Obama’s Newest War Campaign: Syria?

I’ve written about how disastrous a war campaign in Syria would be before. You can check out the archives here. At this point I think my track record for predicting what will happen when the US attacks another country is pretty damned good.

Here’s how I’ve accomplished this: government is, at best, an arbitrator of last resort (“courts and diplomacy”). If societies begin to grant a government’s scope much more than this minimum, expect to see bad things happen. Bombing another country for ambiguously stated purposes will lead to bad things. These bad things will be much worse than the bad things currently in place.

Don’t believe me? Look at Iraq. And Libya. And Afghanistan. And Vietnam. Et cetera. Et cetera.

Mark my words: if the Obama administration bombs Syria we will have much more to worry about than “projecting weakness.” An onslaught of chemical weapons, horrific ethnic cleansing campaigns, and decades of civil war will be in the books. The war would have been over by now if the Obama administration had not armed Islamist rebels. I wrote at length about Syria and the US’s strategic blunders here. Feel free to check it out.

Islamists, by the way, are people that adhere to the same type of philosophy as al-Qaeda, the organization responsible for 9/11. These are the people the Obama administration and Republican hawks support, and have supported, on and off again for five decades.

22 thoughts on “Obama’s Newest War Campaign: Syria?

  1. @Brandon
    “The war would have been over by now if the Obama administration had not armed Islamist rebels.”
    When did they start sending arms? How many and what type? I’d like to see what your sources are for the info if you don’t mind.

  2. @Brandon
    A recent blurb from John McCain re arming the Syrian rebels. Surely you wouldn’t disagree with John…

    “As of right now, they haven’t received one weapon from the United States. Reports are that the United States has constrained other countries from giving them the kinds of things they need,” said McCain. “In order for me to be convinced about this, we need to know how they are going to do it [before we vote].”

    McCain will press administration officials for those details at a Tuesday hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at which Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey are all scheduled to speak.”

    • I haven’t believed anything to come out of John McCain’s mouth in my whole life.

      The Wall Street Journal reported on the arms shipments here. The Economist‘s report can be found here.

      I’ll take two reports from prestigious press organs (one foreign) over a Senator’s word every day of the week.

      Either way, the fact that press reports and the words of a well-known Senator contradict each other should serve as a word of caution when it comes to a matter that has nothing to do with national security, should it not?

  3. You mean one report from a prestigious press organ and one from Rupert’s propaganda rag. What does The Economist tell us?

    “The American government has used the northern route from Turkey to send in food, telephones and other non-lethal supplies. Yet, once it begins to send the lethal stuff, it is more likely to funnel most of it through the rebels’ second main supply route, into southern Syria from Jordan.”

    Please note the past tense for non-lethal aid and the future tense for lethal aid. There seems to be a pay-wall for Murdoch’s rag and I’m sure not going to pay a cent for that. What tense is used for weapons shipments? Past, present, or future?

    • Well golly gee gosh, it looks like you’ve proved me wrong! Unless, unless of course you read the very next paragraph from the one you just quoted. Why don’t you tell us all what the next paragraph says Dr Amburgey?

  4. The next paragraph:
    “Last year the Saudis, worried by what they saw as the Qataris’ reckless taste for extreme Islamist rebels, moved their base there from Turkey. With CIA help, the Saudis have sent batches of arms to fighters in the south who have yet to make as much headway as those in the north. Such weapons, including a large shipment bought in Croatia at the end of last year, have gone through the rebels’ military council in the southern province of Deraa, to be sent on to umbrella groups such as Liwa al-Islam.”

    We’re talking about the US providing arms, not Qatar or Saudi Arabia. What is the meaning of “With CIA help…”? Maps & bottled water for the truck drivers? A list of Jordanian real estate agents to help with that new base? The Economist makes it crystal clear that [up to the date of publication] all US aid to the rebels was nonlethal. As you know this does not make me happy, I advocated much earlier and more substantial lethal aid.

    “Well golly gee gosh, it looks like you’ve proved me wrong!”

    Excellent! We’ve reached agreement.

