Friday, November 20, 2015

Even sensible Sunnis

Karl Dane in Roscoe Arbuckle's The Red Mill (1927).
Well, David Brooks seems to think Hillary Clinton might be a better president than Donald Trump, at least from the foreign policy/national security standpoint. Hard to argue with that.

Though maybe I'm just getting lulled into sleep by those elaborate repetitions—he's increasingly turning into a kind of Philip Glass of political prose:
While other candidates are content to issue vague calls to get tough on terror, Clinton offered a multilayered but coherent framework... For example, instead of just issuing a generic call to get tough on the terrorists, she pointed to the reality that ISIS will be toppled only if there is an uprising by fellow Sunnis. 
Oops, what was that? Did you hear that thumping sound, honey? Did he just say she wants them to do like Warsaw in World War II? No, wait, he's thinking less of an uprising than a crossrising:
There has to be a Sunni Awakening against ISIS in 2016, like the Sunni Awakening that toppled Al Qaeda in Iraq starting in 2007. 
He just means forces like those of the Sunni sheikhs in Anbar need to get into the struggle, the way they've been doing with US-led coalition support in the campaign that started in July—
That will not happen
No, no, it just did, you're not—
while President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is spreading mayhem, terror and genocide. As long as they find themselves in the grips of a horrific civil war, even sensible Sunnis will feel that they need ISIS as a counterpoint to the butchery coming out of Damascus.
"Even sensible Sunnis!" As opposed to the senseless ones, who are even worse.

So OK, you're not talking about the Anbar sheikhs? You're talking about the Sunnis in Syria, currently holding nearly as much territory as the Assad regime (green areas in the map below) and directly battling Da'esh in parts of the west (blue areas)? And of course who are fighting the Assad regime still more vigorously, though with many complaints that the US isn't helping them enough, and in some cases under attack from Lebanese Hezbollah troops and Iranian advisors and Russian air bombardment. And that their dominant element is, after all, the al-Nusra Front, better known as al-Qa'eda, whose active hostility to the Da'esh is pretty well known. They're not uprisen enough for you?

Territorial control in Syria as of September 28, via BBC.
Or maybe you meant Warsaw after all, all over the Caliphate from Raqqa to Mosul? Unarmed, in an occupation that is literally harsher than Hitler's, with the religious police and the rape system and the public beheadings alongside the usual extermination of minority populations? Something tells me you don't have a clue what you're talking about.

What Clinton actually said:
the ground campaign in Iraq will only succeed if more Iraqi Sunnis join the fight.... we need to lay the foundation for a second “Sunni awakening.” We need to put sustained pressure on the government in Baghdad to get its political house in order, move forward with national reconciliation, and finally, stand up a national guard. Baghdad needs to accept, even embrace, arming Sunni and Kurdish forces in the war against ISIS. 
What I've been arguing myself, you know, and what I understand is the Obama policy. It has nothing whatever to do with Bashar al-Assad. It's about the Baghdad government under Haider al-Abadi and its failure to move beyond the dreadful approach of the Bush-installed prime minister Maliki, of government of the Shi'ites, by the Shi'ites, and for the Shi'ites. It (and not "we") will never defeat Isis as long as it remains a sectarian actor.
But if Baghdad won’t do that, the coalition should do so directly.
Well, maybe it should, Hill, and maybe General Dempsey was right last August and it shouldn't, just as the coalition doesn't directly arm the highly successful Kurds in northern Iraq, and maybe it does anyway (last I heard, Jordan was part of the coalition too). But Dempsey's view,
we oppose such a move, because we believe a unified Iraq is critical to the long-term defeat of ISIL and because it could put some of our personnel at risk
is correct, in my opinion. There's no room for more ethnically exclusive forces in Iraq or Syria (I still have my own fantasy that the western Iraqi Sunnis will collaborate with the more plural-minded Shi'ites of the opposition in eastern Iraq, Baghdad to Basra, inspired by the figures of Ayatollah Sistani and Moqtada al-Sadr).

