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Thread: Syria: a civil war (closed)

  1. #421
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Throats cut, diplomacy fails, civil war gallops closer

    The events in Houla have brought Syria back to the fore and there has been much talk about this incident being a "tipping point".

    What happened in Houla? A very short version:
    Friday's massacre of 108 people - including 49 children and 34 women - in the Houla area of Homs province. Witnesses have told the UN the vast majority of killings were committed by pro-government shabiha militiamen.
    The militia allegedly coming from adjacent Alawite villages.

    Link for summary:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18260992 and link for more details:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18233934

    The UN's efforts aside, with the Arab League, appear to be worthless and R2P is having a battering - as listened to on a BBC radio programme this week.

    The comments on a "tipping point" obscure the fact that such points are rarely recognised at the time.

    William Shawcross in 'Deliver us from Evil, a history of UN peacekeeping' wrote:
    Reconciliation is much favoured in today’s peacekeeping efforts, but sometimes the desire for it is unrealistic...Today we demand instant reconciliation. The examples of Bosnia, Rwanda and Kosovo show that often that just cannot happen.
    Cited in a long comment:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worl...-in-sight.html

    Finally methinks the thread's title needs changing - Civil War has arrived or is close?
    davidbfpo

  2. #422
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Embedded with the FSA

    Hat tip to Enduring America for locating this report on the Vice website 'My Four Days of Madness with the FSA':http://www.vice.com/read/behind-enem...Contentpage=-1

    Moderator's Note: On 5th June 2012 this thread's title was changed from 'Uprising in Syria now?' to 'Syria: a civil war'.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 06-05-2012 at 04:50 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    Hat tip to Enduring America for locating this report on the Vice website 'My Four Days of Madness with the FSA':http://www.vice.com/read/behind-enem...Contentpage=-1

    Moderator's Note: On 5th June 2012 this thread's title was changed from 'Uprising in Syria now?' to 'Syria: a civil war'.
    I don't know about this name change as it kind of indicates that the problem lies within Syria itself when we know that the situation has been allowed to deteriorate due to the inability of Europe to flex any muscle and the sheer gutlessness once again of the US to chance a face off with Russia and China. Once more we have a case study of inept foreign policy from North American and European countries.

  4. #424
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    JMA,

    Point taken, but I do feel that the key players in Syria are Syrians. They are the actors, everyone else is a reactor.

    Now a few reflections.

    I had missed that the original location of the street protests were in places known for their loyalty to the regime, what was the regime's reaction? Brutality, with arrests in Deraa, prisoners who were tortured and threats made to their families. Observers consider that 2m have been displaced inside Syria, with the UN saying 200k are refugees and others 450-500k. Given the regime's brutality one can only imagine what the families of the 70k detained feel (far greater scale than in Iran's Green Protest), let alone an estimated 35k who are missing.

    Syria faces a protracted struggle. A civil war that currently sees the armed opposition in a defensive mode and the regime having enough troops, including a large number of retained conscripts and called-up reservists alongside a force of dedicated loyalists estimated at 75k, for "fire-fighting" or mobile oppression.

    One well-informed observer considers that the opposition has 20% of the population in support and the vast majority are 'sitting on the fence". Syria is an urban country, with a few large cities. That is why watchers considered the street protests in Aleppo recently were significant and the regime's determination to stifle any dissent in Damascus.

    For reasons maybe lost on most here there is a strong regional belief in conspiracy, not cock-up, as an explanation for what is happening; even when it is simple they look for a conspiracy.

    Perhaps some of this belief lies in demography? Over half the population are aged 15-29yrs and 3.2% over 65yrs; quite different from Western Europe.

