Tag Archives: syria

Our escalation shows the key US military strategy: FAILure to learn.

Summary:  The year is only 7 weeks old and we’ve already taken several steps accelerating phase two of our mad Post-9/11 Wars. Our primary method is FAILure to Learn, repeating the tactics that didn’t work during the past 14 years. This will not end well for us. (2nd of 2 posts today}

US foreign policy

A bad idea. Please hit the PAUSE button on our wars.

US forces have begun fighting along side the Iraq army (Apache attack helicopters supporting the Iraq army). Special Operations forces have increased their tempo of operations in Afghanistan. We’ve dispatched a brigade of 4,000 to Iraq, with a vague explanation of its mission (more are warming up in the US to go). Obama’s submitted to Congress a vague Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (AUMF, to fight the wars already under way).

This makes no sense. We conducted our first wave of wars — Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen — in direct violation of the two lessons of post-WWII history. Both are quite obvious.

  1. Foreigners (especially foreign infidels) almost never defeat local insurgents. Their presence undermines the legitimacy of the host government and arouses opposition in proportional to their activity (i.e., the more we do, the more they hate us).
  2. Large numbers of troops are needed to have even a small chance of winning (large numbers as a ratio to the local population opposing us). Details here.

Having proven our incompetence at 4GW, now we escalate to outright madness by repeating the same failed methods but on a smaller (and hence less likely to work) scale. It’s a FAILure to learn, a weakness no amount of power can counterbalance. Not at WWI levels (doubling down with failed tactics), but still inexcusable.

Continue reading

Before we start a new war with ISIS, let’s remember how we stumbled into the last two

Summary: As we gear up for new wars in Syria and Africa, and rejoining old wars in Iraq, let’s a pause to think. Success will depend on learning from our failures since 9-11. Our greatest failures have been our initial failures: seeing the situation incorrectly and beginning before we have accurate information about our foe. The combination creates almost insurmountable barriers to success, barriers that we construct. We can do better.

Learn from mistakes


  1. Familiar bad news about our new wars
  2. Reminders from the past
  3. We’re winning! Like always.
  4. Let’s remember the great advice we need the most
  5. For More Information

(1)  Familiar bad news about our new wars

It’s become the one of the two standard themes for the starts of our wars: US intelligence tells us that we know little about our enemies. As Eli Lake explains in “ISIS Baffling U.S. Intelligence Agencies“, The Daily Beast, 14 August 2014 — “It’s been two months since ISIS took over Iraq’s second-largest city. But U.S. analysts are still trying to figure out how big the group is and the real identities of its leaders.” Excerpt:

The U.S. intelligence community is still trying to answer basic questions about the jihadists who tried to wipe out Iraq’s remaining Yazidis and who now threaten to overrun the capital of the country’s Kurdish provinces.

In a briefing for reporters Thursday, U.S. intelligence officials said the government is re-evaluating an estimate from early this year that said the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) had only 10,000 members. These officials also said intelligence analysts were still trying to determine the real names of many of the group’s leaders …

While many U.S. officials have warned publicly in the last year about the dangers posed by ISIS, the fact that the U.S. intelligence community lacks a consensus estimate on its size and the true identities of the group’s leadership may explain why President Obama over the weekend said the U.S. was caught off-guard by the ISIS advance into Kurdish territory.

{the usual fear-mongering follows, presented as analysis}

The second theme which marks the start of our wars: errors and outright lies about the wars. The sinking of the USS Maine and the Spanish-American War, the Tonkin Gulf Incident, Saddam’s WMDs and alliance with al Qaeda, and Afghanistan’s key role in 9-11. Let’s hope that what we are told about our enemies in this new phase of the Long War is more accurate than what we’ve been told so far.

Continue reading

After 13 years of failed wars, do we know our warmongers?

Summary:  After 13 years of wars that failed at great cost in money and blood, our hawks urge that we start yet another war — in Syria. But we have learned. Some have found the courage to name our warmongers. This experience has been dearly bought, and might yet prove insufficient. Further lessons might prove even more expensive.

The War on Peace


Don’t Fight in Iraq and Ignore Syria“, Anne-Marie Slaughter, op-ed in the New York Times, 17 June 2014  — That she sings this is unsurprising. That so many still listen is sad, an astonishing Failure To Learn.


