Iraq 2003, looking back

by Chris Bertram on June 15, 2013

British Tory MP and former diplomat Rory Stewart starts speaking at about 1h 30 minutes. Definitely worth a listen, particularly as we hear the usual suspects crank up enthusiasm for war again.






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And (thanks to Chris Brooke) for those who would prefer just to read, the Hansard transcript.

{ 80 comments }

1

Hidari 06.15.13 at 12:29 pm

Ah, but this time it’s different. For a start the word Iraq begins with an I whereas Syria clearly begins with an S. It’s a whole different world.

2

Barry 06.15.13 at 12:36 pm

Let’s see how good the search and replace jod is done. Will we hwear of ‘Syraqi’ WMD’s?

3

P O'Neill 06.15.13 at 1:40 pm

The Wall Street Journal (might be $) processology on how Obama came to Thursday’s decision on Syria is worth a read, of course with the necessary allowances for self-serving sources. But the gist of it — “King Abdullah made us do it” (the Jordanian one) will be darkly amusing to people like Rory Stewart who know their Arabian history and where that Jordanian royal line came from.

4

Substance McGravitas 06.15.13 at 1:49 pm

Paul Flynn: Does the hon. Gentleman follow the significant point made by the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) about the unimportance of being right on these decisions? Those who sided with error saw their careers flourish, while those who were right and objected to their Ministries saw their careers wither.

Mr Llwyd: That is absolutely right, obviously. That is a feature of the system that we are all embroiled in at the moment, imperfect—greatly imperfect—as it is.

So, who will now resign in favour of their betters?

5

harry b 06.15.13 at 2:30 pm

Better to watch/listen than to read. Can someone please link to similarly lengthy footage of Congress that is of similar quality?

6

Anderson 06.15.13 at 2:41 pm

” Can someone please link to similarly lengthy footage of Congress that is of similar quality?”

Oh, yeah, right.

7

LFC 06.15.13 at 3:08 pm

@Hidari
Well, the chance of U.S. (or any Western) ground forces going into Syria seems close to zero. So in that sense (among various others) it is quite different.

8

Uncle Kvetch 06.15.13 at 3:26 pm

Well, the chance of U.S. (or any Western) ground forces going into Syria seems close to zero.

For now.

9

donquijoterocket 06.15.13 at 3:55 pm

@ Anderson #6- Small chance of that the British still believe in the English language.Congress speaks Murkan politicianese.Two nations divided by a common language.

10

bob mcmanus 06.15.13 at 4:06 pm

7: Ridiculous, and shows lack of imagination or a misplaced optimism.

1) Syria, Iran, or Hezbollah does a terrorist attack on US mainland
2) Chemical or other major attack on Israel
3) Major chemical usage inside Syria, on Turkey. Assad going down with AQ getting access to warehouses
4) Turkish or Iranian assets being destroyed, accidentally or no, by allied forces, with response, maybe in Gulf States (Bahrain still not settled.
5) Unknown unknowns.

Who knows what the odds are? Certainly greater than zero. An assassin started WWI.
Odds are lessened by Russian interest, odds are increased by Turkish unrest, with current Turkish Sunni alliance with SA. Do not understimate the proxy war aspects of Iran vs SA.

My vote is against war or ground/air/sea involvement, even if we have high US civilian casualties. 10k Americans aren’t worth 1 million middle-easterners.

11

bob mcmanus 06.15.13 at 4:12 pm

How y’all feel as citizens of the vampire Empire? We been provocating like all hell in the ME for a century. You feel we should respond with all due disproportionate response if some ME punching-bag loses it a little?

Will we need to protect every little Roman, and their honor?

12

bob mcmanus 06.15.13 at 4:23 pm

Louis Proyect on Turkey. Shorter: Neo-Liberalism finds Islamism profitable

http://louisproyect.org/2013/06/14/taksim-square-in-context/

Dan Drezner on Syria, and Obama arming AQ in Syria. Let’s arm our enemies, so they can kill each other in droves

http://drezner.foreignpolicy.com/

Desertion or Treason is the only moral stance. I hope Snowden gives China everything.

13

Salient 06.15.13 at 4:30 pm

Well, the chance of U.S. (or any Western) ground forces going into Syria seems close to zero.

Not to belabor the point, but if I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say the equivalent statement about Iraq in 2002, I would have more money.

But also, why specify ‘ground’ forces or even ‘forces’ at all? Putting millions of guns into the hands of people who intend to attack with them isn’t respectably better, in the sense that we should or should not spend any less energy resisting and opposing it. Setting aside whether it’s true or false or logically indeterminate, what function does a statement like ‘It would be worse for us to send troops’ or ‘It was worse in Iraq because we sent troops’ fulfill?

14

Shay Begorrah 06.15.13 at 4:45 pm

Thank you Chris, that is a brilliant and insightful speech – and confusingly by a Tory .

@Anderson

” Can someone please link to similarly lengthy footage of Congress that is of similar quality?”
Oh, yeah, right.

Try this one on for size, Congressman Alan Grayson on Prism: http://t.co/lNhFfixj24

15

Soru 06.15.13 at 4:52 pm

Total casualties in Syria now look to be somewhat higher, like for like, than those in Iraq, despite a smaller polulation and shorter duration. So I don’t think you can really about war as if it was a future risk which wise counsel might avoid…

16

Abel Cain 06.15.13 at 5:13 pm

bob mcmanus et al.
your anger is welcome but as usual on sites like this, with anglo and euro writers and readership the knowledge base is limited.
Hezbollah will not attack the US, any more than Hamas will attack the US.
Al Qaeda attacked the US. We supported them before and we’re supporting them again. Our alliances are with the Sunni monarchies. Iran just had an election in which reformers won. Syria’s dictator maintains power offering protection to minorities, including Christians. Even Jews were better off under the Assads. Our partners attack all. And Israel has asked te US to guarantee the Saudi regime’s safety, under the logic that you can trust your most extreme enemy to be predictable and out of fear of Arab democracy.
If you don’tunderstand the roots of Islamism you’ll never take it as seriously as it eserves. Find someone to translate Nasrallah’s speeches for you. You wont find an Israeli leader as sharp or practical. Asad AbuKhalil notes his comment in his latest speech that the Supreme Leader in Iran has less power than any Sunni monarch. Ironic, yes? And no Hebollah is not a proxy.
Enough of a lesson for today.\

17

yabonn 06.15.13 at 7:35 pm

If you can understand French, definitely go buy Quai d’Orsay, by Blain & Lanzac – if not, please wait anxiously for the translation.

It’s hilarious, and I think one of the better documents about the French perspective in these times.

18

John Quiggin 06.15.13 at 7:40 pm

From one of the responses, and even more relevant in the US

Those who sided with error saw their careers flourish, while those who were right and objected to their Ministries saw their careers wither.

