America’s Failed Quagmire

The WaPo has a report providing new (actually conflicting, especially as to start date) details on America’s “covert” efforts in Syria.

In all seriousness, Administration officials (some anonymous) and a former Syrian opposition figure told WaPo that the whole point of this was quagmire: weakening Bashar al-Assad, but not too much.

Supplied mostly from stocks owned by Saudi Arabia, delivered across the Turkish border and stamped with CIA approval, the [TOW] missiles were intended to fulfill another of the Obama administration’s goals in Syria — Assad’s negotiated exit from power. The plan, as described by administration officials, was to exert sufficient military pressure on Assad’s forces to persuade him to compromise — but not so much that his government would precipitously collapse and leave a dangerous power vacuum in Damascus.

Consider what this strategy means for civilians on the ground, especially refugees that the international community is already underfunding.

Even crazier, though, is that the US believed we could prevent our Saudi allies from pressing their advantage.

“A primary driving factor in Russia’s calculus was the realization that the Assad regime was militarily weakening and in danger of losing territory in northwestern Syria. The TOWs played an outsize role in that,” said Oubai Shahbandar, a Dubai-based consultant who used to work with the Syrian opposition.

“I think even the Americans were surprised at how successful they’ve been,” he added.

[snip]

But the TOW missile program is already in progress, and all the indications are that it will continue. Saudi Arabia, the chief supplier, has pledged a “military” response to the Russian incursion, and rebel commanders say they have been assured more will arrive imminently.

In any case, our “strategy” in Syria seemed to misunderstand both our Saudi allies and Assad, not to mention Russia’s, intent (unless they intent was to expand the proxy war beyond Ukraine). As well as the consequences.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

19 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    Long view: For centuries, outsiders have tried to conquer or subjugate the Middle East. All have failed. Now that the Middle East has oil money (and will likely have for another 100 years at least), that will not change. Russia may gain influence in Syria, but not everlasting power. Saudi Arabia, the same – especially as it is destined for its own internal demise at some point. Not to worry. Prevent nuclear proliferation (maybe we have to bomb everyone to ensure that?), and that’s good enough. Enough thinking on that; on to Monday Night Football previews.

  2. bevin says:

    Hundreds of thousands killed, other casualties approaching a million. Millions of people driven from their homes, families shattered. lives ruined. Entire communities, for example the ancient Christian churches, facing the prospect of genocide, through the daily reality of massacres, gang rapes, enslavement. The economy in ruins, trillions in investment-social and private- torched or bombed. Millions driven into exile, many of them refugees from the attacks on Iraq (take a bow, USA, UK and the coalition of the prostituted!)
    Just pawns in game played in the beltway.
    “Do you realise what you have done” Putin asked. And their answer was to do it again, airdrop tons more materiel, rush in more anti personnel mines.
    And most of all to watch their “enemies” Al Qaeda and ISIS, racing around the desert in convoys of shiny new half ton trucks, exporting , millions of dollars in oil, piling up financial reserves to pay their mercenaries and smashing up Palmyra and other sites in which civilised people have an interest not shared by Messrs Obama. Erdogan, Saud, Harper, Cameron et al.

    • wayoutwest says:

      I’ve been watching the propaganda used by everyone involved in the Syria conflict and its effects. The spin meisters of the West have been having a hard time convincing many people about most anything lately but that won’t stop them from pressing on with the Plan whatever that may be.

      The Iranians have had some success, even with some of their totally ludicrous assertions, among the shell-shocked and conspiracy addicted people of the ME but some of their malarkey has penetrated the weaker minds in the West.

      The Russians seem to have learned from some of the US mistakes and are enjoying praise from many for their decisive actions and clever preannouncement of victories and even the questionable claims of thousands of rebels fleeing their might and heading to Europe are swallowed whole by the gullible. The Sunni Muslim world may soon force the Russians to temper their enthusiasm and return to Western style spin and prevarication as their Crusade falters.

      Then we have the supposedly medieval minded Islamic State who have harnessed the very modern use of images, PR and spectacle to not only attract tens of thousands of active volunteers but millions of supporters. Their understanding of the western mind is evident in how easily and deeply they penetrated the sheltered, easily frightened and often manipulated westerner and their leaders. The Russians apparently weren’t immune to this provocation and fear and have joined in the reactionary bombfest.

      It is very interesting how many people in the West have fixated on one particular PR photograph released by the IS and I’m sure they never imagined it would create such lasting fear and handwringing. The fact that they had just conquered a city of a million people with less than a thousand fighters and confiscated millions in arms and cash didn’t seem to register but a parade of about twenty new Toyotas is the visual reference that many people repeatedly return to, to validate whatever opinions they may offer. There should be many research papers written on this impossibly successful and telling visual propaganda coup and the fixations it produced.

      The angst displayed about the destruction of ‘our’ heritage sites in the ME by the IS just shows how possessive and arrogant we are about ‘their’ property. They don’t seem to worship sites built by invaders especially Western invaders and I doubt servicing Western tourists is part of their economic plans.