This has to be a central principle of the struggle for peace in Syria, as I've been saying repeatedly for a really long time. There is no military solution. That's not a slogan but a truth: what these countries need is more politics, and the development of pluralism, of people working out their differences in parliaments instead of battlefields. This is why so much favor is shown to the Kurds in Syria, because they live this rule (not always very well), with their inclusive attitude Christians and Yazidis (and women!). This is, sadly enough, why we have to tolerate Assad for the time being; not because of Assad himself, a murderous, cowardly psychopath, but because of the minorities, Alawite and Druze and Christian and so on, who rightfully fear Sunni majority rule. The US cannot offer full support to anybody—not Abadi in Baghdad, not the "moderate" Salafis in western Syria—who doesn't accept the ethnically and religiously plural character of the region, its cultural richness and complexity, as something to be maintained and cherished.

But I can argue with Clinton because she's extremely well-informed as to what's going on. Brooks is utterly clueless, and not worth any more of our time. Though I can't resist quoting one more sublimely idiotic sentence, in approval of some hideous Max Boot plan for a host of Max Boots on the ground:
Once life becomes a miserable grind for ISIS soldiers, recruiting will suffer.
Because they all joined up for the fun times, as well as the retirement benefits. ("Hey Sarge, nobody told us we were going to have to fight Americans! That's such a miserable grind!")

Then again, I do think Clinton is bullshitting on the subject of the no-fly zone in Syria, as in her conversation with Fareed Zakaria at the Council on Foreign Relations:
ZAKARIA: When you were secretary of state, you tended to agree a great deal with the then-secretary of defense, Bob Gates. Gates was opposed to a no-fly zone in Syria, thought it was an act of war that was risky and dangerous. This seems to me the major difference right now between what Obama’s administration is doing and what you are proposing. Do you not—why do you disagree with Bob Gates on this?
CLINTON: Well, I believe that the no-fly zone is merited and can be implemented, again, in a coalition, not an American-only no-fly zone.
I fully respect Bob and his knowledge about the difficulties of implementing a no-fly zone, but if you look at where we are right now we have to try to clear the air of the bombing attacks that are still being carried out to a limited extent by the Syrian military, now supplemented by the Russian air force. And I think we have a chance to do that now. We had a no-fly zone over Northern Iraq for years to protect the Kurds, and it proved to be successful—not easy. It never is, but I think now is the time for us to revisit those plans.
I also believe, as I said in the speech, that if we begin the conversation about a no-fly zone, something that, you know, Turkey discussed with me back when I was secretary of state in 2012...
She disagrees with Gates by not acknowledging what his arguments are. She cites Bill Clinton's Iraq policies in the 1990s without noting that there was no risk of killing civilians in the zone the US was patrolling, whereas in Syria it would be impossible not to kill them. She simply skirts the legal issues (the 1990s actions were barely legal, and I had no idea until I started looking just today how deeply implicated they were in the kind of regime-change plotting on the part of the Bill Clinton administration, with Tony Blair cheering them on, that led to the disaster of the Bush wars; you could get away with that in the 1990s but you'd better not try now). The 2012 discussions with Turkey were widely regarded as phony at the time, a threat aimed at Russia and Iran to bring them into cooperation on removing Assad, not a serious proposal, and it's a lot less serious now than it was then. Especially since Russia and Iran have been drawn into cooperation (on the formation of an interim government, which is not going to mean the removal of Assad, but is going to be an OK development).

What's happening right now, obscured by the horrors of Da'esh actions in Egypt and Lebanon and Yemen and France, is that the Obama policy is in fact panning out. Those murderous successes alongside the recent military defeats, notably the taking of Sinjar, show that they're in transition, at this point, from a would-be caliphate or empire to a common terrorist gang like the al-Qa'eda they despise, and progress toward a ceasefire among the non-Da'esh parties reported by Kerry this week (as Russians begin to realize the seriousness of the Islamic State presence in Dagestan and Chechnya, sending recruits to Syria and setting up awful blowback potential) is really good news. It's possible to hope that by the time Clinton becomes president, these issues she's fudging on will look very different. I do hope so. Looking at the text of what she said, and at the reports like Eric Levitz's, I don't think she is all that distanced from the Obama policy anyway. The Times editorial says,
Perhaps her sharpest break with Obama policies was a declaration that the fight in Syria is no longer about first ousting Mr. Assad and then focusing on the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL.
But that's exactly what I thought Obama was doing, not entirely out loud, and what I've been praising him for for the past year. I hope she means that, but I don't see how it's a break at all.

Update: Not about this column, but epic, is a Summum Brooksologicum by BooMan.

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