Propping up dictators, and knocking them down

by John Quiggin on September 4, 2013

As we’ve discussed, bombing Syria seems like a bad idea, and its international legality is dubious at best. Still, it’s possible to make a case. The proposed action is directed against the military forces of a dictatorship that has killed thousands of its citizens, and Obama seems willing to comply with US law for once.

That would be a lot more convincing if it weren’t contradicted by the continued provision of aid to the military dictatorship in Egypt, following a coup against the democratically elected government. This is in direct violation of US law, and has emboldened the generals to engage in steadily more brutal repression.

There are some reports that the Administration is quietly suspending aid, or that it plans to do something after the Syrian bombing has been approved (or not). But there’s plenty of resistance as well, most notably from AIPAC.

As long as the US continues to prop up murderous dictatorships for geopolitical or economic reasons, it’s hard to take seriously the eruptions of moral outrage about those, like Assad’s, that have fallen out of favor. Obama may move on Egypt. But the US still supports autocracies throughout the region, most obviously Saudi Arabia and Bahrein, home of the 5th Fleet.

{ 109 comments }

1

Metatone 09.04.13 at 9:28 pm

It’s unfortunate, but you suspect that on top of all that, any action in Syria will lead to the removal of Assad and his eventual replacement by another military backed strongman. Much as in Egypt, US policy is based mostly on geopolitical concerns and the Sunni majority probably hold unacceptable geopolitical views…

2

Chaz 09.04.13 at 10:32 pm

I oppose sending aid to the Egyptian government because it is blood money to get them to support Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

However I’m not willing to accept automatic denunciations of the Egyptian coup. It seems like a lot of people are falling into the trap where they oppose the current government because they’re rotten, with no thought whatsoever to how rotten the alternative is. Like voting for Nader, or giving arms to Hizb-an-Nusra.

The way I see it, Egypt is in a low intensity civil war between the military and Muslim Brotherhood. If the military wins Egypt will have a corrupt secular dictatorship with pretty strong respect for minority rights. If the Muslim Brotherhood wins they will have a nominally democratic one party state, probably with partially free politics as long as candidates range between Islamist and very Islamist. Minorities will be persecuted, and Islamic religious law will be imposed.

I think you can make a pretty strong case that 1) the massacres the Egyptian government is committing are necessary to keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of power, 2) the Muslim Brotherhood intends to persecute non-Islamists, and 3) the people being targeted are the same people who intend to do the persecution (i.e. they’re guilty). It’s a bit like asking how many hostage-takers police should be willing to kill to rescue hostages. Some would say none, others would say all of them, some might say minimize total deaths.

I’m not totally convinced by the argument I just made, and there are definitely counterarguments that can be made–both to the presumed facts and to the moral logic–but it demands a response. I’m not at all interested in reading denunciations of the military regime that are not accompanied by some reflection about what exactly the author would like them to do differently and how that’s likely to turn out.

3

Ronan(rf) 09.04.13 at 10:37 pm

Afaict the MB dont have the institutional power to rule Egypt as a dictatorhip and never will (also minorities were repressed by Mubarak) Its about who rules *with* the military

4

Phil 09.04.13 at 10:54 pm

I’m not at all interested in reading denunciations of the military regime that are not accompanied by some reflection about what exactly the author would like them to do differently and how that’s likely to turn out.

I would denounce massacres and apologists for massacres. This might sound unworldly, but it tracks the influence I can actually exert on the world – and hence the realistic extent of my moral agency – rather more closely than if I were to put on camos and pretend to be el-Sisi. It may be that there are no choices facing el-Sisi which don’t involve committing horrible crimes or his own death, in which case it truly sucks to be hiim. But that doesn’t get the rest of us off the hook of naming horrible crimes as horrible crimes.

5

Ronan(rf) 09.04.13 at 11:20 pm

6

Bill Benzon 09.04.13 at 11:37 pm

Speaking of propping ’em up and knocking them down, I know CT has zilch influence with the Obama administration, but Larry Freakin’ Summers? Gimme’ a break.

[Sorry]

7

John Quiggin 09.05.13 at 12:28 am

@Bill I though the “not enough of a jerk” line might resonate with the boys club, but apparently not

http://crookedtimber.org/2013/08/03/larry-summers-not-enough-of-a-jerk/

8

js. 09.05.13 at 2:58 am

Preemptively, because _someone’s_ going to get all: But the hypocrisy argument is just besides the point; we should be saving the Syrian babiez!

I (US citizen), would love to have a government or an administration that I could trust to save Syrian lives, and to do more good than harm, if it were to intervene. I do not live under such a government, and frankly—and unbelievably sadly—I can’t barely even imagine such a thing. And the US’s behavior towards Egypt, towards Saudi Arabia—really, what clearly are its most consistent priorities in its foreign policy in general—this is what makes it impossible to trust that if it intervenes it will do more good than harm, and this is what (at least in part) makes it impossible to support an US intervention. So it’s perfectly right and proper to bring up Egypt, and the House of Saud, and Qatar, and the overall pattern of US foreign policy, esp. as regards the Middle East, when discussing the wisdom of an US intervention in Syria.

And yes, it is indeed the credibility! argument. …except in reverse, or how it makes sense.

[JQ—if this is OT, or likely to lead to a thread derail, please feel free to delete.]

9

js. 09.05.13 at 3:01 am

Ugh. I can barely even imagine living under a government/administration I could trust. Also, not sure how “Bahrain” in my mind turned into “Qatar” at my fingers.

10

rdb 09.05.13 at 3:13 am

Curtis, Andrew (2011) The baby and the Baath water BBC Blogs.

Polk, William (2013-09) Your Labor Day Syria Reader, Part 2: William Polk The Atlantic

11

P O'Neill 09.05.13 at 3:35 am

“AIPAC” is hyperlinked to a NYT article that never mentions AIPAC, and indeed only mentions Israel in the context of an unholy alliance with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, all preferring the generals to the Brothers. And it was the latter countries, not Israel, that put cold hard cash in the Egyptian Exchequer, post coup.

12

Belle Waring 09.05.13 at 3:37 am

+10 for use of “emboldened,” JQ. Also, substantively and morally correct, but I think it’s important to use the language of “we need to act because otherwise __ will be emboldened” against advocates for continuous warfare. Really, wouldn’t the best thing for the US to do be to accept all Syrian refugees no questions asked? Whether internally displaced now or currently pushed outside Syria’s borders by the fighting? If a Syrian general knew all his family was safe in Detroit, Michigan, wouldn’t he be much more likely to join forces with the rebels to overthrow Assad? If we are worried about more Syrians dying in chemical weapons attacks, shouldn’t we help them get out of range of the weapons, as this is a 100% certain guard against getting killed by sarin gas, while bombing random parts of Syria has a likelihood of considerably less than 100% of so protecting people? Is America a 9-year-old boy playing Transformers with his best friend, so that the only way we can even conceive of helping someone is giving them bombs?

