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New World, Not Ordered

The stories out of Syria are utterly heartbreaking.  The government of Bashar al-Assad has been shelling civilians indiscriminately in what can only be a desperate act to maintain control.  Brutality has worked for the regime in the past, but this has taken it to a new level.  It has become a civil war, with Arab nations openly arming the Syrian National Council that is likely to be recognized as the legitimate government by an international panel.

We do not know much about what is happening in Syria because the news blackout has been very effective.  What we do know is that outside of that nation things may be hardening rapidly.  This highlights the limits of what the USofA can do in a world of revolution – and also the great opportunities if we change how we do things.

The situation is a bit puzzling to most Americans because we are used to simply imposing our way on nations like Syria.  A few cruise missiles, a bombing run here and there, and soon we have a different situation.  That will not work in Syria for the same reasons we knew it would not work in Libya.  Strong action by our military will only hurt the reputation of the rebels in the long run – they have to have the commitment from other Arab states in a leadership role.  Then an international military operation might possibly start.

This is important because it highlights what we get by spending around $700 Billion every year on Defense, roughly 43% of global military spending.  We can push buttons and make things blow up hundreds of miles away, but without the commitment of the rest of the world we might only make things worse.  For far too long our very capable men and women in uniform have been asked to do things that were better left to diplomats and politicians unwilling to do their jobs.

That’s the problem with a strong military – you tend to use it, even when you shouldn’t.

Syria itself is far more than heartbreak, however.  Its longtime alliance with Iran is being strengthened and highlighted.  Once Syria breaks, Iran will be utterly alone and will have shown its hand as a dangerous force in support of despotism and disaster.  Arab states’ action against Syria is probably just a prelude to what they will feel compelled to do against Iran.  And there is considerable pressure mounting in Iran that, like Syria, is not well reported to the world.

The role of Russia ibacking al-Assad could prove to be the next domino after that, but it will take far more than embarrassment in Syria to topple Putin.  But he has his own problems.

Over the short run, we will have higher oil prices.  This situation will not be resolved quickly if it is to be resolved well, and that will cost us.  This cost is relatively unimportant, even as our economy struggles to gain momentum.  It is much harder on the people of Syria, who need relief immediately.  It may be coming soon because the world appears to have had enough.

If Syria does fall and pressure is increased on Iran for either democratic reforms or open rebellion, most of our need for a strong military deployed in forward bases around the world is greatly diminished.  We cannot go on a cutting binge now, but we may have tremendous opportunities in the near future if we do this properly.   The price of gasoline right now is an utterly trivial thing compared to the stakes for us if we have the patience to do this properly.  I think we can expect the press and the Republicans to whine relentlessly about it, however, so it will take some guts to stay the course.  A little directness and honesty from the administration asking us to be patient would be very useful.

However this plays out, we can be sure that a brutal dictatorship has been laid bare and will at least never have the influence it once had.  Their ability to cause mayhem with terror groups and proxies fighting Israel will never again be what it was.  Hopefully, they will cease to exist completely and there will be a real chance for peace in that part of the world.  But as heartbreaking as it is to watch, our role is to support, not force, the revolution that will change everything.  We’re not used to doing things this way, but there is a good chance that we won’t need anywhere near the force we’ve had if it is done well.

Bless you, people of Syria.  You have struggled for so long.

23 thoughts on “New World, Not Ordered

  1. Thank you for writing this post. I think you need to flesh it out a little more and am looking forward to similar articles.

    • Thanks. There are a lot of links that have more information – al Jezeera has been on this like no one in the West, possibly because they have more people in there. I really don’t have much to add to them at this point, but I’m thinking this one through as we get more info.

  2. “our very capable men and women in uniform have been asked to do things that were better left to diplomats and politicians unwilling to do their jobs.”
    There is at least one piece of gold in every blog you write. This is great.

  3. Hasn’t this been going on for a long time? I feel like there has been a lot of reporting on it lately though. Did something change?
    I hope we can help the Syrians because this is horrible. How the leader of a nation can do this is unbelievable.

    • I think something did change because Western journalists seem to be getting in. That’s only been since this became more of a civil war, with some territory not well controlled by the government.
      I can’t imagine any leader, dictator or otherwise, shelling his own people like this either. This is way beyond anything we’ve seen in a long time, short of Saddam Hussein.

  4. Sorry if I was a bit terse. I only recently became aware of the great water riches in Libya. A desert country now with plentiful irrigation, water for urban areas, and agriculture.

    • I really don’t know much about Libya! Syria has a rich history with quite a bit of water here and there, but I think it’s had a growing population that was badly outstripping what they have. I’m trying to get up to speed on this situation quickly because I really don’t know a lot, other than old history, but I do know that this has the potential to change just about everything. And it’s a horror that no one has been able to stop so far.

  5. Excellent blog as always. This got a lot hotter recently so more background is always good. Sounds like a very bad situation but I hope we do not go it alone no matter how bad it gets.

  6. George W. Bush said in 2002 that Iran, Iraq, and North Korea constituted an axis of evil. No weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but 2 out 3 ain’t bad.

    The US is an empire and imperialistic, but we also help Muslims: Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq 1, Afghanistan, Iraq 2, and Libya. The US went to those nations to help them, help free them. They weren’t perfect interventions but our politicians did the right thing. In Libya the young people had studied the revolutions of the past; their time had come.

    Under Gen. MacArthur’s initial leadership we helped ensure a free South Korea. They are free and propsperous. North Korea is imprisoned in its own mind starves.