19

Pat 06.15.13 at 7:44 pm

Soru, I don’t think that’s right—Syrian civilian death toll is in the 90,000 neighborhood, and the Iraqi total was 600,000 even before the so-called surge.

That said, this particular total anti-war lefty (though, to be fair, one with an emotional attachment to the Arab Spring) really doesn’t get the widely shared impulse to read Iraq in the place of Syria. Clinton’s operations in Sarajevo, or Obama’s in Lybia, seem far more apt. Crucially, ground operations being conducted by local insurgents tend make any eventual victory seem more legitimate by the governed population, and a nice (though self-interested) consequent of supplying only weapons and air support is that American troops can’t be shot at.

20

LFC 06.15.13 at 7:52 pm

Abel:
Hezbollah is not a proxy.
Right, it’s a completely independent force.

Salient:
why specify ‘ground’ forces or even ‘forces’ at all
B.c there’s a difference betw sending arms to X and inserting soldiers to fight alongside X.

mcmanus:
rolls out the WW1 analogy
as if nothing has changed since 1914
Right.

21

LFC 06.15.13 at 7:56 pm

Pat:
Crucially, ground operations being conducted by local insurgents tend make any eventual victory seem more legitimate by the governed population, and a nice (though self-interested) consequent of supplying only weapons and air support is that American troops can’t be shot at.

Correct, and telling that it needed to be said at all — which it did, given some of the comments above.

22

LFC 06.15.13 at 8:01 pm

The real question is whether the arms being sent will make any difference to the outcome — depends partly on what they are and how quickly they get there.

Oh, and the stuff about how minorities and Jews and Christians were protected under Assad. You know, you have to weigh that vs the fact that he has sent jets to bomb villages containing Syrians, his ostensible countrymen, and has killed tens of thousands of civilians. No side is clean, pure, and virtuous here, I’m fairly sure. But there are reasons to counter growing Hezbollah influence in the region, which for one thing has reignited sectarian violence in Lebanon, which had been reasonably quiet.

23

novakant 06.15.13 at 10:00 pm

Yeah – let’s give arms to the insurgents, maybe some military advisers as well, I miss the good old days of the cold war and the proxy war strategy worked out so well for all the parties involved… (and the arms dealers would be happy too, the stuff has to be shifted and it’s great to see it live in action).

24

Abel Cain 06.15.13 at 10:06 pm

LFC,
Fiind me a serious argument on why Hebollah is not an independent force.
Ask any expert not a known hack.

25

Salient 06.15.13 at 10:32 pm

B.c there’s a difference betw sending arms to X and inserting soldiers to fight alongside X.

There’s also a difference between sending army troops to fight alongside X and navy troops to fight alongside X. So what? Care to elaborate on why the difference you’re highlighting is meaningful? It’s not as easy as you’re suggesting, to see the difference between “a conflict in which it is morally alright to heavily arm one side” and “a conflict in which it is morally alright to fight on behalf of one side.” I mean, it’s easy to see a difference domestically — fewer American lives endangered per Syrian life endangered. But as bob points out, that’s a morally atrocious premise to build policy on.

More generally, “enable people to kill, believing they will X, but don’t go kill X yourself” is not some kind of moral high ground relative to “go kill X yourself.” If anything, at least with “go kill X yourself” you don’t end up with some other group of people, over whom you have essentially no control or authority, newly in possession of a deadly arsenal.

What, exactly, is the intended benefit of what you’re advocating, relative to a full-scale ‘humanitarian’ invasion?

26

Salient 06.15.13 at 10:38 pm

ground operations being conducted by local insurgents tend make any eventual victory seem more legitimate by the governed population

I don’t know what to say beyond, look at how well the U.S. project in South America turned out. People are actually pretty aware if/when the U.S. is selectively arming militants who clearly intend to seize and retain power.

a nice (though self-interested) consequent of supplying only weapons and air support is that American troops can’t be shot at.

That’s disgusting.

27

rootless (@root_e) 06.15.13 at 10:52 pm

interesting speech and ties into the level of ignorance generally brought into government decisions.

28

Abel Cain 06.15.13 at 11:01 pm

And I missed your other comment, but to blame Hezbolloh as te instigator of all this is absurd. It’s a Lebanese organiation, in a coalition with others, including Christians. Recent events are strainig its relations with Hamas, who are Sunni.
The jihadist seen eating the heart of a dead Syrian soldier is from one of the more moderate brigades in opposition to Al Qaeda. Ask a Syrian Christian why she’s scared.

29

rootless (@root_e) 06.15.13 at 11:08 pm

Some of the comments here call to mind Clay Claiborne’s note on cynicism:

Since the cynic is not looking for ways to attack the problem but for reasons to carry on as usual, it suits this scenario to make the New World Order, the Illuminati, or whoever, virtually all-powerful and quite capable of tricks we aren’t even aware of.

The people, on the other hand, are sheep.

30

LFC 06.15.13 at 11:09 pm

Salient:
I don’t think it’s disgusting for a citizen of a particular country to be especially concerned with the prospective deployment, and prospective loss of life, of soldiers from his/her country — certainly *not* because American (in this case) lives are worth more than other lives, but because it’s normal to feel certain particular attachments to the country where one resides and to its citizens (or, as the case may be, to non-citizens who are serving in its armed forces). You can be a cosmopolitan, philosophically speaking, and still recognize that people feel particular ties to their own countries — those ties are not always or necessarily of the blindly patriotic variety but they do exist, at least for many (or most) people.

So from that perspective, among others, there is a difference between a policy that sends arms and a policy that involves deployment of soldiers. One can debate the merits of sending arms, but I don’t think anyone here is in favor of deploying U.S. troops in Syria (albeit for a range of reasons, which different people may weigh differently).

As to the Latin American example, there is a diff. between, eg, the Nicaraguan contras and the Free Syrian Army. These cases have to be considered individually, not all lumped together under an umbrella of “whatever the U.S. govt does abroad is automatically wrong — therefore whenever it arms anyone it is acting wrongly — QED.”

The problem in this case is probably that the U.S. decision to send arms has come too late — after 90,000 or so deaths, after the Syrian opposition has come to realize that the Obama admin’s reluctance to get involved here was so deep as to be almost impossible to overcome — it’s taken the Hezbollah angle, basically, to finally move the admin, and the Syrian opposition will know that and will draw appropriate conclusions.

31

rootless (@root_e) 06.15.13 at 11:18 pm

“Try this one on for size, Congressman Alan Grayson on Prism: http://t.co/lNhFfixj24

Indignation theatre. He could have read the relevant acts if he didn’t want to be shocked.

32

LFC 06.15.13 at 11:26 pm

P.s. I think there is too much uncritical ‘patriotism’ in U.S. public life, way too much invoking of the ‘God and country’ trope/theme/whatever by politicians, too much reverence of the military etc, but that’s all a somewhat separate issue. Plus it’s not exactly a new phenomenon.