13

LFC 09.05.13 at 4:15 am

Re JQ’s sentence “As long as the US continues to prop up murderous dictatorships for geopolitical or economic reasons, it’s hard to take seriously the eruptions of moral outrage about those, like Assad’s, that have fallen out of favor”:

First, I don’t think Assad’s regime was ever in favor w the US, so it can’t have fallen out of favor.

Second (and more substantively), “eruptions of moral outrage” emanating from powerful countries will almost always seem quite suspicious because their foreign policies are often uncomfortable mixtures of realpolitik and ideals. In the case of the U.S. this tension is heightened by the U.S.’s myth of itself, from the founding on, as a virtuous innocent in a fallen world with a mission to spread its values to everyone, a myth that was, as John Kane writes, “largely the creation of enlightened [18th century] Europeans looking hopefully to the New World to descry the possible future of humanity.”* The myth, as Kane notes, is grounded more in faith than reason and certainly did not comport with large parts of empirical reality, but it’s important inasmuch as it arguably hovers in the background whenever certain kinds of policy decisions have to be made, even more than two centuries after the mythical narrative was created.

*J. Kane, Between Virtue and Power: The Persistent Moral Dilemma of U.S. Foreign Policy (2008), p.5 (pp.3 through 7 probably worth quoting in toto but obvs. not feasible to do so).

14

LFC 09.05.13 at 4:21 am

The author I quoted @13 is an Australian, btw

15

Marcel 09.05.13 at 4:48 am

As long as the US continues to prop up murderous dictatorships for geopolitical or economic reasons, it’s hard to take seriously the eruptions of moral outrage about those, like Assad’s, that have fallen out of favor.

Aw, c’mon, JQ: try harder. Why, “sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Join us all in the wonderland that is US politics. And remember that what they tell us 3 times is true.

16

John Quiggin 09.05.13 at 6:00 am

@P O’Neill

When Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, proposed an amendment halting military aid to Egypt, the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee sent a letter to senators on July 31 opposing it, saying it “could increase instability in Egypt and undermine important U.S. interests and negatively impact our Israeli ally.”

(emphasis added)

@ LFC

In Damascus for Hafez al-Assad’s funeral in 2000, then–U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright burnished his son’s credentials as a reformer right for the job. “They have a process here which seems to be operating in a peaceful and orderly way,” she told the press, “but I was very encouraged by his desire to follow in his father’s footsteps.”

http://prospect.org/article/when-assad-dropped-fa%C3%A7ade

17

eddie 09.05.13 at 6:24 am

Re Metetone: I suspect the muslim brotherhood are no less islamic than the saudis. It’s no good appealing to anti-islam sentiment while supporting just as much evil elsewhere. Similarly, theee’s a lot of crying out about anti-xian oppression in the region, while xian anti-other religion stuff is hushed.

18

eddie 09.05.13 at 6:26 am

Sorry. The above should’ve ben Re: Chaz.

19

Torquil macneil 09.05.13 at 9:28 am

“But there’s plenty of resistance as well, most notably from AIPAC.”

Why AIPAC most notably? Do they have particular influence over the administrations foreign policy? I would have thought the Saudis would be most notable.

20

John Quiggin 09.05.13 at 9:47 am

@Belle “Emboldened” is a perfectly cromulent word, isn’t it?

21

Ronan(rf) 09.05.13 at 10:10 am

“Why AIPAC most notably? Do they have particular influence over the administrations foreign policy? I would have thought the Saudis would be most notable.”

But the Saudi relationship is mentioned, (at the end), so you cant mention the Saudis twice without mentioning Israel (who*are* the US primarily allies in the region) And the Israelis (not just AIPAC) are clearly lobbying for the US to keep sending aid (I would say more than the Saudis, and Id imagine they have more influence – particularly in Congress – than the Saudis) The aid is tied directly to maintaining peace between Israel and Egypt, why wouldnt Israel be relevant!?
So whats the problem? People just cant mention Israel negatively anymore?

22

Trader Joe 09.05.13 at 11:33 am

The difficulty with equating the support of a military coup in Egypt with “king making” in Syria by arming rebels or otherwise choosing sides is it ignores +30 years of history.

Mubark and his military generally acted as an ally in a region where these were otherwise lacking. The U.S. didn’t withdraw its aid for the Muslim Brotherhood and they aren’t, so far, withdrawing it from the new coalition as it constitutes itself. There’s an element of sticking with an ally through a rough-patch, although clearly a stance that could produce later regrets.

I’d agree the military has become “emboldened” (the word of the day), but the opposition has also become more militant and more organized. There is unquestionably a greater possibility of civil war than there had been, but the threat would appear to be minimal.

Equally, I’m not naive enough to assume all of the aide actually helps the people, but its likewise the case that the Egyptian economy would collapse even more precipitously if there was a sense the U.S. was withdrawing aid. In the cost benefit equation of a suffering populace, this should have at least some weight.

23

Barry 09.05.13 at 11:58 am

John Quiggin: ” But the US still supports autocracies throughout the region, most obviously Saudi Arabia and Bahrein, home of the 5th Fleet.”

‘Mass murdering distctatorship’ is a more accurate word for the government of Bahrain.

And I don’t recall the ‘responsibility to protect’ people speaking up about this, let alone demanding an invasion – which would have been quick and easy, considering that we had a fleet there.

24

Barry 09.05.13 at 12:00 pm

LFC: “First, I don’t think Assad’s regime was ever in favor w the US, so it can’t have fallen out of favor.”

Mahar Arar? the USA used Assad as a torture contractor.

25

P O'Neill 09.05.13 at 12:04 pm

#16, apologies JQ (true story, I am getting new glasses today).

26

Barry 09.05.13 at 12:05 pm

Trader Joe 09.05.13 at 11:33 am
“The difficulty with equating the support of a military coup in Egypt with “king making” in Syria by arming rebels or otherwise choosing sides is it ignores +30 years of history.

Mubark and his military generally acted as an ally in a region where these were otherwise lacking. The U.S. didn’t withdraw its aid for the Muslim Brotherhood and they aren’t, so far, withdrawing it from the new coalition as it constitutes itself. There’s an element of sticking with an ally through a rough-patch, although clearly a stance that could produce later regrets.”

That’s the whole point of the original post. The same people who will demand the the US attack Syria, and denounce those who don’t support the war of the day, support mass murdering dictatorships, and plead neccessity. BTW, ‘constitutes’ is the best euphemism for ‘slaughters its way into power’ that I’ve heard in quite a while :)

27

Soru 09.05.13 at 12:13 pm

Us Aid to Egypt is almost entirely in the form of buying 2nd tier weapons from us manufacturers and sending them to the egyptian army. Replacing that one for one with say medical or educational supplies would not start a war, make things radically better or worse.

