country.  She would have the “good” rebels in Syria fight ISIS on the one hand and Assad on the other.  This puts them in between two enemies, both of which are probably stronger than the “good” Syrian rebels are.  It’s a recipe for destruction of the “good” rebels.

If we had really wanted to destroy ISIS we should have supported Assad, who might have been able to destroy them with our help.  Of course, then you end up keeping Assad in power in Syria.  But you can’t have it both ways.  In Syria you have to choose between Assad and ISIS; choosing the “good” rebels is a recipe for defeat of the good rebels and their American patrons.

In part, the ISIS move into Iraq may be prompted by Assad’s success against them in Syria.  ISIS was losing in Syria, and decided maybe it would have better luck in Iraq.  If it had been more successful in Syria, it might have stayed there and taken over the Syrian government.  Creating a greater Sunni Iraq-Syria is a fallback position.  In Syria ISIS did okay in the Sunni areas, but the Assad government was Alawite allied with the Shiites, making it difficult for ISIS to take over important parts of the country, like Damascus.  They have been so successful in Iraq because they are taking over Sunni areas of the country, where they are to some extent welcomed, more so than America was after its invasion of Iraq.  However, ISIS will probably run into the same problem in Sunni areas of Iraq that it ran into in Syria, making it questionable whether they can take over Baghdad, for example, just as they could not take over Damascus.  As a result they will try to create a Sunni regime of some kind in the conjoined Sunni regions of Syria and Iraq, in the process probably freeing the Iraqi Kurds from Baghdad’s rule.

In any case, the solution to Iraq’s problems does not lie in Syria.  I also do not favor an alliance with Iran against the ISIS Sunnis.  The best thing we have done so far for Iran is kill Saddam Hussein.  Helping them destroy the Sunni insurgency would rank right up there with our earlier mistake.  If two of our enemies are fighting each other, the Sunni terrorists and the Iranian terrorists, let them kill each other; don’t stop them.  If one side ends up about to win a great victory, then we may want to intervene to maintain some kind of balance of power, but we are not there yet.

I want to blame George W. Bush and Republicans for this mess, because of their invasion of Iraq that had nothing to do with 9/11 or weapons of mass destruction.  However, it looks like the Middle East was a powder keg about to go off.  All of these religious and ethnic tensions, not to mention the Israeli-Arab conflict, were already hot, but it was stupid for Bush and company to light the fuse that set off the powder keg.  If it had gone off in some other way, we might have been better able to manage it, or maybe not.  But as it is, virtually every country in the Middle East is in turmoil or on edge.  Although everyone seems to prefer to use the ISIS acronym (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), the other acronym, ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), more accurately shows the intentions of the terrorist group.  Their ambitions extend overthrowing to Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel.  You can add those countries to the existing list of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and others that have already been destabilized.  And ISIS-ISIL has plenty of support, financial and otherwise, from the Sunni petro-states, starting with Saudi Arabia.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Letter to Congress re Benghazi

I hear the House will investigate the Benghazi, Libya, incident in which Ambassador Stevens and several others were killed.  If they do, I hope they will also investigate the Pat Tillman incident in Afghanistan.  I believe the Republicans engaged in more lies and cover-ups about the Pat Tillman scandal than the Obama administration did about Benghazi.

As a Vietnam veteran (Army artillery) and retired Foreign Service officer, I would prefer to let both men rest in peace.  I believe the Benghazi investigation is motivated by partisan politics rather than genuine concern about the death of Amb. Stevens.  If the Republicans are going to spit on the graves of brave Americans who died in the service of their country, they should look at all the deaths whose details were covered up.

I believe Amb. Stevens died in part because of the CIA.  (Of course the main blame lies with the crazy Libyans who killed him.)  The post in Benghazi was not a consulate; it was some kind of special mission set up to cover CIA activities.  The CIA safe house was several blocks away from the mission, and was eventually attacked itself.  I’m not sure, but I would guess that the CIA had some paramilitary types in their safe house who did not immediately come to the aid of the State Department mission, although at some point they did come.  I think at least some of the confusion at Susan Rice’s Sunday show briefings was due to a CIA cover-up, because they did not want to admit that they had such a large operation in Benghazi.

In addition, I believe there was genuine confusion about why the Benghazi mission was attacked, whether it was a terrorist attack or a protest of the anti-Islam video that got out of control.  There is good reason that people talk about “the fog of war.”  I don’t know what happened in the embassy in Tripoli, but it looks to me like neither the CIA station chief, the military attaché, nor the State Department security officer rose to the occasion in terms of helping the Ambassador in Benghazi.  Ambassador Pickering, with whom I worked in State, investigated this issue, and I am sure that he did a thorough, professional job, as he did everything while in the Foreign Service.