Also, where there is an ongoing vicious civil war, it’s not a question of fueling or instigating violence by arming one side; the violence already exists. It’s not like the anti-Assad insurgency is something the U.S. or the West instigated or connived at; it arose without their doing, afaik.

33

Anarcissie 06.16.13 at 1:24 am

I didn’t watch the video, but I did read Hansard, and I was surprised by the fact that a number of the participants in the discussion asserted with apparent sincerity that they were surprised to find that they had been lied to by Tony Blair and company. I believe the original lips-are-moving joke began with politicians as its subject; it seems like a necessary talent for the job, and I would think politicians would know all about it. Of course, things may be different in Britain, but I recall an article in which Christopher Hitchens derided someone who pretended to be surprised that a British politician had lied, so maybe not. Now, when American politicians said they had been deceived by Bush with regard to Iraq, I knew it was possible that instead of being cynical liars, they were really, really stupid; but the people in the video and Hansard all seem at least halfway intelligent. So I don’t get it. Did these people really believe Tony Blair? How did they manage it?

The other thing that was odd for me was that it seemed to be an unspoken assumption of almost everyone in the room that Britain had some kind of humanitarian duty to help run the world, which might entail (as humanitarianism seems to) invading other countries, slaughtering their people, breaking their stuff, and so on. I am familiar with the gross imperial megalomania of many of my fellow American citizens, but I thought this spirit must have died out across the Pond given World Wars 1 and 2, the fascists, the Holocaust, the loss of the empires, and all that. No? Are they still not done ‘over there’?

34

Ronan(rf) 06.16.13 at 1:33 am

Abel Cain if you’re going to offer ‘a lesson’, ex cathedra, then you might try and get the facts right. The US did not support Al Qaeda, they (along with others) did support the Mujahideen but little to nothing of that got through to the Arab faction. They certainly aren’t supporting Al Qaeda now, unless you’re talking about in some roundabout way having connections with groups in Syria that have connections/ideological similarities to Al Qaeda. Even then it’s a stretch to say they ‘support’ them, and most evidence would point to Obama being genuinely opposed to arming those groups.
US security guarantees for Saudi Arabia predate the Arab uprisings and are largely independent of Israel. I’m not sure who’s arguing that Hezbollah is a proxy, but Hezbollah clearly have alliances that affect how they behave regionally. What that means in this specific case I don’t have a clue, but would be interested to know
I think your kind words for ‘the Assads’ is ludicrous tbh, and perhaps you’re reading As’ad AbuKhalil on that topic a little literally?

To my mind Daniel Drezner has it right on US policy vis a vis Syria, to bleed their enemies in a protracted war. (Most evidence does seem to suggest that arming the oppossition wont enable them to ‘defeat’ the regime) I’m interested to know the counter argument to that though (Also, I think, as LFC implied, there’s a tendency to overstae US/Euro influence and ignore the agency of regional actors, who are also driving the conflict)

35

Bruce Wilder 06.16.13 at 2:15 am

Abel Cain @ 16

I doubt that your points will register with very many, even here. When one considers the broad interests of the U.S., it is strikingly odd that the U.S. would adopt an attitude of hostility to Iran and try to be an ally to Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. It reflects, I think, the hijacking of U.S. foreign policy by narrow interests and narrow visions.

Rory Stewart takes the view that Britain does not have the institutions to formulate and conduct a foreign policy as ambitious as Parliament frequently wills. That is even more true of the U.S. His point that the military, once its boots are on the ground, tries to fill the resulting vacuum, but is ill-equipped to do so effectively, applies to the U.S., as well, although the U.S. military does invest in training its elite leaders in policy and geopolitics.

Anarcissie is surprised that anyone would be surprised that politicians would lie to Parliament or Congress or the United Nations or the public in the most serious matters of state, but I wonder why, and if this quick turn to lying, and the implied unconcern with cultivating credibility, is related to the odd shape of American foreign policy and the institutional incapacities to fulfill great ambitions on the ground.

36

LFC 06.16.13 at 3:09 am

yabonn @17
just noticed the comment –
glad to know about that bk

37

Anarcissie 06.16.13 at 3:26 am

‘Anarcissie is surprised that anyone would be surprised that politicians would lie to Parliament or Congress or the United Nations or the public in the most serious matters of state, but I wonder why….’

Humans are willful animals. Therefore, they desire power to work their will. Often, they find themselves in a situations where social power is a zero-sum game; that is, the more power one has, the less another has.

(Good) knowledge is power. In many situations, and hierarchical power structures are among them, imparting knowledge to another (another person, group, party, layer, class, etc.) is, in effect, donating power, which may well lessen one’s own power by reducing the scarcity and effectiveness of the donated knowledge. In such an environment, it behooves the holders of good knowledge to impart it only when some benefit, like other knowledge, increased repute, a material reward, preferment, and so on, can be obtained. Hence most sophisticated inmates of hierarchical political structures are careful to withhold valuable knowledge, and most large institutions have barriers to the free passage of information, both between internal levels and sectors and between the institution and the outer world, as most people who have worked for a large corporation or a government can attest.

Politicians operate in such environments.

While good knowledge can simply be withheld, that may provoke interest or resentment; other strategies to keep it away from others can include substituting bad knowledge for good knowledge (lying), obfuscation, oversimplification, misdirection, distraction, propaganda, and many other means worked out over the last several thousand years.

Where facts are not already widely known, then, it will usually be advantageous, if not crucially necessary, for politicians, bureaucrats, military commanders, business leaders and managers, gurus, authorities, pundits, and other powerholders to employ these means from time to time to retain their knowledge advantages, and thus power differentials which benefit them.

Therefore we should expect politicians to lie frequently (and use the other means mentioned). And this is what we observe. In the case of the presidency of the U.S., we do not have a quick turn to lying; we were lied to about Vietnam just as we were lied to about Iraq, and about many other things in between, were we not?

38

Uncle Kvetch 06.16.13 at 3:38 am

As to the Latin American example, there is a diff. between, eg, the Nicaraguan contras and the Free Syrian Army. These cases have to be considered individually, not all lumped together under an umbrella of “whatever the U.S. govt does abroad is automatically wrong — therefore whenever it arms anyone it is acting wrongly — QED.”

I think the cases can be lumped together quite accurately under the umbrella of “the US govt is proceeding from the assumption that the enemy of its enemy is its friend.” And that assumption doesn’t exactly have a stellar track record. But if you want to argue that it’s different this time, because it’s not like all those countless other times, knock yourself out.

39

roger nowosielski 06.16.13 at 6:10 am

@35, Bruce Wilder

Hard as I try, I really fail to see what exactly are the objections to Anarcissie’s #33, especially since most of Bruce Wilder’s posts are lucid and to the point.

As far as I’m concerned, #33 is as clear as a bell, no interpretation or second-guessing needed. Yet in the repartee, we find references to such obscure things as “the implied unconcern with cultivating credibility,” “the odd shape of American foreign policy” and “the institutional incapacities to fulfill great ambitions on the ground, ” references which, I hasten to add, do more harm than good if the original intent was to elucidate the opposing point of view.