    Additionally there is the promise of the 'Arab Spring', a regional Arab search for legitimacy in government and in Syria especially a demand to have a real democracy and human rights.
    davidbfpo

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    Jamestown Foundation, 1 June 2012: Syrian Tribal Networks and their Implications for the Syrian Uprising
    Sunni Arab tribalism has a significant socio-cultural, political, and security impact on the current uprising in Syria, with strong implications for post-Assad governance formation. Tribalism has fueled unrest throughout Syria, including in places such as Dera’a, where mass opposition demonstrations began on March 15, 2011, in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on the Euphrates River, and in the suburbs of Homs and Damascus, where some of the fiercest combat between the Syrian military and armed opposition groups has occurred. Millions of rural and urban Syrians express an active tribal identity and tribal affiliation is used extensively to mobilize the political and armed opposition against the Assad government as well as to organize paramilitary forces in support of the Syrian regime. Both the Syrian opposition and the Assad government recognize the political importance of the tribal networks that cross Syria and extend into neighboring countries. As a result, the support of Syria’s tribes is a strategic goal for both the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition.....

  6. #426
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Just say no

    The respected academic commentator, Joshua Landis, has a FP column today under the title 'Stay Out of Syria: Foreign intervention to topple Bashar al-Assad's bloody regime risks a fiasco on par with Iraq and Afghanistan':http://www.foreignpolicy.com/article...yria?page=full

    He ends with:
    The United States can play a role with aid, arms, and intelligence -- but it cannot and should not try to decide Syria's future and determine the victors of this conflict. If Syrians want to own Syria in the future, they must take charge of their revolution and figure out how to win it. It is better for Syria, and it is better for America.
    AM today the BBC Radio had John McCain advocating intervention, yes there is a clear moral case, but I concluded then 'Just say no' and this article confirms that judgement.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Uboat509's Avatar
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    That is a great find, davidbfpo. I was looking at some photos from the Houla massacre earlier. When one sees children that have been murdered that way it provokes a visceral reaction (in me anyway), but raw emotions have no place in geopolitical decision-making. Decisions like these have to be made rationally. Even if you are inclined to believe that the US should take more of a role in policing the world Mr. Landis makes some salient points about how much good the US could actually do over there, and what it is likely to cost.

    When we hear about, or especially when we see pictures of, dead children it is natural to want to do something about it. The problem is that for some the go to reaction is to call for military intervention. We do have the most powerful military in the world, bar none. Removing Al-Assad would probably be fairly easy but, as Mr Landis points out, that is not the problem, it is the aftermath. It was the aftermath of both Iraq and Afghanistan that created so much pain for us and I have seen no compelling reason to believe that the aftermath of any intervention in Syria would be any less painful. Loyalists of the current government will almost certainly form an insurgent movement once Al-Assad is removed. This will be especially true if Al-Assad manages to escape being killed or captured. This could be exacerbated by the lack of a coherent opposition which means that a post revolution government might not have control of a significant portion of the militias that remain after the war. Some of these militias are going to want to take revenge against minorities who they believed were loyal to Al-Assad. At least some of these minorities will feel compelled to join the insurgency just for self-preservation (as happened in Iraq, particularly among the Shia) thus strengthening the insurgency.

    Western intervention would speed the overthrow of the Al-Assad regime but might very well strengthen any insurgency as loyalist forces are rapidly overwhelmed and opposition forces find themselves in control of the state before they can consolidate control over their own forces. Paradoxically, a slower overthrow of the government (i.e. without direct Western intervention) may actually weaken any insurgency that forms as loyalists have time to defect (which they will as money dries up and popular unrest increases) and other minorities are given the opportunity to prove that they are not especially loyal to Al-Assad. Diehard loyalists may also be more inclined to stand and fight against a homegrown revolution than they would be against the overwhelming military might of a Western power. That is preferable to them joining an insurgent movement.
    “Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.”

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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    The respected academic commentator, Joshua Landis, has a FP column today under the title 'Stay Out of Syria: Foreign intervention to topple Bashar al-Assad's bloody regime risks a fiasco on par with Iraq and Afghanistan':http://www.foreignpolicy.com/article...yria?page=full
    David maybe you can help decipher this Landis 'doublespeak'?