But it would not merely be something that could be done: it would be something that could help…

28

Ronan(rf) 09.05.13 at 12:22 pm

But there aint nought good the US can do. Pull funding for the Egyptians and the Saudis fill the gap. Make the relationship with Saudi dependant on easing repression in Bahrain and get laughed out of Riyadh. And the idea of ‘leaving’ the region is never going to happen.
I agree fully that US policy towards the Middle East has been largely destructive and dysfunctional for the past 40 years (at least) but that isnt the reality anymore as much as it used to be. There are signs of subtle support by the US for representative democracy in the region, and even a weakening of the old alliances and recalibration of interests in the region. So one would be iffy about throwing in the towl just when the stupidity was subsiding

29

Ronan(rf) 09.05.13 at 12:34 pm

..Ive realised that ‘there aint nought’ might actually read as ‘there is something’ if you arent familiar with Newcastle colloquialisms, but I meant ‘there isnt anything’..fwiw

30

ajay 09.05.13 at 12:45 pm

Us Aid to Egypt is almost entirely in the form of buying 2nd tier weapons from us manufacturers and sending them to the egyptian army. Replacing that one for one with say medical or educational supplies would not start a war, make things radically better or worse

But, IIRC, it’s not something that the US can do. The US is committed to sending military aid to Egypt at a level set at 2/3 of the aid it sends to Israel. That was the underpinning of the Camp David Accord; the US agreed to bribe the Egyptian army not to get embarrassingly defeated by Israel for a fifth time in a row. I don’t think that switching to the same amount of medical or educational supplies would be possible, given that agreement.

31

ajay 09.05.13 at 12:46 pm

Ive realised that ‘there aint nought’ might actually read as ‘there is something’ if you arent familiar with Newcastle colloquialisms

“In some languages a double negative means a negative. In other languages, such as English, a double negative means a positive. But there is no language on earth in which a double positive means a negative.”

“Yeah, right.”

32

Trader Joe 09.05.13 at 12:46 pm

@26
I should probably have clarified – I’m not supportive of action in Syria.

It would be nice to say “never support a thug or dictator” but the world doesn’t really work like that – it becomes a matter of judgement which thugs you can trust and which you can’t. In Syria, there’s no record on either side and I’d sooner stay clear.

In Egypt -the U.S. supported the Muslim Brotherhood when they were duly elected even though they provided plenty of reasons for support to be withdrawn. The minimal influence the U.S. has on the situation is via its aid – pulling the aid might feel morally good, but at the cost of potentially watching a worse situation emerge over time (a la Syria). In my view, the U.S. is better keeping what role it has in Egypt and seeing what happens then sticking their head in the sand cause these bad guys aren’t as nice as the last bad guys.

I’m not going to defend the Egyptian army, but don’t get too righteous about the “peaceful” protesters who try to blow up cars and invade government offices.

33

Ronan(rf) 09.05.13 at 1:00 pm

“I don’t think that switching to the same amount of medical or educational supplies would be possible, given that agreement.”

Yeah, I don’t see how its politically feasible. The aid is going to go through as the Egyptian military and Israelis want it to, which will be through the military.
Although, theoretically, I guess you could cut the aid and then start funding civil society organisations/local NGOs etc?

34

LFC 09.05.13 at 1:13 pm

thks JQ for Albright quote (somewhat perhaps constrained by the context, i.e. spoken at the funeral; she had to be non-insulting)

Barry @24: noted. will follow the ref.

I don’t think of Syria under the Assads as having been a U.S. ally/client/friend (or whatever word you prefer) or even ‘frenemy’. (But obvs. I am not up on the history of U.S.-Syria relations.)

35

LFC 09.05.13 at 1:30 pm

Barry @26

The same people who will demand the US attack Syria, and denounce those who don’t support the war of the day, support mass murdering dictatorships, and plead necessity.

One’s position on a strike vs. Assad should depend on what one thinks about a strike vs. Assad, not on who happens to support or oppose it. For example, John McCain and Lindsey Graham support it; Rand Paul and Marco Rubio oppose it. Either way you go you’re in some bad company. I have a bit of empathy, if that’s the right word, for Ed Markey, who abstained (voted ‘present’) in the Senate For Rels. Cte., though it was probably as much an electoral (he’s up for re-election) as a substantive vote.

36

Salem 09.05.13 at 1:47 pm

And I don’t recall the ‘responsibility to protect’ people speaking up about this, let alone demanding an invasion – which would have been quick and easy, considering that we had a fleet there.

But there was a successful foreign intervention that achieved and secured peace in Bahrain. It just wasn’t carried out by the USA. I can’t speak for everyone who cares about the responsibility to protect, but personally I am very glad about that; it’s unfair that peace and justice should be subject to the whim or national interest of a single country – and it’s also unfair that the burden of being the world’s policeman should fall so disproportionately on American shoulders.

37

William Timberman 09.05.13 at 1:56 pm

…and it’s also unfair that the burden of being the world’s policeman should fall so disproportionately on American shoulders.

Oy gevalt.

38

ajay 09.05.13 at 2:07 pm

it’s also unfair that the burden of being the world’s policeman should fall so disproportionately on American shoulders.

I am trying to remember who remarked, about ten years ago, that he wouldn’t mind nearly so much America trying to be the world’s policeman if it acted more like Eliot Ness and less like Dudley Smith.

39

ajay 09.05.13 at 2:08 pm

But there was a successful foreign intervention that achieved and secured peace in Bahrain.

This is a good point. Bahrain isn’t perfect but it is, now, peaceful.

40

Barry 09.05.13 at 2:37 pm

LFC: “One’s position on a strike vs. Assad should depend on what one thinks about a strike vs. Assad, not on who happens to support or oppose it. “

No.

41

Barry 09.05.13 at 2:38 pm

Ronan(rf) 09.05.13 at 12:22 pm

” But there aint nought good the US can do. Pull funding for the Egyptians and the Saudis fill the gap. Make the relationship with Saudi dependant on easing repression in Bahrain and get laughed out of Riyadh. And the idea of ‘leaving’ the region is never going to happen.”

Isn’t it soooooooooooo convenient that we never seem to be able to accomplish anything by punishing ‘our friends’ for their mass murder?

42

Bruce Wilder 09.05.13 at 2:39 pm

Then, perhaps, with the precedent established, we could hope for U.S. intervention in Syria to be followed by Turkish, Russian, and Iranian intervention. Oh, heck, let’s bring in the Egyptians and the Israelis, too, and make more room for Saudi money, as well.

43

Barry 09.05.13 at 2:39 pm

LFC 09.05.13 at 1:13 pm
” I don’t think of Syria under the Assads as having been a U.S. ally/client/friend (or whatever word you prefer) or even ‘frenemy’. (But obvs. I am not up on the history of U.S.-Syria relations.)”

