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Hullabaloo


Monday, August 18, 2014

 
No more puppets

by digby

Here's a good piece on the "story we tell ourselves" from David F. Schmitz in Politico magazine:


It’s no secret that since World War II, from Vietnam to Iran to Nicaragua, the United States has played a role, overtly or covertly, in establishing many governments headed by handpicked rulers. The rationale usually has been based on oversimplified bipolar worldviews, outdated theories of modernization and a paternalistic racism. American policymakers, seeing non-Western Europeans as politically immature and particularly vulnerable to radical political ideas, believed that the United States needed to establish and support proper rulers who would help their countries establish Western economic institutions and practices that would allow for the development of more “mature” societies. Non-democratic methods and leaders became seen as necessary antidotes to radical political movements, social disorder and economic nationalism—even as the United States convinced itself that it was promoting the rise of liberal democracies. More often than not, these efforts have failed miserably.

There are a variety of reasons for this. While the United States has the power to overthrow governments and prop up leaders, it cannot install political legitimacy along with power. But that lesson is never learned in Washington, and previous failures are dismissed as stemming from their shortcomings or our lack of will.

We have quite a history of these misadventures post WWII now that show we just don't do this well. In fact, we are very bad at it and we usually make things worse. I suppose there's always the chance that we will develop the skills to do it better but considering the dysfunction in our own system I'm going to guess that's fairly unlikely. I get the impulse to "do something." But it should be resisted without a massive global effort and a clear set of objectives.

I've been with the President so far in Iraq. But any escalation in the midst of all this fear-mongering about ISIS simply must be met with skepticism. Our history shows that what is being said about the "threat" is what they always say. For instance, Lindsay Graham this week-end almost had a full blown nervous breakdown on Fox News over the president's unwillingness to go on TV and scream "runferyerlives!!!"

“I’m disappointed in the commander in chief for not addressing the threat that [ISIS] presents to the United States. Not leveling with the American people that the threat we face is not just in Iraq and Syria, but these people intend to attack us here at home and he has no strategy to deal with that.

That’s what the intelligence community is telling me and every other member of Congress,” he continued. “These people intend to hit us here.”

Ok. Let's assume that's true. But here's what the counter-terrorism officials are really saying, according to Michael Isikoff:

ISIL's conquest of vast swaths of Iraqi territory this spring and summer netted it a “significant” arsenal of U.S. weapons from two Iraqi military bases, including hundreds of tanks, heavily armored Humvees, assault rifles, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, officials say. One U.S official tells Yahoo News ISIL is now considered “the most potent military force” of any terrorist group in the world.

Ok, that's bad. But it's unlikely they'll be driving those US made tanks into the streets of New York any time soon. So we can probably relax about the "military" threat.

But what about the terrorist threat?

Led by its charismatic chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the radical Islamist group is looking beyond its short-term goal of overthrowing the Iraqi and Syrian governments and replacing them with a self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate. “We’re seeing an expansion of its external terrorist ambitions,” one U.S. counterterrorism official said in a briefing for reporters Thursday. “As its capabilities grow, it has attracted thousands of foreign extremists — some of whom are going home to start cells. As it carves out territory [in Iraq], it wants to go beyond that and do attacks outside. ” U.S. counterterrorism agencies had put the number of ISIL fighters at about 10,000, but that figure is now being reassessed and is likely to be raised, officials say.

That's it. They want to form a fundamentalist Islamic State in the middle east, which is bad, but it's not bad in the same way that invading New York is bad. They are growing and with that growth they may form terrorist cells somewhere who want to do attacks outside the middle east. And I'm sure that's true. That's how it's gone in the past. But as Steve Benen says, if President Obama were to go to the American people with all this, here's what he would say based on all that information:

By the way, ISIS terrorists want to kill Americans. There’s no imminent threat; we don’t have any actionable intelligence; and I’m not instructing the public to take any specific actions, but I thought I’d mention it. You know, just FYI.”

And I'd actually amend that to say that "just knowing how terrorists tend to be ISIS terrorists probably want to kill Americans ..."

None of that is to say that ISIS isn't a very dangerous development. It requires a thoughtful analysis of what they want and what can be done about it. But I'm a believer in the Obama Doctrine of "don't do stupid shit" and if you listen to Lindsay Graham you would rarely do anything else. Hysterical hand wavers like him, along with the cynical warmongers looking for opportunity to dominate, are what's led us into the disasters outlined in that Politico piece. When they start talking about "threats" it's time to take a deep breath. We're about to be smothered in bullshit. Again.


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