    He said (as you quoted):

    "The United States can play a role with aid, arms, and intelligence -- but it cannot and should not try to decide Syria's future and determine the victors of this conflict."

    How does the Landis man produce a thought pattern where aiding, arming and providing intel to one side does not 'try to decide Syria's future'?

    AM today the BBC Radio had John McCain advocating intervention, yes there is a clear moral case, but I concluded then 'Just say no' and this article confirms that judgement.
    David the Landis article confirms nothing other than the US and European approach has been frozen in indecision and in fear of a face with Russia and China. Now (in the style of the classic coward) they can now wring their hands and claim that the situation is too advanced/complex/etc risk a physical involvement in Syria. This while their incompetence and failure to act decisively in the early stages has led to the current situation.

  9. #429
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Q&a

    David maybe you can help decipher this Landis 'doublespeak'?

    Q. He said (as you quoted):
    The United States can play a role with aid, arms, and intelligence -- but it cannot and should not try to decide Syria's future and determine the victors of this conflict
    A. There is an assumption by those advocating a direct, military intervention it is in short a "fix", Landis disagrees and this sentence meets the demands of the "do something" school, with a minimum level of support for the opposition. That alone will not be decisive.

    Q. How does the Landis man produce a thought pattern where aiding, arming and providing intel to one side does not 'try to decide Syria's future'?

    A. The USA, Landis's primary if not sole audience, all too often sees issues as starkly black and white. It believes - at the start - it can decide.
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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    David maybe you can help decipher this Landis 'doublespeak'?

    Q. He said (as you quoted):

    A. There is an assumption by those advocating a direct, military intervention it is in short a "fix", Landis disagrees and this sentence meets the demands of the "do something" school, with a minimum level of support for the opposition. That alone will not be decisive.

    Q. How does the Landis man produce a thought pattern where aiding, arming and providing intel to one side does not 'try to decide Syria's future'?

    A. The USA, Landis's primary if not sole audience, all too often sees issues as starkly black and white. It believes - at the start - it can decide.
    Not seen as you do. I think Landis is unable to connect the dots that by supplying one side (or a favoured faction) with aid, arms and intel it can and will play a role in deciding Syria's future.

    Is Landis stupid? I don't think so more like he is a non-interventionist to the point that he is reduced to making incoherent comment... like the following:

    Anyone who believes that Syria will avoid the excesses of Iraq -- where the military, government ministries, and Baath Party were dissolved and criminalized -- is dreaming

    and

    If anyone tells you they are going to build democracy in Syria, don't buy it.

    and

    The argument that the United States could have avoided radicalization and civil war in Iraq by toppling Saddam Hussein in 1991 is unconvincing.
    Landis writes like a journalist (at least in this article) and by no stretch of the imagination can be called a 'respected academic commentator' and this quoted article is an insult to the intelligence of the reader.
    Last edited by JMA; 06-09-2012 at 10:22 AM.

  11. #431
    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    David the Landis article confirms nothing other than the US and European approach has been frozen in indecision and in fear of a face with Russia and China.
    I doubt that fear of Russia is much a factor, and China isn't even remotely in the picture. The fear is of getting sucked into another interminable "nation building" mess. On the American political side there's also substantial fear of an upcoming election and an electorate that's in no mood to put up with another overseas adventure.

    I'm not sure "frozen in indecision" makes it either. The decision not to commit military force was made early on and remains in place. How is that indecisive?

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Now (in the style of the classic coward) they can now wring their hands and claim that the situation is too advanced/complex/etc risk a physical involvement in Syria. This while their incompetence and failure to act decisively in the early stages has led to the current situation.
    When did it ever make sense for countries to push into other countries' business at the first sign of trouble? Is staying out of other people's fights cowardice or common sense? Is any critical interest involved for the US or any other potential intervening party that would justify "physical involvement"?