      • bevin says:

        I am not sure that I understand what you are saying, unless it is that everyone tells lies so that the truth, which probably doesn’t exist, has no value: modern know nothingism, an imperialist ideology, creating its own reality by sheer force of will. We are closing in on fascism when we think like that.

        Your point about antiquities seems to me to be simple philistinism: ancient works belong to all of us, they are not the property of the latest bunch of bomb owners to blow up with impunity. What these people did in Palmyra-including the beheading of the curator and many others- was something that they had no right to do.

        You suggest that the Russians are “on a crusade”- surely they are doing no more than they say, propping up the government which is, greatly to the inconvenience of the population, under terrorist attack by US allies and proxies. If this is a crusade it is one in the best meaning of the word.

        You suggest that ISIS are regarded as medieaval in mentality. So they maybe by those who know nothing of the Middle Ages, least of all the dynamic and liberal culture of the Islamic world in that era-long before the decline which gave rise to the narrow cult of wahab, the form of Islam favoured by NATO’s allies in the region. As to the wahabi view of images, art and pre-islamic architecture, it is well known.

        You talk of the fleet of Toyota trucks-suggesting that it is very small. So it maybe but the fleet of oil tankers carrying crude to the international market must be considerable if, as the official story has it, the tens of thousands of mercenaries are being paid for by ISIS’s plunder, rather than, as some suspect, the GCC tyrants and Turkish and American taxpayers.

  3. orionATL says:

    u.s. policy in the middle east has been corrupted and spoiled for 65 years by its alliances with israel and saudia arabia.

    that “policy” will remain corrupted , i.e., ineffective from a strictly american benefits vantage point, until we terminate the ability of both of those alliances to set any american policy (other than toward the two nations.

    the american enemy in the middle east is not any nation – not iran, not russia, not ksa nor israel, not a taliban-led afghanistan. the american enemy is religious fanaticism, lack of economic growth, and ineffective national governments.

    the american government’s incompetent paramilitary, military, and diplomatic wheel-spinning over the last 6+ decades seems extratraorfinary and baffling. no ametican political leader or political party has been up to the challenge of envisioning and carrying out a foreign policy in the middle east that emphasizes economic growth and competent governments as a counter to religious fundamentalism and anti-americanism.

  4. bell says:

    bevin – always relate well to what you have to say.. thanks for saying all that.. nice to see you here.. you are missed at moa..

    • bevin says:

      Thank you. (As to MoA. My visits there added nothing to b’s important and valued work. They came to be distractions of the sort which only profit trolls and the scoundrels for whom they work.)

  5. Giles Byles says:

    Rational folks could see years ago that we needed to stay away from Syria, but we could not stop ourselves from getting in there & messing with it.  Gitmo Nation jumped the shark right there & that’s the end of US.

    “The author of a war lets loose the whole contagion of hell and opens a vein that bleeds a nation to death.”  –Thomas Paine

  6. orionATL says:

    the u.s. has been fiddling around in the near east for decades – since the palestinians were handed over to european colonists and the cia kicked mosaddegh out of power in iran (ironically, prefering royalty in the near east).

    what we have learned is:

    – american news media love to display time-and-again stereotypical photos of screaming arab men burning something, usually an american flag in the old days, or crying old arab women in headscarves. nowadays the stereotype is the smoking aftermath of some explosion, often labelled “terrorist” _____.

    – freeing their people of m. omar, s. hussein, quaddafi, h. mubarack, al-assad has not proved to be the walk-in-the-park initially articulated by dick cheney, donald rumsfeld, and gang.

    – freeing afghanis, iraquis, libyans, egyptians, and now syrians from their despotism destiny has had some unhappy, and, apparently for american policy setters, unanticipated consequences, aka collateral damage, as noted in #2 above.

    – at the same time, not freeing saudis or israelis from their despots has had domestic consequences in the u.s. involving political arguments about “terrorism” and “freedom”.

    – americans face a conundrum – get rid of a despot (somebody else’s of course) thru a military “operation ____ freedom”, or allow the despot to continue in power.

    – the above might be rephrased as “tear down some other people’s despot and society or let them decide for themselves when the time is right and then what course of action to take”.

    – it is difficult for outsiders to underestimate just how difficult it is for americans to sit still and do nothing when, two oceans and thousands of miles away, bad guys are in power – terrorism-toting bad guys who, coincidentally, control lots of oil deposits.

    – which of those sun-crazed, desert-days near-east prophets was it who said

    “Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”

  7. prostratedragon says:

    The plan, as described by administration officials, was to exert sufficient military pressure on Assad’s forces to persuade him to compromise — but not so much that his government would precipitously collapse and leave a dangerous power vacuum in Damascus.

    Amazing. I would love to know who “thought” this one up.

    TOW missles: when you need a bit of finesse.