What’s really going on in here, can anyone tell?

40

bad Jim 06.16.13 at 7:13 am

With respect to Anarcissie’s #33: I’ve never much wondered about why American politicians take the positions they do, but with respect to Iraq I’m firmly convinced that our opinion leaders arrived at their positions, not through a process of reasoning from facts, but rather by sensing the positions of their peers and arranging themselves accordingly, like bacteria in a biofilm.

It’s always going to be as frustrating to try to explain the actions of public figures in terms of reasoning as it would be to troubleshoot a plumbing problem by means of a wiring diagram.

41

Mao Cheng Ji 06.16.13 at 8:51 am

“I am familiar with the gross imperial megalomania of many of my fellow American citizens, but I thought this spirit must have died out across the Pond…”

But does this megalomania really exist, in either country, outside the chattering classes?

People, generally, are not stupid. It’s one thing to promise each of your soldiers an estate in Belarus (or something) – that might work, but humanitarian imperialism is not going to be very popular, I don’t think. This brand of propaganda is aimed at a narrow segment of the population, liberal intelligentsia. And for the rest, it’s just good old fear-mongering.

42

Ronan(rf) 06.16.13 at 9:34 am

“I doubt that your points will register with very many, even here. When one considers the broad interests of the U.S., it is strikingly odd that the U.S. would adopt an attitude of hostility to Iran and try to be an ally to Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. It reflects, I think, the hijacking of U.S. foreign policy by narrow interests and narrow visions.”

I think that would register with most here, tbh Bruce

43

Peter Murphy 06.16.13 at 12:57 pm

For that matter, can someone please link to similarly lengthy footage of the Australian Parliament that is of similar quality? House of Reps or Senate: I’m not fussed.

It’s not just that Rory Stewart did an excellent speech, but that the other people in the chamber made intelligent interjections, all of which he handled with respect and courtesy. Maybe Canberra’s going through a particularly bad patch, but I’m seeing less oratory and more tantrums.

44

LFC 06.16.13 at 1:05 pm

@38 U. Kvetch
I think the cases can be lumped together quite accurately under the umbrella of “the US govt is proceeding from the assumption that the enemy of its enemy is its friend.” And that assumption doesn’t exactly have a stellar track record.

Even if I were to concede this (and it’s true the record is, at best, mixed), I would still favor a case-by-case approach to these sorts of decisions. There is no way to guarantee that a particular decision will be right, whether the decision is to act or not to act. You (meaning the policymaker or the commenter or whoever) start with a basic framework of assumptions and beliefs, whether implicit or explicit, but then proceed to look at the particular circumstances. That’s why these decisions are often difficult. The only people for whom they are never difficult are those who know in advance what the ‘right’ answer is, e.g. “never intervene,” “always intervene,” etc.

45

Salient 06.16.13 at 2:07 pm

I don’t think it’s disgusting for a citizen of a particular country to be especially concerned with the prospective deployment, and prospective loss of life, of soldiers from his/her country

It absolutely is, in context. If we were talking about who gets the first vaccines for something, it would make sense for the U.S. government to inoculate its own soldiers (and citizens) first. But what we’re talking about is encouraging and materially enabling tens of thousands of Syrians to kill each other. If you’re talking about encouraging and enabling mass violence, and you’re significantly more OK with that because the encouragement/enabling will mean many many more Syrians killed but not more Americans, then you have earned a little invective.

And yes, we’re about to help kill lots and lots of Syrians. You don’t get to claim “once the rebels are armed Assad will step down faster, therefore there will be less bloodshed” because that’s crazy in light of how often we’ve done this before; dozens of examples of arms aid are counterexamples to your claim. You’ve already retreated to ‘every case is different’ shenanigans, in order to avoid any unfavorable comparison of this instance of mid-conflict arms aid to, y’know, every other instance of mid-conflict arms aid.

Fine. It’s different. I don’t see how that’s a pliable excuse, but whatever, it’s different therefore comparisons are invalid. Fine, rule accepted, but only in exchange for one rule in return: let’s call this what it is. You are advocating a lot more bloodshed, and a lot more people killed, and frankly you need to own that and justify it if you wish to be persuasive about this. It is definitely disgusting to say, “We’ll help the rebels kill a whole lot of people, but at least they won’t be American lives lost!” But it’s probably more disgusting to refuse to at least own that you believe we should help some people to kill a whole lot of other people.

46

LFC 06.16.13 at 5:19 pm

Salient:
On some scenarios I suppose helping to arm the Syrian opposition could result in more people being killed than not arming them. And someone who supports arming the opposition (which I never explicitly said that I do, though I probably would after considering it further) should acknowledge that that is a real possibility.

On the question of ‘every case is different': this is not “shenanigans”. Research has shown that policymakers often make poor use of historical analogies, which is one main reason I am wary of their use in policymaking. At the time of the protracted public and internal official debate in ’09 about whether U.S. troops should be ‘surged’ in Afghanistan, I wrote that analogies between Vietnam and Afghanistan were not very helpful because the two situations were not analogous (though some serious people claimed they were). I was somewhat ambivalent about the surge at the time, though I never endorsed it, and in retrospect I think it was a mistake. But I think those who argued against the surge should mainly have argued against it (as some did) on the basis of considerations specific and particular to Afghanistan. There were very good arguments to be made against the Afghanistan ‘surge’ but “because Vietnam” was not one of those good arguments, precisely because Afghanistan was and is not Vietnam.

Take the argument about the effectiveness of so-called population-centric counterinsurgency. On one side are people who say “It’s never worked” and they cite historical cases A, B and C. On the other side people say “Yes it has” and they cite cases D, E and F. One book I’ve read on the subject even argues that the failed ‘strategic hamlet’ program in Vietnam, which most people I would assume consider a failure of population-centric counterinsurgency, actually doesn’t count as a true failure because of reasons X, Y and Z.

These are, I suppose, interesting and necessary arguments for academics to have, but they can be terrible and even disastrous traps for policymakers. Policymakers should focus on the particular situation before them in light of their general convictions and aims. They should avoid “Afghanistan is Vietnam” or “Iraq is Syria” or “Nicaragua is Syria” or whatever. This is harmless enough in a blog comment thread or in an academic seminar, but it is almost never, I think, a good way to make policy. Of course, in the scheme of things it makes no difference what I think, but since you, Salient, referred to ‘every case is different’ as “shenanigans,” I felt compelled to explain why I do not consider it to be “shenanigans.”

I think this is it for me on this thread, barring some completely scurrilous personal attack — I mean, more scurrilous than “you support killing people” — which demands a response. There is a limit.