For the last two years, many people in the foreign policy community, myself included, have argued repeatedly for the use of force in Syria — to no avail. We have been pilloried as warmongers and targeted, by none other than President Obama, as people who do not understand that force is not the solution to every question. A wiser course, he argued at West Point, is to use force only in defense of America’s vital interests. …

Slaughter is a foreign policy insider , served under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as director of policy planning at the State Department (2009–11), and is now CEO of the New America Foundation (bio here). She was one of the major advocates of our disastrous intervention in Libya.

On the other hand after 13 years of futile war there is progress. Acknowledging the obvious truth is the first step to reconnecting with reality: “A Warmonger By Any Other Name“, Daniel Larison, The American Conservative, 18 June 2014 — Opening:

It’s a little strange that Slaughter opens with these lines.

  1. She has been a consistent supporter of using force in foreign conflicts, which is how she has earned a reputation for always being in favor of military action.
  2. Not only has she supported intervention time after time, but she has been an outspoken and vocal advocate for these views.
  3. She is notable among Syria hawks for having made some of the most outlandish arguments in favor of bombing Syria.

No doubt she has argued for more aggressive policies because she believes them to be preferable to the status quo or any other alternatives, but that is exactly why she doesn’t get to complain when critics point out the problems with her consistent hawkishness and advocacy for military action. Slaughter is one of the liberal hawks that made a point of celebrating the Libyan war as a success and as vindication for their interventionist instincts. As far as I know, she has never faced up to the negative consequences of the Libyan war on Libya or the surrounding region, nor has she applied any of the lessons that might have been learned from the Libyan intervention to her arguments on Syria.

Continue reading

Susan Rice’s speech tells us harsh truths about ourselves

Summary: Today’s speech by Susan Rice, National Security Advisor, deserves attention. If we look, in it we can see the answers to many important questions about America. Our reaction to it — and Obama’s challenges to us about Syria — will tells us much about ourselves.

This worked for Truman, and for every President since him:

“Mr. President, if that’s what you want there is only one way to get it. That is to make a personal appearance before Congress and scare the hell out of the country.”
— Senator Arthur Vandenberg’s advice to Truman about how to start the Cold War. On 12 March 1947 Truman did exactly that. From Put yourself in Marshall’s place, James P. Warburg (1948); in 1941 Warburg helped develop our wartime propaganda programs.

Homer Simpson

How Susan Rice sees us



  1. Rice’s speech: distilled fear mongering
  2. Conclusions
  3. For More Information

(1) Rice’s speech: distilled fear mongering

Speech by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice
Given at the New America Foundation, 9 September 2013




There is no denying what happened on August 21. … There is no doubt about who is responsible for this attack. …

We must take it on faith, despite their long history of lies, since the government has released little evidence. Many experts find the evidence described quite questionable.

Assad’s escalating use of chemical weapons threatens the national security of the United States.

She repeats this, without explaining how — except in the vague terms.

And the likelihood that, left unchecked, Assad will continue to use these weapons again and again takes the Syrian conflict to an entirely new level —- by terrorizing civilians, creating even greater refugee flows, …

Possible, but not logical. What did the alleged strike at Ghouta accomplish for Assad? Nothing but trouble. Why repeat it?

Continue reading

The debate about Syria reminds us that a cat can laugh at the King, but the King has the power.

Summary: The debate about Syria shows the weak state of The Republic, the power of the forces building a New America, and the need for urgent action by the American people. We laugh at the antics of the war party, but they seem likely to have the last laugh (again).

“We shall not enter into any of the abstruse definitions of War used by publicists. … War is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will.”
— Clausewitz’s On War. Book One, Chapter One, Section 1, paragraph one (1827)


Pearl Harbor was not war.

Testimony at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Syria, 3 September 2013:



Secretary of State Kerry: “President Obama is not asking America to go to war, and I say that sitting next to two men, Secretary Hagel and Chairman Dempsey, who know what war is. Senator McCain knows what war is. They know the difference between going to war and what President Obama is requesting now. We all agree there will be no American boots on the ground.

… I just don’t consider that going to war in the classic sense of coming to Congress and asking for a declaration of war and training troops and sending people abroad and putting young Americans in harm’s way. That’s not what the president is asking for here. General, do you want to speak at all to that?”

General Dempsey (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff):No, not really, Secretary. Thank you for offering.”

Got to love the subtle irony of Dempsey’s reply.

“A cat can laugh at a King” – but the King has the power

Continue reading

What could go wrong if we attack Syria?

Summary: Lost amidst the details and blather about our proposed attack on Syria is the possibility that we might get hurt. More accurately, that our grand strategy makes a severe defeat highly likely. If not in this crises, then in one of the future crises our policies seek out — and even create as needed.