  8. wayoutwest says:

    Nice try at a diversion from your Toyota fixation but I doubt you will see many if any oil tanker trucks in Syria displaying the caliphate flag, they belong to Syrian oil brokers and transport companies who buy the oil from the IS at the wellhead, after that transaction it is their oil and is transported to many markets where demand and a discount price means few people care where it came from, some of it even ends up in the Kurd’s pipeline.

    I just saw a picture of an Islamic State victory parade and they were driving white Chevy pickups so the Japanese can only claim 9 out of 10 Insurgents prefer Toyotas. At least now those who claim the US or NATO supplied those trucks can be assured the CIA has a Buy Amerikan clause in their dirty dealings.

    Ancient works belong to all of ‘us’ depends on who you include in such an arrogant and possessive statement. I doubt the Chinese have such a presumptuous western idea about their historical sites especially if they were built by Greek or Roman invaders whose ideological descendants are now trying to dominate and control their future history.

    I’m sure you remember when the Taliban blasted the faces off of the giant Buddha carvings in Afghanistan and the handwringing and fingerpointing by the ‘us’ of the world condemning the act as a Muslim fundamentalist attack on the world’s heritage, bla, bla, bla. The real reason for this destruction was revealed much later when information surfaced that Buddhists had raised millions of dollars and sent workers to Afghanistan to refurbish the carvings offering nothing to the Afghans who were suffering from poverty and hunger from over a decade of war and destruction.

    The Taliban and now the Islamic State are making political statements with these selective acts, even though most westerners are too dense to comprehend them but the reactionary responses will serve to further their goals anyway.

    • bevin says:

      OrionATL has already dealt with your affectation of cultural sensitivity on the ancient works matter.
      As to :
      “I doubt you will see many if any oil tanker trucks in Syria displaying the caliphate flag, they belong to Syrian oil brokers and transport companies who buy the oil from the IS at the wellhead, after that transaction it is their oil and is transported to many markets where demand and a discount price means few people care where it came from, some of it even ends up in the Kurd’s pipeline.”
      You appear to be arguing that, since the oil is private property, the US dare not destroy it in transit. There is a precedent for this but it goes back to 1939 when a Minister in Chamberlain’s cabinet protested against bombing the rail links that the Germans were using to invade France on the grounds that they were “private property.” Since those balmy days a grittier, less refined attitude to war has prevailed.
      I can almost hear the music from the Palm Court.

      • wayoutwest says:

        Ancient Western war lore may deflect from your WTF but I’ll turn this around and ask why haven’t Assad or Russia attacked these tankers?

        My critique was of your statement ‘ ancient works belong to all of us’ as if you an Amerikan can speak for all of humanity or do you mean all of us Westerners? I wouldn’t dare try to speak for anyone but myself but I doubt many non-Western people care much about the artifacts of Western bloody aggression and imposition of that civilization on the Other.

        Cultural Heritage is just another commodity that elites use to make profits from while the locals service fat Western tourists for a few al-lira. We celebrate our bloody imperialist Cultural Heritage and its artifacts as if it were the ideal but that is just Cultural Heritage Imperialism that the Islamic State is blowing to bits.

  9. orionATL says:

    wow @13:

    “… Ancient works belong to all of ‘us’ depends on who you include in such an arrogant and possessive statement. I doubt the Chinese have such a presumptuous western idea about their historical sites especially if they were built by Greek or Roman invaders whose ideological descendants are now trying to dominate and control their future history… ”

    i am confident that 99% of people reading bevin’s comment would understand the meaning of “belong” appropriate to mO his comment about artifacts of human civilzation.

    your very literal interpretation of the meaning of the word as implying solely national ownership is just stupid.

  10. Don Bacon says:

    …Obama administration’s goals in Syria — Assad’s negotiated exit from power. The plan, as described by administration officials, was to exert sufficient military pressure on Assad’s forces to persuade him to compromise — but not so much that his government would precipitously collapse and leave a dangerous power vacuum in Damascus.

    I suppose these brilliant “administration officials” had some basis for their belief that Assad would abdicate? Some examples of where this fantasy has happened, perhaps? Also some reason to believe that Russia and Iran would abandon their ally?
    .
    The fact is that the Obama “administration officials” led by that neophyte in foreign affairs Hillary Clinton had NO BASIS for their fantastic beliefs. Syria, like Libya and Iraq and Palestine and Afghanistan, has been a huge failure as a result of the lack of responsible “administration officials” in the US government, led by the community-organizer in chief.

  11. Don Bacon says:

    from the archives–
    Dec 14, 2011
    US: Assad’s Syria a ‘dead man walking’

    The State Department official, Frederic Hof, told Congress on Wednesday that Assad’s repression may allow him to hang on to power but only for a short time.
    .
    “Our view is that this regime is the equivalent of dead man walking,” said Hof, the State Department’s pointman on Syria, which he said was turning into “Pyongyang in the Levant,” a reference to the North Korean capital. He said it was difficult to determine how much time Assad has left in power but stressed “I do not see this regime surviving.”

    And now the story is that the US wanted to keep the regime sans Assad? –Great strategy (not).

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