My point is that the US government was quite happy to deal with Assad, so that he’d do stuff which is just as forbidden by international treaties and laws as chemical warfare.

44

ajay 09.05.13 at 3:03 pm

Syria under Hafez al-Assad was arguably a US ally in 1991, when they sent troops to take part in Desert Storm, and subsequently helped them out in ME peace negotiations.

45

Ronan(rf) 09.05.13 at 3:11 pm

Affaik the US relationship calmed with Syria after the Cold War and then with the death of Assad the senior, which led to things like negotiations on Israel (and maintaing a peaceful border) working together on a limited scale during the WOT and (as ajay mentions) supporting Iraq 1. I wouldnt say it could be called an alliance in any meaningful way (although that outcome might have been on the cards at times)

46

Ronan(rf) 09.05.13 at 3:15 pm

“Isn’t it soooooooooooo convenient that we never seem to be able to accomplish anything by punishing ‘our friends’ for their mass murder?”

Absolutely! Tbh I dont know what the US could have done (or diplomatically did do), but Id guess there wouldnt be much

47

christian_h 09.05.13 at 4:14 pm

Salem: Bahrain is not peaceful, it is merely the case that the violence in the country is entirely one-sided, and currently meted out in forms not as spectacular as bombs and tanks.

ajay: there is of course a very easy way to lower military aid to Egypt to zero without violating any promises to keep it at 2/3 of the level of military aid to Israel. Can you spot it?

48

Rob in CT 09.05.13 at 4:28 pm

there is of course a very easy way to lower military aid to Egypt to zero without violating any promises to keep it at 2/3 of the level of military aid to Israel. Can you spot it?

Wouldn’t AIPAC’s reaction to that be just precious?

49

ajay 09.05.13 at 4:41 pm

47: ha, yes, but that’d never fly in Congress…
Bahrain’s fairly peaceful if the comparison is Syria. It’s an oppressive state at peace, rather than one going through a civil war.

50

Barry 09.05.13 at 4:53 pm

“ajay: there is of course a very easy way to lower military aid to Egypt to zero without violating any promises to keep it at 2/3 of the level of military aid to Israel. Can you spot it?”

Screw the promise – we don’t have to keep promises to mass murderers. Or does that only apply to the inconvenient ones?

51

Ronan(rf) 09.05.13 at 4:58 pm

I dont see how far the Syria/Bahrain comparison goes though. Both countries had peaceful calls for reform, both cracked down with brutality, Assad instigated a civil war whereas the Saudis got *some* level of stability but probably sectarianised politics in Bahrain (to some extent) Both results are the outcome of the specific circumstances they were reacting to (and the context they existed in), and the Saudis actions in Bahrain might still come back to bite them
Ideally what the lesson is, (probably ), dont use military force to put down calls for reform

52

Bruce Wilder 09.05.13 at 5:41 pm

The lesson for whom?

If your family business is wielding state power to extract wealth for yourself, what “circumstance” do you call that?

53

Chaz 09.05.13 at 5:45 pm

If we withdraw aid from Egypt and Saudi Arabia replaces it, at least we’ll have drained a bit of cash from Saudi Arabia’s international adventure fund.

54

Ronan(rf) 09.05.13 at 5:49 pm

BW
Im saying the lesson theoretically, for people of good faith. Im not arguing it has any real practical value in this context

55

John Quiggin 09.05.13 at 6:59 pm

To be clear, I didn’t claim that the Assads were ever US allies, any more than were Saddam Hussein or Gaddafi. But all were viewed with favor and given help at some points, before falling into disfavor (fatally in the latter two cases).

56

lupita 09.05.13 at 8:03 pm

So having read every email and listened to every phone call from every head of state, minister, and citizen of the planet, the NSA had absolutely no idea of the total lack of support Obama would receive for declaring his unilateral right to use military force against Syria. Maybe they interpreted everybody’s ideas about how Breaking Bad would end for support.

57

bob mcmanus 09.05.13 at 8:27 pm

56: Maybe they did know and don’t care, or consider it a feature not a bug

Hegemony turning toward dominance, a soft authoritarianism edging into a brutal totalitarianism. Empire is settling in for the long haul.

I have a vision of an American President walking to the podium of the United Nations, shooting a foreign head-of-state in the head, turning to the Assembly and saying:

“Now do you finally get it? Do you get it now?”

58

Bruce Wilder 09.05.13 at 9:07 pm

Ben Ali, Gaddafi, and the Assads, as well as Mubarak and the Khalifas found some kinds of workable schemes for stabilizing their respective regimes, with both a modicum of domestic support and reliable sources of international support. Something about the advent of a neoliberal world de-stabilized them. Do we wonder what?

We don’t wonder what de-stabilized Saddam Hussein. It took multiple blows with a trillion-dollar sledgehammer to topple that clown.

Clearly, the U.S. had the power to topple the Iraqi Baathist regime, because it did it, but it required, quantitatively, a heck of a lot of that power. Even after fighting a very bloody war to no result, and losing another, shorter war, and after years of punishing sanctions and a humiliating no-fly zone, Saddam Hussein was firmly in charge of most of his country. Talk about super-stability! Was Assad so much less stable, back in the day?

It seems to me that discussions of U.S. foreign policy are riven thru with contradictions, concerning not just the proper or actual goals of policy, but of its potence. We shouldn’t be focusing on a Manichean drama of who was whose ally at any one moment in time, without some kind of analysis of policy potency. If there’s really not much one can do, within normal resource constraints, to influence who is established in power, then it makes some sense to argue accommodation; the U.S. deals with the devil, when the devil is in power, because there’s no practical alternative — quibbling over whether such relationships rise to the level of alliance misses the main, meaningful circumstance, of what happens when the power ratio changes radically.

I would particularly note that the ability of U.S. policy to have consequences may increase, with or without a concomitant ability to control or guide the path toward an “outcome”. And, when there is an ability to guide the path to an outcome (not all possible outcomes may be equally achievable), those able to do the guiding and to choose the outcome may have every incentive to hide their power and goals from the workings of the nominal democracy at home, while those with faith in the nominal democracy may prefer to embrace moral purity, reinforced, in part, by long investments in powerlessness and ignorance.

What de-stabilized the Middle East? That seems to be a worthwhile question to ask, before proceeding, by however circuitous a path, toward foreign policy aimed at managing a workable world order, that serves the purposes of a broader constituency that U.S. oil companies and arms manufacturers. I’d hope that some elements of centre or left, or even right, could come up with answers composed of more than 4/10ths moral purity and 6/10ths anarchy.

59

Bruce Wilder 09.05.13 at 9:08 pm

Also, what stabilized the Middle East (back when)?

60

bob mcmanus 09.05.13 at 9:53 pm

Clearly, the U.S. had the power to topple the Iraqi Baathist regime, because it did it, but it required, quantitatively, a heck of a lot of that power.

The US barely broke a sweat.