    It's far from evident that any course of action available "in the early stages" would have achieved anything but civil war, even if it had been a politically viable option, which for the US it was not.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
    I doubt that fear of Russia is much a factor, and China isn't even remotely in the picture. The fear is of getting sucked into another interminable "nation building" mess. On the American political side there's also substantial fear of an upcoming election and an electorate that's in no mood to put up with another overseas adventure.

    I'm not sure "frozen in indecision" makes it either. The decision not to commit military force was made early on and remains in place. How is that indecisive?

    When did it ever make sense for countries to push into other countries' business at the first sign of trouble? Is staying out of other people's fights cowardice or common sense? Is any critical interest involved for the US or any other potential intervening party that would justify "physical involvement"?

    It's far from evident that any course of action available "in the early stages" would have achieved anything but civil war, even if it had been a politically viable option, which for the US it was not.
    You again?

    Look stick to your back and forth with Ray (he seems to be enjoying the game)... I'm not going to take the bait.

    As a parting shot ... there are always a basket of options for just about every situation and the earlier you exercise those options the more likely the possibility that a civil war can be avoided. Most people know and understand this.

    Now is there any 'smart guy' out there able to explain why a civil war in any country should be avoided at all costs (certainly not stoked by providing one side or tuther with the weapons of war)?
    Last edited by JMA; 06-09-2012 at 02:13 PM.

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    JMA asked:
    explain why a civil war in any country should be avoided at all costs?
    The first people to avoid a civil war are those who live within the boundaries of the nation-state. I expect we all know civil wars are rarely a "clean fight" and short.

    It is not pre-ordained that neighbours and those beyond should intervene.

    Syria I think is now a civil war, although the ratio of regime supporters, opponents, "fence-sitters" and others are not clear. I have yet to read anything that states external support for the fighting opponents will be decisive. History I would contend is replete with examples of external actors being sucked in, who discover with :boots on the ground" that it is a quagmire.
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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    JMA asked:

    The first people to avoid a civil war are those who live within the boundaries of the nation-state. I expect we all know civil wars are rarely a "clean fight" and short.

    It is not pre-ordained that neighbours and those beyond should intervene.
    Yes but... it is all about the future. It takes generations for a nation to get over a civil war. Outsiders who have a stake in stability of the country/area/region would have a (purely selfish) national interest (ignoring any humanitarian concerns for the moment) to keep the peace.

    Physical military intervention only becomes a final last option when all other options have failed or (as in the case of Syria) not even been attempted. So that leaves the US (due to political dithering) and Europe (due to a lack of influence) sitting on their hands and sucking their teeth.

    Syria I think is now a civil war, although the ratio of regime supporters, opponents, "fence-sitters" and others are not clear. I have yet to read anything that states external support for the fighting opponents will be decisive. History I would contend is replete with examples of external actors being sucked in, who discover with :boots on the ground" that it is a quagmire.
    Yes it is probably too late to save the situation... which reflects on an earlier political failure. Pathetic.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    You again?
    Why not? Last I looked it was a public forum...

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    As a parting shot ... there are always a basket of options for just about every situation and the earlier you exercise those options the more likely the possibility that a civil war can be avoided. Most people know and understand this.
    Of course there are always a basket of options, I never said otherwise. Some are politically viable (assuming the nations assessing their options are in some degree democratic), some are not. Some have a reasonable chance of a desirable outcome, some do not. In this case the decision from the US was to avoid any military involvement. That's not dithering or indecisiveness: they made a decision and stuck with it. That may or may not have been the best decision for Syria, but making the best decision for Syria is not the responsibility of the US Government.

    If you think some other decision should have been made and some other course of action taken, please tell us what you think should have been done and what you think it would have accomplished.

