Sunday, October 13, 2019

Weekend Roundup

Trump has gotten a lot of flack this week for his decision allowing Turkey to invade Syria. Turkey's attack is directed not at the Syrian government or ISIS but at the Kurdish militias in norther Syria, which Turkish strong-man Erdogan regards as a potential security threat, as presumingly giving aid and comfort to Turkey's own Kurdish minority. The Kurdish militias had not only opposed the Syrian government, which hardly anyone in America has a kind word for, but also operated as allies or proxies in America's war against ISIS. Hence, the complaints you hear most often are that Trump has abandoned a trusted US ally, and that the invasion is likely to head to a humanitarian disaster -- the emphasis shifting from neocons to their liberal enablers. The only support Trump has found has come from paleocons like Rand Paul who want the US to draw back from foreign wars, but don't much care if the rest of the world destroys itself.

One problem is that Trump (or for that matter Obama) has never had a coherent strategy on Syria, or for that matter anywhere else in the Middle East. A reasonable goal would be to maintain peace among stable governments, biased where possible toward broad-based prosperity with power sharing and respect for human rights. Obama might have agreed with that line at the start of Arab Spring, but he soon found that ran against the main drivers of American Middle East policy: Israel's war stance, the Arabian oil oligarchies, Iranian exiles, arms merchants, and scattered pockets of Christians (except in Palestine) -- forces that had never given more than occasional lip-service to democracy and human rights, and were flat-out opposed to any whiff of socialism.

Obama was able to help nudge Mubarak aside in Egypt, but when the Egyptians elected the wrong leaders, he had second thoughts, and didn't object to the military restoring a friendly dictatorship. Obama had no such influence in Libya and Syria, so when their leaders violently put demonstrations down, some Americans saw an opportunity to overthrow unfriendly regimes through armed conflict. It is fair to say that Obama was ambivalent about this, but he wound up overseeing a bombing campaign that killed Qaddafi in Libya, and he provided less overt support to some of the Syrian opposition forces, and this led to many other parties intervening in Syria, with different and often conflicting agendas.

It's worth stressing that nothing the US has attempted in the Middle East has worked, even within the limited and often incoherent goals that have supposedly guided American policy, let alone advancing the more laudable goals of peace and broad-based prosperity. Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that the US is incapable of standing up popular government after invasion and civil war. Libya suggests that ignoring a broken country doesn't work any better. But Syria is turning out to be an even more complete disaster, as the ancien regime remains as the only viable government. Assad owes his survival to Russia's staunch support, but also to the US (and the Kurds), who defeated his most potent opposition: ISIS.

What needs to be done now is to implement a cease fire, to halt all foreign efforts to provide military support for anti-Assad forces, to reassert the Assad government over all of Syria, to convince Assad not to take reprisals against disarmed opponents, and to start rebuilding and repatriating exiles. Trump's greenlighting of the Turkish invasion does none of this, and makes any progress that much harder -- not that there is any reason to think that Trump has the skills and temperament to negotiate an end to the conflict, even without this blunder.

The only American politician who begins to have the skills to deal with problems like Syria is Bernie Sanders, because he is the only one to understand that America's interests -- peace, prosperity, cooperation everywhere -- are best served when nations everywhere choose governments that serve the best interests of all of their own peoples (socialism). Everyone else is more/less stuck in ruts which insist on projecting the so-called American values of crony capitalism and militarism, the goal to make the world subservient to the interests of neoliberal capital. In this regard, Trump differs from the pack only in his reluctance to dress up greedy opportunism with high-minded aspirations (e.g., Bush's feminist program for Afghanistan). Trump's freedom from cant could be refreshing, but like all of his exercises in political incorrectness, it mostly serves to reveal what a callous and careless creature he is.

Short of Sanders, it might be best to concede that America is not the solution to the world's woes, that indeed it is a major problem, so much so that in many cases the most helpful thing we could do is to withdraw, including support for other countries' interventions. Syria is an obvious good place to start. On the other hand, replacing American arms and aims with Turkish ones won't help anyone (not even the Turks).

PS: After writing the above, Trump ordered the last US troops out of Syria. That in itself is good news, but everything else is spiraling rapidly out of control. Meanwhile, Syrian Kurds are looking for new allies, and finding Assad (see Jason Ditz: Syrian Kurds, Damascus reach deal in Russia-backed talks).

Some scattered links on this (some of which are just examples of what I've been complaining about):

Some scattered links this week:

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