No draft, no sugar coffee petrol rationing, no Rosie the Riveter, no command economy.

Everybody else in the world looks at a) what we did in WWII, and b) the military budget this compliant servile “democracy” is budgeting under recession conditions and cuts in social spending, and c) Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Fallujah, and d) knows what we are capable of.

Say 40% of GDP (Peak WWII) but real GDP would rise in a Keynesian command economy. So maybe 6-8 trillion annual dollars minimum of military. We could punch out cruise missiles and drones like landing craft and transport ships.

But everybody knows this. And knows the American people won’t rise up.

So the Australian PM rises up and says:”The US President has just murdered the Secretary-General! I call my native bankers and billionaires to risk their lives, fortunes, and sacred honors. Though the rubble may bounce, and all life on earth be destroyed, this horrendous crime may not…aw hell. Still early, who wants to join the President and I in a foursome?”

61

Jerry Vinokurov 09.05.13 at 10:18 pm

Clearly, the U.S. had the power to topple the Iraqi Baathist regime, because it did it, but it required, quantitatively, a heck of a lot of that power.

The actual war, as in the part where two militaries actually engage each other in combat, was over almost before it began. What required power was not the war itself but the occupation.

62

lupita 09.05.13 at 10:33 pm

For people who read the news in more than one language, you have certainly noticed that there are certain events that act like prisms that refract reality so that each language group views the same event through a different color.This G20 Summit is certainly one of those prismatic events.

The headlines in English (from Google News) oppose Obama and Putin while the photos are of these two men, either together or apart. There are reports on their body language, who they are seated next to, did they smile, what they said, and who supports each.

In Spanish, the headlines oppose, one the one hand, Pope Francis and the G20 (the new G21) and, on the other, Obama. Half the photos are of the Pope. There are articles that reproduce the Pope’s letter to the G20, his meeting with ambassadors to the Vatican, comparisons with John Paul II in 2003, his call to fast for Syria, all the bishops tweeting back that they will join…, wow, it is like two totally different worlds.

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Bruce Wilder 09.05.13 at 11:02 pm

It is not difficult to write brief comments, just difficult, sometimes, to read the replies to brief comments.

bob mcmanus: The US barely broke a sweat.

Jerry Vinokurov The actual war, as in the part where two militaries actually engage each other in combat, was over almost before it began. What required power was not the war itself but the occupation.

Wow.

64

ezra abrams 09.05.13 at 11:59 pm

I don’t speak (syrian) Arabic
I don’t have any friends who do
I know that we are a huge powerful country, and our efforts to do good (save syrian babys) don’t always go as planned
I know that during the Bush Iraq war II, many many people from right to left, said a lot of stuff that was wrong

I’m not so certain that lobbing bombs at Syria will or won’t save baby lives, and I’m not comfortable making that decision
ARE YOU (really – peoples lives are at stake)

if babys are dying in Syria, and in Sudan, and in India, and it costs ~ 100 dollars to save a life in Syria, and 1$ to save a life in India…do we have moral dilemmas no one wants to think about ?

Common insecticides like Malathion are similar to Sarin

why is everyone so certain of themselves ?

65

ralph 09.06.13 at 12:15 am

John, would you be so kind as to formulate a .pptx bulleted response to: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/09/05/opinion/kristof-the-right-questions-on-syria.html?ref=nicholasdkristof&_r=0&

? I would appreciate it, and i think, while attempting to drive the conversation off of the topic onto “anything is worth saving 1,300 people” it is still the **form** of argument that people on the left find persuasive….

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Jerry Vinokurov 09.06.13 at 12:22 am

It is not difficult to write brief comments, just difficult, sometimes, to read the replies to brief comments.

Wow.

I’m not sure what’s so crazy about what either I or Bob wrote. It’s a simple fact that, relative to the actual military power the US is capable of exerting, toppling the Iraqi regime required a comparatively little amount of it. Blowing things up isn’t hard, especially when you’re a country that spends as much on technology aimed at blowing things up as all of your nearest competitors combined, and then some.

You are asking the question of how the Middle East was “stabilized” or “destabilized” but there’s no one answer to those questions. Some countries were stable because they were ruled by strongmen funded by the West as ostensible opposition to communism (e.g. Mubarak); others like Qadaffi’s Libya (and to a lesser extent Syria) had close ties to the USSR and Russia; others were “destabilized” by coups funded by outside aggressors (Iran, Afghanistan); and yet others (Syria again) were carved from the continent by colonial policy. All of these polities have different, though obviously intertwined histories, and no grand theory exists that’s going to unify them and give us some kind of clear path forward.

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Watson Ladd 09.06.13 at 12:59 am

Lupita, you might not realize this, but plenty of people in the US speak French, German, Hebrew, Arabic. Plenty of British people are Catholic. There is such a thing as cosmopolitanism. This vision of the world as inherently ordered by states or language boundaries leads to violence and conflicts.

Jerry, Syria was known to Moses. Its exact boundaries might be the result of the French, but why not blame Esarhaddon while you are at it? The more interesting question is why liberalism was not more politically potent in the Near East outside of Turkey.

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Jerry Vinokurov 09.06.13 at 1:09 am

Jerry, Syria was known to Moses.

No, it sure as shit was not.

69

Ken_L 09.06.13 at 3:44 am

It’s quite possible to argue that the use of chemical weapons is in a category of its own and ought to be punished purely for the sake of deterring their use in the future. Indeed Obama kind of made that case but then failed to follow through. He should be pursuing sanctions via the international institutions that are explicitly prescribed for that purpose in the international convention that banned chemical weapons in the first place. Relying on an international agreement to justify an action and then declaring he and/or Congress was going to be The Decider about whether it had been breached and if so what action should follow is clearly an untenable position, both logically and ethically.

In fact the blizzard of argument being used both to support and to oppose the action is much more concerned with the broader question of influencing the outcome of the Syrian civil war than with upholding an international convention. John Kerry’s hugely unimpressive performance has done nothing to clarify the issues that are at stake.

The puzzling aspect of the whole exercise has been Obama’s motivation. Perhaps he is cynical enough to have foreseen what an entertaining spectacle it would be to watch Republicans demonstrate publicly how unfit they are to govern, but beyond that it’s hard to see any personal or political reason why he would be determined to take action that is unpopular both domestically and internationally.

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Meredith 09.06.13 at 4:46 am

I’ve seen almost no coverage of Samantha Power at the U.N. on this whole question. Odd — doesn’t it all feel like she (or at least her approach) is exerting a powerful influence on Obama here?

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js. 09.06.13 at 4:54 am

Also, what stabilized the Middle East (back when)?

The brutal and violent suppression of the indigenous left, for one thing.

I’m not sure exactly what you’re trying to get at, but it wasn’t often all that “stable” obviously.

72

Frank Shannon 09.06.13 at 5:48 am

The United States used to stabilize the middle east. We now destabilize the middle east. What I’m not sure of is why.