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Yes but... it is all about the future. It takes generations for a nation to get over a civil war. Outsiders who have a stake in stability of the country/area/region would have a (purely selfish) national interest (ignoring any humanitarian concerns for the moment) to keep the peace.
    That would depend on the importance of the perceived stake and the assessment of probable costs (including political cost) and probability of success for any proposed effort to prevent the civil war. In this case that assessment did not come up on the side of intervention. I've seen no convincing argument that this was the wrong decision. If the national interest involved is less than compelling, the cost of the proposed intervention is likely to be high, and the probability of success is low, it makes sense not to get involved.

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Physical military intervention only becomes a final last option when all other options have failed or (as in the case of Syria) not even been attempted. So that leaves the US (due to political dithering) and Europe (due to a lack of influence) sitting on their hands and sucking their teeth....

    Yes it is probably too late to save the situation... which reflects on an earlier political failure. Pathetic.
    Failure to do what? What was the option that wasn't attempted? It's easy to bluster about how everyone who could have intervened (in practical terms, the US) is incompetent and cowardly and pathetic and indecisive etc, but if you can't say what should have been done and demonstrate why you think it would have made matters better, all the bluster really doesn't mean much.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    This situation and others disproves the completely unfounded idea that because the U.S. has a standing Army it is prone to rapidly get involved in other people's fights.

    I think most realize there are no good options, so if we follow the rule, first do no harm, sitting on the side lines for a while does appear to be the best option. Intervening sooner will not prevent what has already started.

    It is clear that Russia, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, and a host of other nations all have interests in this conflict that are not humanitarian, so to imply that if we simply provide arms and other forms of aid to the opposition that this will lead to anything other than an uncontrolled escalation is delusional. If those calling for the U.S. to intervene are doing so for humanitarian purposes, IMO they are misguided, because that type of support will simply result in more bloodshed to real end.

    If we intervene at all, I think it best to wait until the picture is clearer and there is a clear military objective. Please stop fighting doesn't qualify.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    This situation and others disproves the completely unfounded idea that because the U.S. has a standing Army it is prone to rapidly get involved in other people's fights.
    I think there is a tendency to intervene, and also a tendency to not intervene. These tendencies exist in constant opposition to each other, and we often oscillate between them. After a period of intervention we extricate and swear we won't do that again. Time goes by, we forget, we convince ourselves that this time will be different, and we do it again. Then we repeat the process. One of the reasons intervention in Syria was from the start unlikely is that the Syria situation emerged after a series of previous interventions, at a point when the nation was moving back into it's non-intervention mode.

    My own feeling is that pushing into other people's fights is inherently a messy business best avoided in the absence of some compelling national interest. JMA seems to feel (I trust him to correct me if I'm wrong) that pushing into other people's fights doesn't have to be messy if only you do it right. I'm still not quite sure what would constitute doing it right, what action would be "right" and what the expected response to that action would be, but maybe he'll tell us. It seems to be largely a matter of early involvement, which of course raises the issue of political viability: jumping into other people's quarrels as soon as they emerge isn't likely to be popular, and I've some doubt as well over it's efficacy.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    This situation and others disproves the completely unfounded idea that because the U.S. has a standing Army it is prone to rapidly get involved in other people's fights.
    Bill, with respect, you demean yourself and the US military when you go out on a limb making excuses for the ineptitude of US foreign policy and the incompetence of US politicians in this respect (almost to a man - and Hilary).

    Strutting arrogantly upon the world stage like the world leader (the US should be) then proving to be diplomatically and militarily unable to achieve almost anything without turning even the most simple efforts into a monumental cock-up. Then after the cock-up to claim that it doesn't matter about the outcome as it was never in the 'national interests' of the US anyway.

    Now if only USians could agree on what constitutes their national interests' and their narcissistic political leadership (and in some cases also their military leadership) could resist the need to be in the media spotlight the world would be better off.

    Wouldn't it be nice to hear from the US President (for a change) that the situation (whatever) in country X (whichever) is of no concern of the US people and as such will observe neutrality (on the Swiss model) and immediately pass legislation to prevent any US individuals and/or organisations from involving themselves directly or indirectly in the affairs of that country.