Keep Calm: Set World on Fire

“Early and provident fear is the mother of safety.”
— Edmund Burke to the House of Commons, 11 May 1792

“Fear cannot be without hope nor hope without fear.”
— Baruch Spinoza, Ethics (1677)


  1. What could go wrong?
  2. A note from the past?
  3. About our military
  4. For More Information

(1) What could go wrong?

“Fear is sharp-sighted, and can see things underground, and much more in the skies.”
— Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605-1615)

US foreign policy has been one of bellicose response to all challengers, trusting on the support of our allies, the weakness of our foes — and their inability to work together. We consider it a winning formula in the sense that the only serious blowback was 9-11. So far.

On the other hand, our contempt for diplomacy has quickly escalated many confrontations into military conflicts — most of which we lose (see section 3). We lose in the sense of achieving no national goals, paid for by dead and crippled soldiers and wasted resources. These loses are tolerable for a nation of our size and vigor, and domestic political dynamics keep this system running despite its 50+ years of failure.

This policy is the equivalent of Russian Roulette with a revolver of many chambers. The odds of disaster are small for any individual intervention. If continued long enough we will find a chamber with a loaded cartridge, starting a chain of events with large, unpredictable, and probably unpleasant results. We need not speculate at how events in a small nation can shake the world. The last century provides a clear example with the assassination on 28 June 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo by six Bosnian Serb assassins.

(2) A note from the past reminding us of what can happen

“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
— John F. Kennedy, inaugural address on 20 January 1961

In hindsight WWI was the inevitable result of growing tensions in Europe — tensions that the great nations not only failed to resolve, but repeatedly played upon. William Lind explains

Continue reading

Q&A on the extraordinary aspects of the Syrian War

Summary: I’ve received many incisive questions about Syria, covering the key points of the this extraordinary debate that so clearly highlights the changing nature of America’s political regime — and our role in it. Here are my responses; post your questions and answers in the comments.

Global Cop

Expect push-back to these global cops



  1. Q&A on the basics of the proposal for war
  2. An extraordinary aspect of the Syria debate
  3. The most extraordinary aspect of the Syria debate
  4. For More Information
  5. Our Policy is quite easy to understand

(1) Q&A on the basics of the proposal for war

Q: Do you think then the US/international community should leave Assad alone? There’s no international law prohibiting killing your own people. But there is a law forbidding the use of chemical weapons. There’s also no law that says the Sunnis and Shia can’t annihilate one another bringing chaos to the Middle East.

So what should we do? Doing nothing no strategy at all.

We could degrade Assad’s capabilities, a better option than giving arms to the jihadists — or negotiating with Putin for some kind of modus vivendi in the region.

This aptly summarizes one form of the case for intervention. It is almost entirely wrong.

(1) Has Syria violated laws about use of chemical weapons? No, on several levels.

(a) The UN has not determined that the Syrian government used chemical weapons (in fact, the US government seems indifferent to the UN’s verdict). Syria’s government had no logical reason for such a strike; the rebels had strong motives to run a false flag attack that would gain them both aid and sympathy.

(b) Syria’s use of chemical weapons would not violate its treat obligations.

  • The 1925 Geneva Protocol (see Wikipedia) does not prohibit internal use of chemical weapons, or use against nations not party to the treaty.
  • Syria has not signed the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, and hence is not bound by it. Neither has authorized the US to act in accordance with these treaties.
  • Neither the UN nor the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has found Syria guilty of using chemical weapons.

(c) Neither the UN Charter nor the Convention authorizes the US to attack Syria.

(d) Describing careful responses as “no strategy” is insane war-mongering.

  • Prudence and respect for international opinion recommends waiting for results of the UN investigation (unlike the policy of the US now and before the Iraq invasion).
  • Prudence, US law, and respect for the international order that we built recommends following the procedures of the UN Charter and Chemical Weapons Convention.
  • Common sense recommends care, rather than the idiotic use of force that has characterized US foreign policy since 9-11, which has resulted in massive expensive defeats in Iraq and (in progress) Afghanistan.

(e) Degrading the strength of Syria’s government is mad if done as Obama proposes, without an understanding of the end state sought for Syria — and how a strike will further that goal.

History since WW2 provides a massive body of “experiments” about foreign military interventions. Analysis by experts shows the modes of intervention which might work. Unfortunately no US official advocates one of these for Syria due to their high cost and equally high risk. Nor would they be likely to get sufficiently broad international approval.

Ignoring this experience in a surge of do-goodism to go kill people will almost certainly just add another sad chapter to this bloody history.

Continue reading