73

John Quiggin 09.06.13 at 6:04 am

“It’s quite possible to argue that the use of chemical weapons is in a category of its own and ought to be punished purely for the sake of deterring their use in the future.”

The problem is that the US is in particularly weak position to make this case, having tolerated Saddam’s use of chemical weapons in the 1980s, then used bogus claims about the continued existence of those weapons as a pretext for the 2003 war.

And, having stretched UNSC resolutions on Iraq and Libya far beyond their actual meaning, the US is no longer able to command international support for any resolution that might be taken as authorization for an unlimited war.

So, the likelihood is that Assad gets away with it, as Saddam did, and that a bigger effort will be required to enforce this norm, some time in the future.

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ajay 09.06.13 at 8:39 am

Jerry, Syria was known to Moses
No, it sure as shit was not.

It existed around the time that Moses is supposed to have lived. It was part of the Assyrian Empire. Why wouldn’t Moses have known about it?

The headlines in English (from Google News) oppose Obama and Putin while the photos are of these two men, either together or apart. There are reports on their body language, who they are seated next to, did they smile, what they said, and who supports each.
In Spanish, the headlines oppose, one the one hand, Pope Francis and the G20 (the new G21) and, on the other, Obama.

It is always strange to be reminded that for half of the continent of Europe the Pope is an unquestionable moral exemplar and international statesman, and for the other half he is merely an powerless old man in a silly hat.

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Ronan(rf) 09.06.13 at 9:08 am

BW @58

Gregory Gause gave a rundown of that the answers to that question a few years back, kind of, in a roundabout why here

http://www.stimson.org/images/uploads/research-pdfs/Academic_Community.pdf

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John Quiggin 09.06.13 at 9:21 am

@65 I see Kristof is running the “objectively pro-Assad” line.

The obvious answer is that there is no reason to think that “a few days of cruise missile strikes” aimed at military airfields will have any decisive effect, any more than a referral of Assad to the International Criminal Court.

Since the latter is clearly appropriate under international law, and the former is not, it seems like the more appropriate response

77

ajay 09.06.13 at 9:47 am

76: Syria has signed the ICC treaty but not ratified it, so I am not sure whether offences committed by a Syrian in Syria would come under ICC jurisdiction…

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John Quiggin 09.06.13 at 10:52 am

@77 And of course there’s the hypocrisy of a self-declared outlaw state going to the UNSC (where a majority of the permanent members have not ratified) to get authorization, even assuming the vote could pass. But that didn’t stop them with Libya.

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Andrew F. 09.06.13 at 11:24 am

JQ in the post: Still, it’s possible to make a case. The proposed action is directed against the military forces of a dictatorship that has killed thousands of its citizens, and Obama seems willing to comply with US law for once.

That would be a lot more convincing if it weren’t contradicted by the continued provision of aid to the military dictatorship in Egypt…

Let me start by noting that US military aid to Egypt is focused on Egyptian military capability to fight a conventional war. The tools of repression – taking over media outlets, arresting dissidents, etc. – don’t have much to do with F-16s. So unless you think that the Egyptian government is in danger of losing a civil war or an external war, the US isn’t propping them up.

But what I’m really wondering is why you believe that what you’ve highlighted in your post, which I quote above, is a contradiction.

When the President stayed somewhat quiet during the Iranian protests, Republicans would routinely criticize him of contradicting his own rhetoric about the importance of American support for democracy (while exaggerating his degree of silence, of course). But loud US Government support would have undermined the protest movements, as the anti-imperialist narrative is a powerful one in Iran, and association of the protest movements with the US would have harmed their public image in Iran, along with any Iranian figures sympathetic to those movements. Keeping silent only appeared a contradiction if you ignored important facts.

Back to Egypt. Why hasn’t the US cut off aid? First, remember that the Egyptian military has pledged to a timeline for the creation of a new constitution and for parliamentary elections soon afterward. Will they keep to it? I don’t know. No one knows. But cutting off aid to them may well hinder that process – though sowing some doubt here may prove useful. Second, the Egyptian military undoubtedly is convinced that it must adopt these harsh measures in order to restore stability. It has long been skeptical of US counsel, and it views the consequences of Mubarak’s fall as confirmation of its doubts. Cutting off aid won’t change their minds.

However, sowing doubt as to whether aid will continue if events in Egypt continue may be useful. This quiet approach avoids putting the EM in a position where they look like they’re being pushed around by the US – Egypt is also a country where anti-imperialism runs very strongly. It uses US leverage to nudge the EM, but avoids committing the US to a course of action that may only be counterproductive.

Now – how does that policy contradict a policy of deterring the Syrian regime from using chemical weapons in a civil war?

Syria. The US has called for a peaceful settlement and the departure of Assad, but has stayed out of the conflict. It has no strong national interest at stake in Assad’s use of chemical weapons, other than a humanitarian interest. In fact it presently does not wish to see the Syrian government collapse. The difficulty of the issue is deterring the Syrian government from further use of chemical weapons while not punishing it to the point of collapse.

The US has undertaken military missions with a strong humanitarian component before, ranging from Somalia to the Balkans (twice) to central Africa to Libya. It is not alone in its condemnation of Syria’s use of chemical weapons. There is no plausible ulterior motive here for the US to engage in limited strikes.

Most importantly, an argument for doing something good is hardly undercut by the fact that elsewhere one has not done good. This isn’t a question of America’s moral purity; it’s a narrow question of whether limited military strikes can deter the Syrian government from further use of chemical weapons, and, if so, would doing so be worth the costs and the risks.

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Jerry Vinokurov 09.06.13 at 1:12 pm

Is it truly necessary to explain why something called “Syria” existing several thousand years ago in the same geographic location bears only the most tangential relevance to Syria as we know it today? Or is this some kind of advanced trolling exercise?

81

Barry 09.06.13 at 1:19 pm

Andrew F:

“Let me start by noting that US military aid to Egypt is focused on Egyptian military capability to fight a conventional war. The tools of repression – taking over media outlets, arresting dissidents, etc. – don’t have much to do with F-16s. So unless you think that the Egyptian government is in danger of losing a civil war or an external war, the US isn’t propping them up. “

So why is the US arming the Egyptian Army? For fighting against what’s left of the Libyan government (if they should be come hostile), they wouldn’t need much.

M-16’s and machineguns are quite useful for mass murder.

And that’s making the ridiculous assumption that US aid is (a) restricted to heavy weapons and (b) not heavily skimmed by the generals of the Egyptian Army.

82

Ronan(rf) 09.06.13 at 1:21 pm

I certainly wouldnt call it *advanced* trolling
Watson Ladd wants to know why Esarhaddon doesnt get as much blame as the French for problems in 21st century Syria, anyone?