47

Bruce Wilder 06.16.13 at 6:32 pm

roger nowosielski @ 39
Anarcissie @ 37

A: “Humans are willful animals. Therefore, they desire power to work their will. Often, they find themselves in a situations where social power is a zero-sum game; that is, the more power one has, the less another has”

Thank you, Anarcissie, for your able and lucid exposition.

For roger, my point rests on the juxtaposition to Anarcissie’s zero-sum (or negative-sum, I would say) game of power, the positive-sum game of power.

Power is the outcome of social cooperation. Power is, as Hannah Arendt pointed out, a property and output of social organization. As individuals in isolation, we can have strength; only in an organized group, cooperating together, is there, power.

In an economic sense, power arises from the efficiency and productivity of coordinated specialization of labor, augmented by capital investment in dedicated tools and the system of organization, itself, training, etc. In a(n imaginary) market economy, organized around markets, and coordinated by market price, the optimal result, where efficiency and productivity, and, therefore, total, distributed abundance is greatest would be where the price is the “perfectly competitive” price.

The “perfectly competitive” market price is the price, which would be arrived at, in the absence of strategic behavior. It exists only — and one would think this would be obvious, but it is not obvious to many economists — in the imagination, since, of course, people always act strategically. The “perfectly competitive” price is also, in some wise, the perfectly fair price, the price at which no one is cheated or taken advantage of.

Economists do not trouble themselves to spend much time analyzing hierarchy, as a means of organizing, beyond some simplistic, principal-agent analyses of asymmetric information. Something of the same gist, though, applies, regarding the basic conflict between the positive-sum game of the hierarchy-as-a-whole and the negative-sum games of its member-players acting strategically in their own, individual interests. An hierarchy generates the greatest power, in sum, when its members cooperate perfectly with one another, which is to say, selfishlessly or without individual strategic considerations.

What we actually observe, of course, in our corrupt world is not perfection, but corruption: not perfect competition, but oligopolistic rivalry and all kinds of cheating. But, also, not perfect corruption, usually, since then social cooperation would break down entirely, as the power of social organization would generate no surplus relative to the breakdown of social organization.

Trust is the currency of social organization, and lies are the counterfeit money. Lies in serious matters of immediate concern to the mass of constituents are a clear indication of a potentially fatal degree of corruption. I expect a certain amount of petty corruption and self-aggrandizement, and don’t really care if a politician puts his name on an airport or takes a junket to Hawaii. But, when a politician is playing statesman in the glare of limelight, with scribblers busily writing the first draft of History, I expect that our second-best world will be very much better than it is, at this moment.

Rory Stewart points to other manifestations of organizational incompetence and incapacity. Lawrence Wilkerson, in the U.S., among others, has drawn attention, as well to organizational incapacity.

Abel Cain @ 16 was pointing to a different kind of indicator, pointing not at the lies, so much as the substance of foreign policy, and asking whether, in general outline, it would make the slightest bit of sense, if leaders were representing the country’s broad interests.

One problem, pointed to by Rory Stewart, is that there is no accountability, for the small or the large, no penalty for lies or for failure, and no will to correct error. Obama persecutes whistleblowers beyond the point at which he is accused of torture, but prosecutes banksters and war criminals not at all. Our chattering classes and politicians do not even acknowledge failure. With regard to Afganistan, the American military does not concede any of the damage done to itself, to the U.S., or to that benighted country; it insists, instead on the need to persist in failure.

My problem with Anarcissie’s able analysis is that its pessimism — its base assumption that power is a zero-sum game, rather that acknowledging the tension between the co-existing positive-sum game and negative-sum game — does not lead to a any practical curiosity about how we could do better, how things might be reformed, or, even, re-formed on a better basis.

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Anarcissie 06.16.13 at 7:41 pm

My analysis of social power was pessimistic because I was giving a theoretical basis for a specific, very frequently observed phenomenon, to wit, the lying of politicians, in response to being asked why I expected politicians to lie and expected other people to expect them to lie. Of course there are other aspects of social power, certainly including important positive-sum games, but these do not help me explain the prevalence of the particular phenomenon I was attempting to deal with.

I am still puzzled by trust of politicians, as manifested in the quoted Hansard text and video, especially by other politicians, given that both theory and observation indicate that such trust is unreasonable.

49

Donald Johnson 06.16.13 at 8:35 pm

“perhaps you’re reading As’ad AbuKhalil on that topic a little literally?”

Actually, he is intensely critical of both sides in the Syrian civil war, as he should be.

50

Philip 06.16.13 at 9:47 pm

Anarcissie, the politicians who say that they believed the politicians are probably lying. They all have to pretend that they are honest and then be shocked when something shows that they aren’t.

51

Mao Cheng Ji 06.16.13 at 9:55 pm

Imagine if a politician said: “I’m lying.” Wouldn’t that be confusing? It’s a good thing, at least they never force us to face this paradox.

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Peter T 06.17.13 at 12:56 am

I agree with the speech, but I wonder about the outcomes of being “better” at developing expertise and taking it into account. The UK used to be relatively good at this – all those political officers with deep local knowledge, or naval leaders with a very exact sense of what was possible and what not. But that helped make the empire. Policy has a very strong bias to action – even the possibility of nuclear annihilation did not prevent both sides from constant fiddling at the edges in the Cold War. Advice from experts that the best course is to do nothing is not welcome. And that’s leaving aside the issue with separating out the few cases where doing something is the sensible thing.

53

Bruce Wilder 06.17.13 at 4:52 am

“Doing nothing” is never an actual option. I don’t mean that “experts” have a bias against recognizing “doing nothing” as an option; I mean that “doing nothing” is, literally, not an option. It’s a cop-out in abstract thinking. In reality, “doing nothing” is simply non-existent. Acts of omission are just as dangerous as acts of commission.

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Peter T 06.17.13 at 6:08 am

Bruce

By “doing nothing” I meant staying out, not going to war, not intervening, not trying to march on Moscow. The expert that tells policymakers that the best course is to keep your hands off, watch and wait, do some very limited good around the edges is an expert that will be ignored unless repeated doses of harsh reality have made this a local rule (as in British India’s recognition that Afghanistan could not be made to fit under the raj). If you do nothing you WILL be blamed; if you do something you might be blamed.

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Suzanne 06.17.13 at 6:09 am

@19: Many thanks, Pat. Always edifying to read “total anti-war lefty” opinion in the age of Obama. Yes, it is a pleasing thought that the prolonging of the war will only mean more dead Syrians with no risk to US troops. I’m sure the Americans who armed the jihadis in the 80s thought along the same lines. However, the boots did end up on the ground. It just took a couple decades for the blowback to blow back.