    • Yes, the CIA could have handed out water bottles, and the color of unicorn shit could be rainbow-colored. Aside from the CIA’s benevolence in helping the Saudis to smuggle weapons into Syria (re-read this summary again), I have noticed an interesting pattern that develops whenever I argue with warmongers. See if you can spot it:

      When did they start sending arms? How many and what type?

      And then there are these:

      What tense is used for weapons shipments? Past, present, or future? What is the meaning of “With CIA help…”? Maps & bottled water for the truck drivers? A list of Jordanian real estate agents to help with that new base?

      You sure seem to have a lot of questions for somebody who is so sure about bombing a country that has never threatened the United States.

      I am glad you don’t have the ear of State Department officials. Lord knows what kind of world we would live in if Washington bombed anything it had no clue about!

    • Tsk tsk, You’ve spent too much time with Jacques, your mind is wandering. This thread started with your claim that “The war would have been over by now if the Obama administration had not armed Islamist rebels.” A claim worthy of Dr. J in it’s lack of empirical foundation.

      My claim without a foundation in fact would go like this: “The war would have been over by now if the Obama administration had armed anti-regime rebels.” But it didn’t happen; they dithered and the Syrians paid the price in blood.

      Supposedly the administration has promised more robust aid as part of their effort to win congressional support for some limited [i.e. ineffectual] air strikes. Deja vu all over again.

    • No, no, no. The US government did help to arm the rebels. Is there any information I provided that suggests otherwise?

      Quick question: is the CIA part of the US government?

      Come to think of it, without US “help” the protests may not even have turned violent in the first place…

  5. No, no, no. The CIA helped the Saudis and the Qataris arm the rebels. This is from your own source.

    A quick parallel. I’m helping Dr. J improve his thinking. I am not doing his thinking for him. Even in criminal law there is a difference between an accessory who aids and abets and the principle.

    • So you are telling us that if the CIA arms rebels in Syria indirectly, through proxies, then Washington is not responsible for arming rebels in Syria.

      How embarrassing.

      Dr Amburgey, would you mind introducing yourself to our readers here at the consortium. We don’t care about your favorite TV shows, of course, but if you could describe your political views that would be most helpful in putting this debate into context.

      And criminal law deals with domestic, individual crimes, not international relations. Can’t imagine why…

    • Let me try to be clearer. If the CIA helps the Saudis and Qataris arm the rebels then the US hasn’t armed the rebels the Saudis and Qataris have. I assert that the US hasn’t spent a cent buying arms for the rebels do you have any evidence that it has? I assert that the US has not sent any arms owned by the US to the rebels. Do you have any evidence that it has? What you sourced said that the Saudis and Qataris bought arms with THEIR money then the CIA helped them get the arms into southern Syria. The nature of the ‘help’ was unspecified.

      I spent some time before posting trying to decide how to describe my political views. The most honest answer would be ‘muddled’.

    • Dude, lemme see if I get this straight. Here is what you just wrote:

      If the CIA helps the Saudis and Qataris arm the rebels then the US hasn’t armed the rebels

      After reading what you just wrote, are you still going to tell us that the US government has not armed the rebels in Syria?

      I think a thought exercise is in order. First let’s replace ‘CIA’ with ‘KGB’ (or ‘Mossad’ or ‘SAVAK’) and ‘US’ with ‘USSR’ (or ‘Israel’ or ‘Iran’).

      Now let’s replace ‘Saudis’ and ‘Qataris’ with ‘Syrians’ and ‘Iranians’ (or choose your own two countries!).

      What do we see? Let’s take a look:

      If the KGB helps the Syrians and Iranians arm the rebels then the USSR hasn’t armed the rebels

      Now let’s take your logic and apply it to the current situation in Syria. Technically the Russian state has not been funding the Assad regime. It has proxies to do this kind of work. Does this mean that Moscow is not supporting the Assad regime? If we abide by your logic, then we have no choice but to admit that Moscow has nothing to do with the carnage in Syria.

      Am I missing something?

      PS: here is the NYT‘s latest on the Syrian rebels (since you vehemently refuse to read anything you don’t agree with).