83

Barry 09.06.13 at 1:22 pm

“Back to Egypt. Why hasn’t the US cut off aid? First, remember that the Egyptian military has pledged to a timeline for the creation of a new constitution and for parliamentary elections soon afterward. Will they keep to it? I don’t know. No one knows. But cutting off aid to them may well hinder that process – though sowing some doubt here may prove useful. “

Oh, Christ. (1) The Egyptian government is illegitimate, and the US has both the legal and moral obligation to act accordingly. (2) The Eygyptian government is commiting mass murder, torture, and religious oppression; there have got to be several domestic laws and international treaties dealing with that, under which the US government has both the legal and moral obligation to act.

84

Ronan(rf) 09.06.13 at 1:32 pm

Though “Brian Boru and the failure of Irish financial sector regulations” could be an interesting area of research

85

ajay 09.06.13 at 1:54 pm

“Brian Boru and the failure of Irish financial sector regulations” could be an interesting area of research

No man will be deemed a fit and proper person to run a bank of the Fianna, said Finn, unless he can place a portfolio of Aa-rated corporate bonds in the capacious seat of his kerseymere breeches and run without stopping from here to the edges of the four kingdoms, all the while reciting the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive in the purest verse and playing mellifluously and plangently and at every point continuously and convergently on the harp, and if he misplace a single subclause, the Fianna will not have him.

86

ajay 09.06.13 at 1:57 pm

And of course there’s the hypocrisy of a self-declared outlaw state going to the UNSC (where a majority of the permanent members have not ratified) to get authorization, even assuming the vote could pass. But that didn’t stop them with Libya.

True. Though the UK is an ICC member state and could refer Syria; but I’m not sure whether Syria is referrable at all. A Syrian committing crimes in Syria can only be referred by the UNSC, and the outlaw states Russia and China would block that.

87

ajay 09.06.13 at 1:58 pm

Incidentally I quite like the “outlaw state” prefix for countries that haven’t signed up to the ICC. I hope it gets wider use for the US, and indeed for India, Indonesia and Cuba.

88

Trader Joe 09.06.13 at 2:10 pm

@82
Esarhaddon doesn’t get as much blame because he was largely undefeated on the battlefield. The French are best known as the Chicago Cubs of war. Winners define boundaries, losers compromise.

Also Esarhaddon’s only known use of poison gas was a particular evening in BC 675 when he had eaten far too many figs that weren’t quite ripe. The death count is unknown, but the Tower of Babel never did get finished as a result.

89

john c. halasz 09.06.13 at 3:27 pm

The U. of Chicago has an excellent Oriental Museum, full of Near Eastern archeological antiquities. Watson Ladd must have some job in the basement there, leaving too much time on his hands.

90

Earwig 09.06.13 at 3:50 pm

Re; “potency”:

As the sanctions regimes used against Iraq arguably increased reliance on Saddam Hussein within Iraq, while at the same time decimating the populace of the country, it is certainly open to question whether characterizing those sanctions as being primarily designed to reduce Saddam Hussein’s power is at all sensible.

Perhaps, for example, the sanctions were most valued, by those promoting and enforcing them, for their propaganda use — which was considerable — and that the horrifying and predictable impact on ordinary Iraqis was of no concern whatever.

91

Hidari 09.06.13 at 6:16 pm

“There is no plausible ulterior motive here for the US to engage in limited strikes.”

Wow.

“It existed around the time that Moses is supposed to have lived. It was part of the Assyrian Empire. Why wouldn’t Moses have known about it?”

Because Moses didn’t exist?

92

John Quiggin 09.06.13 at 6:54 pm

Too much, and not good enough, trolling going on here. Please DNFTT for a while and we’ll see if any real discussion emerges.

But, I admit, it’s a straightforward post making an obvious point with no clever insights, so maybe it’s inevitable that the discussion will be troll-driven.

93

Ronan(rf) 09.06.13 at 10:24 pm

The interesting thing to me is the system wide instigators of the crisis (rising food prices and Tom Slee’s identity cascade for example, or some combination of a number of factors), the problem with that though, for me, is you get lost in very deep, particular, maths heavy (I’m not sure of the name) analysis. But there are very specific questions about the Arab Spring (why did certain countries set it off rather than others) that can probably be explained (somewhat) by specific methodologies.

On the specifics of country by country analysis it becomes very political (On both sides, theres a number of people I wouldn’t even try to contact any more who seem to think answering basic questions is beneath them) A number of people though (Bassam Haddad, Timothy Mitchell for example) have written about specific phenomena that helped instigate the uprisings in specific countries; for example neo-liberal reforms changing the institutional structure of the regime, increasing inequality etc in Syria and Egypt. I think it’s fascinating, personally, and hope someone starts answering it in a comprehensible way (to me) soon

Relatedly, Tanya Harmer’s recent book on Chile (and specifically the role Cuba played in destabilising Latin America) got me thinking about Israel’s role in destabilising the Middle East. I bet this comes around again in an empirical way. It seems so obvious to be true

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Hector_St_Clare 09.07.13 at 12:29 am

Re: (and specifically the role Cuba played in destabilising Latin America)

I’m pretty sure the scale of Cuban financial and military aid to left-wing forces in Latin America was absolutely dwarfed by American aid to right wing forces (and the Soviet aid flow was even less significant- the Soviets didn’t even believe the Sandinistas were a revolutionary force until they’d made a revolution, and neither did the domestic Communist Party).

In terms of Cuba ‘destabilizing’ the hemisphere, I’m not sure that the kind of stability that existed in, say, the Peruvian highlands prior to 1960 was a sort of stability particularly worth having.

95

Ronan(rf) 09.07.13 at 12:43 am

I’m willing to wait (or listen) this out, not knowing enough about Latin American history. My view is Cuba *did* attempt to export its revolution, and the Soviets *did* support them in this, and this *did* cause a serious US backlash. (which I agree was disproportionate) But Id be interested in seeing specifics, b/c left and right under/overplay this stuff consistently
Harmer’s position (afaicr) was that there was a ‘Latin American regional war’ even before the Cuban revolution, but eventually that it fell along ideological lines.
relatedly I think Israel is central to understanding the destabilisation of the Middle East these past 60+ years (which *was a conventional widsom, but has gone out of fashion)

96

Ronan(rf) 09.07.13 at 12:47 am

..thats not to try and show causation, (the Soviets encouraged Cubans encouraged US)but to show dynamics (they all encouraged eachother, for want of better phrasing)

97

Phil 09.07.13 at 8:42 am

My view is Cuba *did* attempt to export its revolution, and the Soviets *did* support them in this, and this *did* cause a serious US backlash

My view is that the Bolivian debacle is more typical than not of Cuban efforts to export the revolution to South America, and that the USSR saw revolutionary Cuba as a bit of a loose cannon and gave them very little support in these efforts (they were much more on board with ‘solidarity’ efforts in Africa a few years later). The State Department saw Cuban Communists everywhere, but when didn’t they? The Sandinistas had roots in liberation theology and Maoism (and in any case had massive popular support), and the coalition behind the Salvadorean FMLN was even more heterogeneous (and even more broadly supported). There was nothing even slightly Communist about Jacobo Arbenz, and he’d already been kicked out before the Cuban revolution. Come to that, who do you think had been keeping Batista in power?