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Ronan(rf) 06.17.13 at 9:16 am

“but I wonder about the outcomes of being “better” at developing expertise and taking it into account”

Yeah, Stewart’s speech was certainly thoughtful and articulate, but I’m not sure what it is he wants to prepare the British Foreign Policy establishment for. If it’s just to improve British diplomacy, then his reforms seem reasonable. If it’s to make Britain more effective at running foreign countries then it’s an impossible task better being put to bed. If it’s to offer better advice to the PM, cabinet and Parliament, that would surely be a good thing, but how much difference is that really going to make on these sorts of outcomes?
His perspective also seems to be heavily influence by British imperial myths, ‘there was a time when we could do things like this’..and that that ability was made possible by having experts living on the ground in various countries, speaking the language, living among the natives..this of course is a nonsense – as (surely) is his contention that this is the biggest FP mistake since the Boer war, or possibly the 1839 Afghan British war
But maybe I’m misjudging Stewart

as an addendum, anyone hear Obama’s comments on ‘Africa’? I hop it’s becoming clear why some of us see the man as such a doofus

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Ronan(rf) 06.17.13 at 9:21 am

“Actually, he is intensely critical of both sides in the Syrian civil war, as he should be.”

Yeah, sure, that was kinda my point. Although I’d dispute the claim that he’s equally critical of the regime, but that’s not really here nor there

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roger nowosielski 06.17.13 at 11:46 am

@53

I don’t know, Bruce. Peter T does seem to have a point in that having a policy does commit one to a course of action over a whole range of cases rather than having a freedom of sorts to act on a case-by-case basis; in that sense, having a policy have a real effect of tending to limit our options.

Now, I don’t know how “expert knowledge” figures in these considerations, or even whether it needs to. Nor do I see why you regard “doing nothing” as a cop-out in abstract thinking, or that “in reality it is nonexistent.” You must be presuming that all instances of “doing nothing” are, as you say in the next sentence, “acts of omission.”

But surely, this isn’t always so. In chess, for instance, there are certain situations called “zugzwang,” such that with every following move, no matter what one side does, the position of the opponent deteriorates to the point of no return; I’m certain one could think of similar situations in real life. And by the same token, there are also situations in which movement/motion is mistaken to action: was than one of the complaints charged at George Herbert Bush?

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Anarcissie 06.17.13 at 1:11 pm

@53: Philosophically, doing nothing is a kind of doing something, so one is always doing something and doing nothing cannot be done. However, in attempting to influence the actions of murderous, lying psychopaths, causing or enabling them to do less seems better to me than causing or enabling them to do more. In public discourse, this might seem like advising them to do nothing (‘Stay out of Syria; don’t give more weapons to the combatants.’) Certainly, more active things could be done to improve the world of the poor Syrians, but one must consider to whom one is giving the advice, I would think, and how it will be taken and used. Advice to help the Syrians (Iraqis, Afghans, Libyans, Somalis, Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Nicaraguans, Panamanians, Dominicans, Vietnamese, etc. etc. etc.) evidently may be taken to mean ‘Kill, maim, and terrorize the people, and steal or break their stuff’ because of the settled principles of those to whom the advice is given. This is not merely a hypothesis; it is exactly what we observe.

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ajay 06.17.13 at 1:20 pm

If you do nothing you WILL be blamed; if you do something you might be blamed.

Quite the reverse, surely? The current state of play seems to be that if you get involved, you get blamed for everything that happens during and after your involvement. If you don’t get involved, no problem; you can always make a convincing argument that it had nothing to do with you. No one is blaming George Bush or Bill Clinton for the deaths in the Congo civil war, because they had the good sense to keep well clear.

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Sam 06.17.13 at 1:40 pm

Stewart was also one of the more sensible voices on Afghanistan: http://www.lrb.co.uk/contributors/rory-stewart

He had to be a Tory, Blair’s New Labour was the East Atlantic branch of the neocon party.

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Uncle Kvetch 06.17.13 at 2:08 pm

as an addendum, anyone hear Obama’s comments on ‘Africa’? I hop it’s becoming clear why some of us see the man as such a doofus

Ronan, I didn’t hear them, and Google is no help (all I’m finding there is the usual rabid frothing from the wingnuts about the cost of Obama’s upcoming trip to Africa). Can you kindly provide a link?

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Ronan(rf) 06.17.13 at 2:27 pm

I was actually a little off, it was actually from 2009 (dont know how I came across it now) where he told ‘Africans’ to pull up their socks and stop blaming colonialism

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/barack-obama-africa-cannot-blame-all-its-problems-on-western-colonialism-1743379.html

Although my retelling of his speech is a little caricatured and simplistic, it does seem to be a common theme with Obama afaict – a self made man in love with his maker and all that
(also, of course, if he could stop blaming Republicans for his own mistakes itd be something)

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Anarcissie 06.17.13 at 6:07 pm

Another thing that impressed me about the video was that there were only a few people in the room, compared to the number of MPs. I was wondering if that indicated that most MPs were not interested in the issues discussed, maybe because they feel, reasonably, that Parliament is powerless anyway (which I felt was the subtext of a lot of the discourse there). If so, the whole business there was fraudulent; it doesn’t matter what any of them thought about Iraq in 2003 or now.

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novakant 06.17.13 at 8:24 pm

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

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Ronan(rf) 06.17.13 at 8:38 pm

And then when Obama was lecturing all of Africa on some redundant point, the continent was..

http://africaplus.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/the-china-africa-convergence-can-america-catch-up/

Amazballs.

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LFC 06.17.13 at 9:21 pm

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soru 06.17.13 at 10:22 pm

Soru, I don’t think that’s right—Syrian civilian death toll is in the 90,000 neighborhood, and the Iraqi total was 600,000 even before the so-called surge.

As I said, like-for-like. The 90,000 figure is press-reported, named, casualties – the equivalent directly-equivalent figure for Iraq is ~160,000. Except that that is over 10 years, in a country with a ~50% larger population. The underlying number of dead bodies will be anything from 2x to 50x this; 4x approximates your figure of 600,000 for Iraq.

50x, the figure commonly used for the big war in the DRC, is probably implausible. But given that there were at least an order of magnitude more journalists covering Iraq, it seems a fair guess that the real:reported ratio is higher for Syria than Iraq. Which would give a casualty figure probably starting to approach a million.

You can scale both number up and down in parallel, by changing assumptions, but I don’t see any plausible way to come up with a lower death rate for Syria than Iraq.

And, when you stop to think, is hard to see how it could be otherwise. Syria has had pretty much continuous fire-fights involving heavy weapons up to artillery in big cities. The only real equivalent in Iraq was the few weeks of heavy fighting in the relatively small city of Fallujah.

I suppose the takeaway message here is that it is interesting how utterly irrelevant this stuff is to both sides of the discussion, in the US at least. One side want to stay out and let Hezbollah and Al Qaeda bleed each other to death over the next decade or so, perhaps slipping in more arms to the losing side any time the fighting looks like it might reach a resolution. The other wants to take the opportunity to directly cripple Hezbollah, while trying to prevent al Qaeda gaining any chance of credit for a victory. In neither of those agendas is the prevention of civilian casualties even a relevant incidental benefit; lower casualties is something you would have to keep quiet about when trying to push either policy.

