Sunday, June 9, 2013

Why is Libya Considered a Win in Obama-Land?

Paul Pillar's take on the elevations of Susan Rice and Samantha Power (inside whose head James Mann tries to crawl in this WaPo piece) raises a point that has dropped off Americans' collective radar: Why have we chalked up the Libya intervention as a win?

The notion that this intervention [which both Rice and Power supported] was wise appears to rest on the idea that the target was a dictator nobody particularly liked and that in the civil war that was then ongoing people were getting hurt, as is always the case in civil wars. The notion also rested on the myth, unsupported by evidence to this day, that Qadhafi was planning some sort of genocidal bloodbath in eastern Libya and that failure to intervene would mean Rwanda all over again. The dictator was swept aside with U.S. and Western help, at minimal material cost to the United States, and so the episode gets casually put in the win column.

The actual balance sheet on Libya is far more extensive than that. The disliked dictator had already, through an enforceable agreement with the United States and Britain, given up his unconventional weapons programs and gotten out of international terrorism. He was still a quixotically inconvenient and sometimes disagreeable cuss, but he was not a threat. What we have had since he was ousted is extremist-infested disorder in Libya that has given rise to a flow of arms to radicals in the Sahel and incidents like the fatal encounter at a U.S. compound in Benghazi. (If Rice were being nominated for a position requiring Senate confirmation, this is the aspect of the Benghazi incident she ought to be grilled about, not some manufactured silliness about talking points.) We also have sent a very unhelpful message to the likes of the Iranians and North Koreans and have perversely affected their motivations regarding the possibility of reaching their own agreements with the United States.


It is remarkable that the Libyan intervention is so often considered a success. Let us hope that in the future when lessons are drawn from this episode—by either advocates or opponents of some future intervention—they will be drawn carefully, rather than in the simplistic manner that seems to have become respectable even among presidential appointees.

Pillar's take on the silliness of the (mostly GOP) hazing of Rice, Hillary Clinton, etc., in the wake of the Benghazi "scandal" is spot-on, and dovetails well with this Daily Beast report about how the GOP's stance on modernity - and its unending, give-no-quarter hectoring of the Obama administration - are costing it its future with the young, educated College Republican types whose support it surely needs to keep.  When a new GOP governor of Mississippi blames working mothers for illiteracy, and a  GOP senator from  Georgia attributes the US military's rape problem to hormones, can you blame the CR's for seeing what supposedly is their party as the party of stupid?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Stephen Walt on Obama and NSA

Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy nails it:

This situation gives those in power an obvious incentive to inflate threats. When no significant dangers are apparent, they will conjure them up; when real dangers do emerge, they will blow them out of all proportion. And having assembled a vast clandestine intelligence apparatus to go trolling for threats in every conceivable location, they can quell skeptics with that familiar trump card: "Ah, but if you knew what I know, you'd agree with me."

Boy George and his crew played this to the hilt after 9-11.  It gave us the disaster that was (and truly still is) Iraq, the slow-motion defeat that is Afghanistan, and a blow to American credibility overseas that will likely not be repaired in our lifetimes.

We also hoped for better - indeed, were promised better - by the shiny-bright Mr. Obama in 2008.  Instead, he has proved himself to be largely cast in the same mold as Mr. Bush, if not cut from the same faux-rawhide.  And to embellish the "if you knew what I know" trope to which Walt refers, Obama played the "gee, when I'm done as president, everyone's gonna want to see my emails - but do you see me whining."


Afghan Soldier Kills 3 Americans - and They Won't Be the Last

As reported via NY Times.  ISAF spokesman says they expect more such attacks to come.  Constantly puts me in mind of John Kerry's famous statement to Congress during Vietnam War - about no one wanting to be the last soldier to die in a lost war.

And for any service vets or hyper-patriot chest-thumpers who might want to comment otherwise: yes, it is indeed a lost war. Sorry.

Qusair Means a Longer, Bloodier Road Ahead

Rami Khouri, spot-on as ever, makes it clear that the Assad regime's retaking of Qusair means that both Syria and Lebanon face an even longer, bloodier road ahead - if "ahead" is even an appropriate adverb in this context:

As Syria and its battles rekindle old tensions and create new ones, Hezbollah reflects the dramatic and dangerous new directions in which many Middle Eastern actors navigate through crumbling edifices of Euro-manufactured statehood, battle each other for survival, and cling to older, indigenous identities of sectarianism, ethnicity, tribalism and other sub-national configurations.

One day, they will all have to manage the hard task of rebuilding credible, secure and legitimate states. But that day is down the road.

Now is the time to fight, it seems, and Qusair was only a hint of the stupidity and waste that lies ahead.


Khouri also spotlights, however, that Assad was able to reclaim Qusair, and this apparent victory, only because Hezbollah came to his aid, in force, and because he had the military support of Iran and Russia as well as Russia running interference for him in the UN Security Council.  This suggests strongly that Assad's days are indeed numbered, but that the number of days just got higher.

All of which spells ever more death, devastation, and misery for the people of Syria . . . and, I should think, Lebanon.  There have already been strikes against Hezbollah targets in Beirut itself.  With Hezbollah so obviously sided with Assad, it now seems only a matter of time before Sunni-salafist militants, both regional and jihadist, turn their attention to Lebanon.  And, of course, they already have Iraq squarely in their crosshairs.

Mr. Obama, meanwhile, sits with his "Do Not Pass Go" card clenched in his fingers.  And although the ascension of Samantha Power to become the US rep at the  UN puts a striking - and strikingly R2P - face on the US presence there, she likely will amount to little more than window dressing for an administration that will speak eloquently of universal human rights and self-determination, but restrain itself to little more than jaw-jaw as the wider Middle East swirls the bowl.


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