    After WW2 in the Pacific Theater the Soviets wanted a sector in Japan. MacArthur stood up for freedom and wouldn’t allow that. He understood that Soviet communism was not a forward thinking philosophy. Japan is free and prosperous. The United States was in Japan and Germany to help correct their thinking and give them organizational leadership so they wouldn’t be adrift after their defeat.

    I hope the US never leaves Afghanistan. We are there to help them, help free their minds. I want the US helping them as advisors.

    I don’t want a drawdown in military strength abroad. In WW2 we watched Japan rape Nanking and subjugate Manchuria. We watched as Britain fought bravely alone. We watched France fall. Even France hadn’t fallen there would have been no holocaust. Germany was getting it’s food from France. Sweden was neutral but secretly liked Hitler and gave Hitler high grade iron ore.

    In Vietnam the US lost because our troops were not allowed to roll into the North, surround Hanoi and crush their army and leadership.

    • I think we can do what we need to with far fewer troops and less forward deployment – IF something happens to take Syria and Iran out of the picture. At that point, the actual threat will not be obvious, so where would we deploy anyway?
      Our military will have to become smaller and more efficient, and this could make it all possible. Keep in mind that even if we slice our spending in half we’d still command the largest military in the world by far, spending 25% of global military expenses. And we’d save $350 Billion a year. Our economic security is by far our most critical strength and we cannot compromise it. Our expenses on military is pretty far out of line right now and a serious impediment to ever balancing the budget.
      But I’m OK with waiting until we let this play out. I’m happy that we’re not just sending in the Marines for once and really building coalitions to get things done. Libya was good, Syria could be next. After that, yes, North Korea has to come into play.
      But no, we should not withdraw from the world – just seek a better balance.

  7. What is happening in Syria is a crime but it is not really our problem. It is Assad’s doing. What is our problem is the rest of what Assad does particularly the ongoing war with Israel and support of terrorists. Taking him out one way or another would be a great blessing.

    • I won’t argue with you on what “Our problem” is, but if we are to support our allies in the region it does become something we can and should help with. But yes, the main point is that Assad has to go, and I think the world sees that. I would love an Israeli view of this, but what I’ve read so far has been pretty cagey as they don’t want to even appear to be involved.

  8. If Iran had less extensive ambitions in the middle east, I think you are right, less forward deployment would be needed. The only caution is that you never know what will happen in Pakistan. Saudi Arabia. There could be revolutions there, too. And if the new regimes are hostile to the US we would be less prepared. Pakistan and India should never have been nuclearized anyway given their relativeness poorness. India is probably stable but elements in Pakistan do not want a friendly relationship with the US, Europe and US interests.

    • Exactly. I would love cut Defense dramatically, but I realize that it’s dangerous right now. A foreign policy that builds coalitions against dictatorships and rids the world of the most onerous would get us to the point where we can do that without qualm. That has to be a goal, IMHO – and I think it is one internally.
      Iran has some bizarre internal pressure that are coming out in weird ways. There has been a crackdown by the hardliners – obviously, they thought they had to, but why? They also make the most noise about their nuclear program when they need a diversion, so we have that going on. I expect that there is a lot more fermenting below the surface in Iran than we know. They are acting up in strange ways. Assad’s likely downfall has to have ‘em spooked, too.
      India and Pakistan …. yeesh. Obama wants to really cozy up to India, which probably makes sense in the long term (esp. as a front against China) but what on earth can be done about Pakistan? I think I agree that some presence in Afghanistan is going to go on forever, but it would be nice to make it more UN or Arab League stewardship. If the Arab Spring revolts continue we should have more allies in the area – less reliable, democratic ones that are at least better capable of handling their own region.
      al Jezeera is probably the most important force for real change in the world right now, IMHO. They are just amazing.

  9. Yes, on the great impact of al Jazeera reporting, helping the middle east to see themselves.

    One thing to watch is the relationship between Turkey and Iran. Check out this article entitle, Turkey and Iran, amidst smiles rivalry intensifies.

    http://www.eurasianet.org/node/65040

    The article quotes a Turkish official:
    “At a February 5 meeting of the Justice and Development Party, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc delivered a blistering critique of Iran’s policy of support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad despite the Syrian government’s bloody crackdown on opposition strongholds.

    “I am addressing the Islamic Republic of Iran: I do not know if you are worthy of being called Islamic,” Arinc said, according to the Anatolia state news agency. “Have you said a single thing about what is happening in Syria?”

    Statements are like that are heroic in the sense that it is asserting that Iran is doing un-Islamic things. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan are all theories in action about what an Islamic state is. Turkey long ago decided it can be in tune with the west, that they didn’t have to challenge the west. In fact Turkey wants to be a part of the EU, but there are not enough forward thinkers in the EU to agree with that ,yet.

    • Great article, thanks. Turkey is more than a bit enigmatic – it’s totally unclear to anyone, including them, as to whether their future is more to the east or the west. Naturally, they are at the crossroads of the world and need to capitalize on that, but the tensions have been so strong that Turkey winds up more on the margins than the middle. That’s just sad.
      Turkey in the EU? If Greece keeps screwing up, arguments based on Cyprus for keeping Turkey out won’t have as much pull. We really do live in interesting times, eh? :-)
      This is all stuff I haven’t really thought out yet, so I’m as interested in people sending me good articles to read as anything else. Thanks!

  10. Secretary of State Clinton is absolutely heroic in this statement she makes on Syria. She makes a clear, cogent, and forceful statement.

    Go to 16:21 and she says she is “willing to go to the Security Council again and again and again” to get Russian and Chinese support for action. I’m proud she’s standing up for freedom.

    Here’s the transcript.
    http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2012/02/184635.htm

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