It is like the marketing of CFL light-bulbs, where sales measurably drop any time the package mentions they happen to have lower emissions…

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roger nowosielski 06.17.13 at 11:25 pm

@68

“In neither of those agendas is the prevention of civilian casualties even a relevant incidental benefit; lower casualties is something you would have to keep quiet about when trying to push either policy.”

QFT

70

LFC 06.18.13 at 12:06 am

Abel Cain @28
but to blame Hezbollah as the instigator of all this is absurd.

I didn’t say it was the instigator of “all” the recent violence in Lebanon. I’m sure there’s blame to go around. The relatively little I know about Hezbollah has not given me a very favorable picture; I’m sure it provides social services etc. to its constituents but I mean in terms of its political activities.

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Salient 06.18.13 at 12:54 am

On some scenarios I suppose helping to arm the Syrian opposition could result in more people being killed than not arming them.

In every conceivable scenario arming the Syrian population will result in many many more people being killed. Arming the Syrian opposition will not lead to mass surrender by the Assadians. You contribute arms in order to exert control over which people get killed, but that contribution absolutely will substantially increase the total quantity of people killed, with no uncertainty whatsoever.

Research has shown that policymakers often make poor use of historical analogies

Research has also shown that policymakers often make poor use of casual unsupported reference to research. :P

On the question of ‘every case is different’: this is not “shenanigans”.

Yes it is. No it isn’t. Yes it is…

Look, maybe what you’re missing here is challenges like “prove to me that this won’t turn out like Iraq” are mostly just a rhetorical tactic for opposition and resistance. The point of “X is like Y” type statements, from a resist/opp point of view, is basically to set a standard for evidence. It’s saying, I’ve been bullshitted before, and I am more wary and better calibrated now, so you will need more and better bullshit before I dare to budge again. It has almost nothing to do with material facts on the ground, except on a cursory level. It is just a form of the statement “I am aware of having been similarly bullshat on about stuff like this in the past, with disastrous consequences, and I am on guard and expect better argument this time around.”

For what it’s worth I’m not going to stop opposing and resisting sending arms to Syria once somebody actually does prove something like “Syria is not like Iraq,” even if they somehow do so in a way I find convincing, or whatever. I’ll just move to whatever other rhetorical roadblocks seem to have more traction.

But I see all this as rhetoric in response to your rhetoric. Saying “it’s different” is just telling me that I ought not take cues from the times I’ve been misled in the past, when assessing the legitimacy and credibility of people who I think might be badly leading me now. What “every case is different” completely fails to prove is, why we should be OK with sending lots of arms into Syria. The burden of justification falls on the people who want to do that. Statements “X is like Y” alert the people that want to do that, that their audience has already heard many bullshit arguments the last act-of-aggression go-around and won’t find those arguments acceptable anymore.

“Doing nothing” is never an actual option. I don’t mean that “experts” have a bias against recognizing “doing nothing” as an option; I mean that “doing nothing” is, literally, not an option. It’s a cop-out in abstract thinking. In reality, “doing nothing” is simply non-existent. Acts of omission are just as dangerous as acts of commission.

“Doing nothing” is a perfectly comprehensible code phrase for “not intervening” or more specifically “not providing material aid or military support.” And not intervening is most certainly an option. I guess you’re trying to ignore this code and redefine the phrase in a literal sense so that it no longer makes sense, but… why?

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Anarcissie 06.18.13 at 2:49 pm

@67: If the British ruling class want to be on the American ruling class’s team, they will have to ask ‘How high?’ on the way up. This means that either Parliament must be fully controlled, as Congress is in the U.S., or left out of the loop, as they seem to be at present. Or both.

It was the emptiness of the room that was most telling. A metaphor for ‘our’ pretensions to democracy.

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Ronan(rf) 06.18.13 at 7:00 pm

This was an interesting short article from this time last year on the pressures emerging in Lebanon

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/04/2012416132131379581.html

I dont think Hezbollah are any worse than any one else (including the US and Israel) in how they conduct themselves regionally, but provide a useful punching bag/looming threat for certain actors in the US (and other) FP community. A sensible, reality based regional policy would probably not care one way or the other, would adopt a strictly neutral stance and try to resolve these crises without getting involved in regional politics (an impossible task I know)
I think soru’s right, outsiders should be concerned with what is happening to civilians rather than magicing national interests out of pure cloth,or getting involved in Saudi (in the case of the US) misbehaviour

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Barry 06.18.13 at 7:26 pm

rootless: “Since the cynic is not looking for ways to attack the problem but for reasons to carry on as usual, it suits this scenario to make the New World Order, the Illuminati, or whoever, virtually all-powerful and quite capable of tricks we aren’t even aware of.”

Please review the Iraq war. Please note how dishonest and cynical the people advocating it were, and please notice what tricks they got away with. Oh, and also note how the cynical b*stards who pushed for war pretended that they were oh-s0-noble, and accused everybody else of being evil cynics.

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Tim Wilkinson 06.19.13 at 3:39 pm

Giving parliament a vote on declarations of war sounds jolly good, but recall that parliament did get a vote on Iraq and – faced with a fait accompli – Libya, and I’m pretty sure that war was not actually officially declared in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya etc. There is ample scope for this requirement to be circumvented once the war drums start up, and as things stand MPs seem easily prevailed on in these circumstances in any case. I wonder if anyone will table an amendment to the effect that the government should refrain from sending tanks to Heathrow Airport on the eve of such votes?

The fact is that so long as there is a secret military/intel/security component to the state, which will always feel justified in behaving as if on a war footing, things like Iraq (and other the GWOT-related phenomena) can be pushed through against the better judgement of rank-and file politicians and journos. The only really reliable constraint on this stuff has to come from a sea change in public attitudes: people need to be far more aware of the basic realities of parapolitics and willing to voice dissent loudly and in a timely fashion. It’s a cliche but the Emperor’s new clothes is a highly relevant parable. Blair accused Iraq skeptics of peddling ‘conspiracy theories’ – and this accusation was even reprised by Kevan Jones, directed against Caroline Lucas, in the Parliamentary debate under discussion here. And above we even have an NWO/Illuminati smear! If everyone else can overcome the agnotogenic ‘conspiracism’ narrative, an increased realism, and willingness to voice it, might just possibly filter up to the press and even politicians. Even the corporate media can’t push propaganda without some degree of complicity from its audience.

The need for increased realism about parapolitics is especially urgent in the case of the educated classes, within which there is something approaching a taboo about discussing this stuff, at least until it’s far too late. That is why I’m always moaning about the marginalisation/demonisation of conspiracy theorists in places like this (and that includes ‘9-11 truth’ campaigners, who are routinely caricatured and disproportionately vilified even by generally good eggs like JQ; though I can’t really expect to gain his support these days, dsquared has I think a more reasonable attitude to such matters in general).