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Ronan(rf) 09.07.13 at 11:15 am

Ok, thanks Phil. Im more than likely misinterpreting her book (position) in a lot of ways and drawing bad analogies (I dont know the history at all)

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Ronan(rf) 09.07.13 at 4:39 pm

Decent podcast on Sykes-Picot and whether the borders drawn by it are falling apart

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/radio4/analysis/analysis_20130701-2100a.mp3

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Andrew F. 09.07.13 at 5:54 pm

Barry @83: (1) The Egyptian government is illegitimate, and the US has both the legal and moral obligation to act accordingly.

We could run foreign policy using simple decision rules like that. If Government X is illegitimate, then do p.

We’ve decided to consider the consequences of doing p as well though. That Government X is illegitimate doesn’t mean we will, or should, do p, unless the consequences are acceptable or desirable. So I don’t view cutting off aid to the GOE as a clear cut decision.

JQ @73: The problem is that the US is in particularly weak position to make this case, having tolerated Saddam’s use of chemical weapons in the 1980s, then used bogus claims about the continued existence of those weapons as a pretext for the 2003 war.

If you want a global norm against CW use, and that norm will likely require military and economic consequences to be effective, then you need the United States to be in a position to advocate for that norm and to enforce that norm.

And if you think that the US has been weak on the norm to this point, then you really want the US to change its tune, and to do so loudly and obviously.

The same reasoning applies if you simply want the Syrian regime to refrain from using CW. You need the US to do so, and if the US has been weak on this thus far, then you need the US to clearly change its approach.

I agree that US mistakes on Iraqi WMD hurt its credibility on the subject. However, the US is hardly alone in its assessment of Syrian responsibility for this attack, and the evidence is considerably stronger than it was for the existence of WMD programs under Hussein in 2003. Is there really much question at this point on that issue, leaving aside obviously political stances, such as Russia’s?

Personally, I remain unpersuaded of the wisdom of the US undertaking a military mission into Syria for this purpose. I’m also unpersuaded that the US shouldn’t. I don’t have enough information about what deterrence would look like here, and what the impact would be upon the Syrian civil war (about which I also lack sufficient information).

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ajay 09.09.13 at 8:57 am

Decent podcast on Sykes-Picot and whether the borders drawn by it are falling apart

The borders drawn by Sykes-Picot really look nothing like the modern Middle East. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sykes%E2%80%93Picot_Agreement

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Ronan(rf) 09.09.13 at 10:18 am

Yeah perhaps I should have been clearer, the borders drawn *in the context* of Sykes Picot. (ie in the context of the French/British division of the Middle East, the mandate system that evolved out of that, and then the subsequesnt changes that were made as a result of (1) tension between the powers in the region (2) independaace movements – I know the borders dont look *literally* as Sykes -Picot laid out, but I should have been clearer)
Or am I missing something (genuinely) I’ve no expertise on it, but is that a generally reasonable argument? (leaving aside the vagueness of my original comment)

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Ronan(rf) 09.09.13 at 10:45 am

btw, Im not really adopting a position on whether those borders are ‘falling apart’ (my instincts would have been that seems a little hyperbolic) so much as just linking to something. Gerges and Cockburn are generally quite insightful and careful (imo) so just thought it was a relatively interesting podcast. Im also not attributing any significant causal weight to how those borders were drawn and subsequesnt tension in the region (which is above my paygrade) But Im open to arguments either way

104

ajay 09.09.13 at 11:01 am

Yes, slight nitpick sorry.
Actually what is interesting is how little the borders have changed so far – outside Israel-Palestine, the unification of Yemen and the secession of South Sudan, the map of the Middle East from the 1930s looks very similar to the map today. You’ve got Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Oman, Iraq and so on, all pretty much where they are now.
That’s not true of, say, Europe or Eurasia or south and south-east Asia.

105

Hector_St_Clare 09.09.13 at 12:00 pm

Ronan,

You’re right that there was a regional civil war, and that it eventually fell out mostly on ideological lines, with Cuba supporting the left wing forced and America the right. although the civil conflicts started long before 1959, and there were some interesting cases which can’t be easily classified as ‘pro-Cuban’ or ‘pro-American’. (the left-wing military rulers of Peru from 1968-1975 come to mind, who are more or less the direct inspiration for Hugo Chavez and now Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. Velasco clearly wasn’t a communist, and in fact spent some time making war on communists, but he equally clearly was on the left, and opposed to the United States).

My point was a more modest one, that the *scale* of Cuban intervention was much less significant than American. Most of the domestic left wing insurrections would probably have happened without Cuban support (though perhaps inspired by the Cuban example). if *neither* Cuba nor America had materially intervened at all, there would probably have been more left wing governments and fewer right wing ones).

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Ronan(rf) 09.09.13 at 12:44 pm

Thanks Hector. Yeah I think thats more what I was trying to get at, though it was poorly phrased on my part and over emphasised the Cuban revolutions role (also didnt mean to underplay the United States behaviour in the region)

107

Ronan(rf) 09.09.13 at 12:48 pm

..or at least, I think that was the argument I was trying to remember (more or less)

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AJ 09.11.13 at 5:43 am

> But, I admit, it’s a straightforward post making an obvious point with no clever
> insights, so maybe it’s inevitable that the discussion will be troll-driven.
I don’t think clever insights are necessary. What is needed is demonstration of a good understanding of the situation. Perhaps, if you could point to a piece in a more journalistic vein, that would be helpful. (Easy for me to say given my cloak of anonymity. I hated it when commenters asked me for stuff like that – too much work it adds up to)

Becker and Posner, two economists I admire, have both come out against Syria. The main issue is that the United States simply doesn’t have the institutional capability – either in terms of good organizations or in terms of diplomatic ties – to do much good in Syria. They screwed up Afghanistan spending a lot more money than they should have – a region where other countries such as Russia succeeded.

The End of American Influence has been predicted by many commentators. Bad Delong talked about it. Well, the news is in. We are already living in the post-“Influence” world. Other countries are simply not willing to let America get their way every time. If anything, they are manipulating things away from America just to show them up.

The more the U.S officials talk about the situation, the more they reveal their lack of influence and lack of adroitness. The United States simply lacks the ability to do any good in Syria – no matter what Barack Obama may say.

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AJ 09.11.13 at 12:49 pm

Please see Omar Ali’s piece in “Three Quarks Daily”:
http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2013/09/syria-the-case-for-inaction-or-action.html

I shamelessly stole the best bits for my comment.

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