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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

 
Good reasons not to do stupid shit

by digby

Mark Lynch wrote a very illuminating piece in the Washington Post about whether or not the US should have armed the rebels in Syria and if it could have stopped the rise of ISIS and the current carnage in Iraq. He surveys what all the US players at the time were saying from Obama to Clinton to McCain, and even the more hawkish of them weren't very optimistic although they famously hoped for some "space" for the level heads in the country to iron out all those political, religious,cultural, economic and environmental problems that cause the conflict in the first place. Lynch points out that there was very good reason to be pessimistic --- the data shows this kind of intervention just does not work:

Would the United States providing more arms to the FSA have accomplished these goals? The academic literature is not encouraging. In general, external support for rebels almost always make wars longer, bloodier and harder to resolve (for more on this, see the proceedings of this Project on Middle East Political Science symposium in the free PDF download). Worse, as the University of Maryland’s David Cunningham has shown, Syria had most of the characteristics of the type of civil war in which external support for rebels is least effective. The University of Colorado’s Aysegul Aydin and Binghamton University’s Patrick Regan have suggested that external support for a rebel group could help when all the external powers backing a rebel group are on the same page and effectively cooperate in directing resources to a common end. Unfortunately, Syria was never that type of civil war.

Syria’s combination of a weak, fragmented collage of rebel organizations with a divided, competitive array of external sponsors was therefore the worst profile possible for effective external support. Clinton understands this. She effectively pinpoints the real problem when she notes that the rebels “were often armed in an indiscriminate way by other forces and we had no skin in the game that really enabled us to prevent this indiscriminate arming.” An effective strategy of arming the Syrian rebels would never have been easy, but to have any chance at all it would have required a unified approach by the rebels’ external backers, and a unified rebel organization to receive the aid. That would have meant staunching financial flows from its Gulf partners, or at least directing them in a coordinated fashion. Otherwise, U.S. aid to the FSA would be just another bucket of water in an ocean of cash and guns pouring into the conflict.

I know that it's terrible the United States could not save the day. It has been one of the most sickeningly violent civil wars in our lifetimes. But there is good reason to believe that one should be very reluctant to get involved lest you prolong the agony, which it's almost guaranteed that you will do.

Iraq is going to present us with many of the same questions. People will tell us that ISIS is a supernaturally evil group that must be stopped at all costs and that only the US military is capable of stopping them. That is the moment everyone should do a very deep gut check and contemplate exactly what that means. President Obama is reluctant to get the nation into the business of "keeping a lid" on these conflicts in the middle east. Maybe he's wrong about that. But if he is, it's important to understand that this means a very long-term commitment to troops, manpower and vast amounts of American taxpayer money.

There is plenty of time to think all that through. Right now, the US and others are trying to help the Yazidis and the Kurds. They've finally been putting pressure on the Iraqi government to get rid of Prime Minister Maliki and let go of some long standing baggage about what Iraq is supposed to look like. But there are a whole lot of people starting to hyperventilate about ISIS being as existential threat to American babies. There's no need for that. ISIS is very busy in Iraq and Syria right now --- I'd imagine that invading Tucson or Newark is down on their list of priorities. We can think this through and not let panic artists talk the nation into more war without end.

Obama is right to be cautious on this stuff. I would have thought that after the last decade everyone would be. Remember, it wasn't just Republicans that were gung ho about Iraq in the first place. A lot of Democrats were too. There's no guarantee that just because a Democrat is for it that it's the right decision. Over the past 5 decades, Democrats have made these mistakes just as often as Republicans. It's bipartisan hubris.

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