    Not going to happen... US politicians just cant help themselves.
    Last edited by JMA; 06-10-2012 at 07:51 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
    Why not? Last I looked it was a public forum...
    I don't engage with you because you don't engage with individuals but rather play to the gallery and I don't intend to allow myself to be used in that manner.

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    Posted by JMA,

    Strutting arrogantly upon the world stage like the world leader (the US should be) then proving to be diplomatically and militarily unable to achieve almost anything without turning even the most simple efforts into a monumental cock-up. Then after the cock-up to claim that it doesn't matter about the outcome as it was never in the 'national interests' of the US anyway.

    Now if only USians could agree on what constitutes their national interests' and their narcissistic political leadership (and in some cases also their military leadership) could resist the need to be in the media spotlight the world would be better off.

    Wouldn't it be nice to hear from the US President (for a change) that the situation (whatever) in country X (whichever) is of no concern of the US people and as such will observe neutrality (on the Swiss model) and immediately pass legislation to prevent any US individuals and/or organisations from involving themselves directly or indirectly in the affairs of that country.
    Overall I don't disagree with your assessment, and what I find interesting, but not surprising, is that non-USians are frustrated with our half-in, half-out approach while pretending to lead. We realize many nations are waiting for the U.S. to provide leadership, and we are providing mostly mixed messages, so point taken.

    Many in our military are equally frustrated with our foreign policies that are built on constantly shifting sands. While the Powell Doctrine may be too demanding, IMO the U.S. leaders need to state clearly what the military objectives are before committing uniformed forces to the fight. We actually did quite well in Afghanistan and Iraq in achieving our initial objectives (it was a policy decision not to follow AQ into Pakistan). Then came the policy objectives to build model democracies, which we didn't have the means or know how to do, but it was a cool idea, an idealist idea, but it these unrealistic, idealistic goals that lead to
    a monumental cock-up
    . Sadly I'm still a closet idealist, but I realize we can't force them upon others unless we use the same tactics others have such as the communists and fascists. We can remove pockets of evil that prohibit the natural evolution of a soceity, but after that all we can effectively do is provide assistance and advice. Still need to flush these ideas out, but they're a combination of realpolitik and a little bit more. We have to keep the "little bit more" to frustrate our foreign partners

    Posted by Dayuhan,

    I think there is a tendency to intervene, and also a tendency to not intervene. These tendencies exist in constant opposition to each other, and we often oscillate between them. After a period of intervention we extricate and swear we won't do that again. Time goes by, we forget, we convince ourselves that this time will be different, and we do it again.
    I'll meet you half way on this, but I think if you look at our history of intervention we have continued to intervene fairly regularly even after undesirable interventions. Post Vietnam we intervened in Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Somalia, etc. However, we didn't intervene in a number of other troubled spots in the world. Bob's World asserted we intervene because we have a standing Army, and if we didn't have one we would be much more deliberate in our decision making process, because Congress would have to call up the reserves. I'm sure that is true to an extent, but to assert we intervene just because we can is false, and this proposal directly opposes our Defense Strategic Guidance to maintain global leadership (which JMA pointed to indirectly).

    JMA seems to feel (I trust him to correct me if I'm wrong) that pushing into other people's fights doesn't have to be messy if only you do it right.
    I think JMA is right to a point, the military can achieve clear military objectives, it is the rest of our system that is broken. The military, was effective in achieving its objectives in Grenada (despite the high level of incompetence that eventually contributed the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act), it was effective in Panama, Desert Storm, and a few other situations post WWII. When objectives are clear and achievable we do well, when we decide to intervene in situations that are not clear like Lebanon (not unlike Syria now) we tend to put troops in harm's way with vague goals and high expectations that often lead to great disappointment.

    I realize there will always be those situations that are vague, but we need to think twice, three or more times before leaping.

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