  6. Technically Russia has supported the Assad regime – they’ve sold arms to Assad. DIRECTLY. For recent events for example

    http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/08/29/uk-syria-crisis-russia-arms-idUKBRE97S0WY20130829

    You’ll note there’s even specific weapons systems mentioned not some ambiguous unspecified ‘help’ to third parties.

    There is an extremely long list of entities the US has armed. Sometimes the arms are sold, sometimes they are [in effect] given for free. Unfortunately the Syrian opposition groups have not been on that list. That’s why it’s been impossible for you to find any actual evidence to back up your rash claim.

    As for the NYT article, it’s certainly depressing but doesn’t bear on whether the US has armed rebels. It does bear on the uncertainties involved in doing so but that’s a different conversation.

    • Okey doke. Selected excerpts from reuters.

      “The Russian defence industry source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Assad had started in recent months paying off a nearly $1-billion contract for four S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems and another $550-million order for 36 Yak-130 trainer fighter planes.

      “They’ve already made the first payment for the Yak-130, likely 10 percent of it. Regarding the S-300, they’ve definitely made a first downpayment of 20 percent, but we are probably at half of the payment at this point,” said the source.”

      “In 2011, when protests against Assad began, Russia sent almost $1 billion in arms to Syria’s troops. Russia has often repeated that the weapons it sends cannot be used in the conflict and that it will continue selling arms while no international arms embargo exists on Syria.”

      “”About a year ago they put (some small arms deliveries) on hold. But after Putin got angry in the lead-up to talks about Geneva 2, the green light was given for limited small arms deliveries,” the source said.”

      “The defence industry source said he was not aware of what small arms were being delivered to Syria, but said shipments most likely included continued deliveries of anti-tank Kornet missiles, which Syria has bought since around 1998. Moscow and Damascus have concluded around six or seven contracts for the system.”

    • Ah thank you.

      You’re no daisy Dr Amburgey, that’s for sure. By your own logic, the Russian state has not armed Damascus.

      Let me see if I can use your cherry-picked quotes to illustrate your obstinate ignorance for others to see. Before I continue I want to stress that the Reuters report is as close to pure propaganda as you can get in the West. It’s not quite Pravda (thanks to competition), but it comes awfully close.

      I also want to stress that – contrary to Dr Amburgey’s attempts to slander me – the two short news articles I provided do indeed report what type of weapons the US government has been smuggling into Syria.

      Again, I am deconstructing the Reuters article Dr Amburgey provided in order to show everyone that the Russian state is not directly involved in the arming of factions in Syria (even if Moscow were arming Damascus it would perfectly legal for it to do so since Syria is an internationally-recognized state, but I digress). Dr Amburgey argues that because the US is arming the rebels in Syria through proxies Washington is not actually arming the rebels in Syria. This kind of obstinate ignorance explains well why the West is in such dire straits today: we cannot even call a ‘cat’ a ‘cat’ without somebody trying to swindle us by claiming the cat is really a dog.

      Power corrupts the minds of men long before it infects their hearts.

      The first paragraph Dr Amburgey quotes has this small clause placed inauspiciously into the middle of an unassuming sentence:

      […] Assad had started in recent months paying off a nearly $1-billion contract […]

      Emphasis mine. The Assad regime is not buying new weapons with the money described in the report but rather paying off old debts. Once you put this debt repayment into perspective, you come to realize that the whole article is – while technically describing what is going on between the Levant and Moscow – a cleverly-produced piece of propaganda designed to dupe the most astute of readers.

      Again, nothing in the Reuters piece explicitly states that Moscow is directly funding the Assad regime. Russia is using proxies, just as the US is doing. The difference between the two, on the meta level, is that Moscow is supporting the side with international recognition while the US is not.

      This kind of precedent does not bode well for international norms because it may one day become the case that the West is a position of weakness. It would be a horrific bout of irony if one day the states of the Middle East decided to bomb France or Turkey because Paris and Ankara were using weapons to put down revolts in their countries.

      This precedent, along with the debunking of the “national interest” and “humanitarian” arguments, are reasons enough to stop arming the rebels in Syria.

  7. “You’re no daisy Dr Amburgey, that’s for sure.”

    Of course not, I’m a shrinking violet.

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