Stratfor, a reputable specialist media source, provided this guide to how this kind of thing works: http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/syria-crisis-assessing-foreign-intervention

(A week or so after publishing this very unusually forthright assessment and IIRC another one about FSA propaganda, Stratfor suffered a catastrophic cyber attack. See http://susandirgham.wordpress.com/2011/12/25/stratfor-missteps-in-the-syrian-oppositions-propaganda-effort/ . The supposedly ostensible perpetrators, Anonymous, apparently denied involvement, credibly explaining that they don’t launch unprovoked attacks on media sources.)

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Tom Slee 06.19.13 at 3:51 pm

Parenthetical to the parenthetical:

The supposedly ostensible perpetrators, Anonymous, apparently denied involvement, credibly explaining that they don’t launch unprovoked attacks on media sources.

Jeremy Hammond pleaded guilty to the Stratfor attack last month: Wired report.

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Tim Wilkinson 06.19.13 at 4:05 pm

The relevance of this, as with the Libya intervention which I recall making numerous Cassandra-like reamrks about at the time, is that two years into armed hostilities, the reality on the ground has already been prepared. ‘Taking things on their merits’ is a trivially correct approach – the question is, what are the merits? If the manoeuvring underlying past – recent – ‘interventions’ are ignored, we can’t expect to draw realistic conclusions about the current ones, and there is no reason for them not to be repeated. Secretive actions can’t be forestalled, but also can’t be hermetically sealed off from public awareness, if the public is willing to be aware. Those engaged in engineering conflicts can only be deterred from doing so in future if they expect to be exposed and possibly even held accountable after the event.

Without splurging too much and without going into moderation with multiple links, below is a selection from extant public domain reports on the topic of NATO involvement in fomenting and sustaining the civil war in Syria. There is every reason to suppose that whatever comes to light or is announced is representative of the kind of thing that has been going on in secret for some time before. Anyone care to deny this?

Note that the early overt support for the militarisation of the protests came from the NATO-installed regime in Libya and from Turkey. The latter, a NATO member, played a large part in the Libya campaign and is unlikely to have directly acted against the stated wishes of the US or European powers, despite the fact that involvement in Syria is one of the subjects of the current popular protests. And recall that the US explicitly clarified that they wouldn’t ‘stand in the way’ of countries which sought to (further) militarise the Syrian protests – which would tend to suggest that it was in a position to stand in the way if it chose to.

CNN, June 2, 2011:
Syrian activists meet in Turkey, call on al-Assad to step down

NYT, October 27, 2011:
In Slap at Syria, Turkey Shelters Anti-Assad Fighters

LA Times, November 05, 2011:
Syria slams U.S. for ‘blatant interference’ – The angry comments come after the State Department advised Syrians to reject an amnesty offer from President Bashar Assad’s government.

International Business Times, November 28, 2011:
Libya Sending Arms to Syrian Rebels, Arab League Imposes Sanctions [Arab League of course basically meaning the US allies in the region, those who also gave cover for the Libya 'intervention'.]

WaPo. Mar 1 2012: Saudi, Qatari plans to arm Syrian rebels risk overtaking cautious approach favored by U.S….Despite U.S. demurral on the question of arms, regional diplomats said they think the Obama administration will not oppose decisions by individual nations to provide weapons to the rebel fighters.

WSJ, June 13, 2012:
U.S. Bolsters Ties to Fighters in Syria – CIA Helping With Logistics but Not Arms, Officials Say

Sky News, Sun, Aug 19, 2012:
Syria Rebels ‘Aided By British Intelligence’

And finally, an apparently accurate report of a statement from a french ex-minister claiming that he was asked to participate in the overthrow of Assad in 2010. I needn’t recite all the issues about what this can and can’t establish, but there it is anyway.

Press TV, Jun 19, 2013:
UK planned war on Syria before unrest began: French ex-foreign minister

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Tim Wilkinson 06.19.13 at 4:23 pm

Tom Slee – that was a subsequent event, I think – but I’m not going to down the rabbit hole and start vainly trying to establish the inaccessible truth about which secretive organisation did what, who’s telling the truth, and who was working for whom etc. And on a general note, guilty pleas are not necessarily a good indication of guilt in this kind of case.

Obviously I suspect retaliation, but not necessarily very strongly – in this kind of territory it is necessary to try and deal with credences falling short of certainty – and as you say it was parenthetical, so it would probably have been more sensible to leave it out.

The article itself is quite a good one of its kind, anyway.

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rootless (@root_e) 06.20.13 at 12:08 am

Barry 06.18.13 at 7:26 pm

One does not need to be a cynic to understand that some people are liars with bad intent.

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Tim Wilkinson 06.20.13 at 2:37 am

I may as well just confirm that Jeremy Hammond’s plea did relate to a different, later event – it remains mysterious who was responsible for the Dec 2011 attack.

It isn’t strong evidence of anything much, but I may as well point out that Stratfor ‘s coverage of the main ‘Anonymous’ organisation had been quite fair and certainly not hostile – it had only recently published a piece – http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20111102-anonymous-vs-zetas-amid-mexico-cartel-violence – in which Anonymous featured as the the hero standing against Mexican organised crime.

Below, also not proving anything, some selections from the Stratfor Chairman’s statement about the cyber attack:

http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/hack-stratfor

From the beginning, it was not clear who the attackers were. The term “Anonymous” is the same as the term “unknown.” The popular vision of Anonymous is that its members are young and committed to an ideology. I have no idea if this is true. As in most affairs like this, those who know don’t talk; those who talk don’t know. I have my theories, which are just that and aren’t worth sharing…
This attack was clearly designed to silence us by destroying our records and the website, unlike most attacks by such groups…
…my attention was focused on trying to understand why anyone would want to try to silence us…
It is interesting that the hacker community is split, with someone claiming to speak for the official Anonymous condemning the hack as an attack on the media, which they don’t sanction…
First, I don’t know who they actually are, and second, I don’t know what their motives were. I know only what people claiming to be them say. So I don’t know if there is remorse or if their real purpose was to humiliate and silence us, in which case I don’t know why they wanted that…
I wonder who the hackers actually are and what cause they serve. I am curious as to whether they realize the whirlwind they are sowing, and whether they, in fact, are trying to generate the repression they say they oppose…
We are now in a world in which anonymous judges, jurors and executioners can silence whom they want…
Our attackers seem peculiarly intent on doing us harm beyond what they have already done. This is a new censorship that doesn’t come openly from governments but from people hiding behind masks.

This is at least ‘consistent with’ an implausible-deniability warning aimed at and recognised by the Stratfor management. Here ‘recognised’ need only mean ‘suspected strongly enough for cost-benefit purposes’ – and in fact anything more would entail unnecessary exposure for the the putative covert intimidator. In such a scenario, the largely unchallenged ‘motiveless outsider’ (cf lone nut) narrative was cover provided for consumption by the general public at large.

That really is enough parapolitical conjecture for now, though.

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