Which Side Are You On?

by Dave Schuler on June 18, 2014

I’m a bit surprised by Anne-Marie Slaughter’s New York Times op-ed. In it she urges the president not only to use military force in Iraq against the ISIS terrorists but to expand hat use into Syria:

President Obama should be asking the same question in Iraq and Syria. What course of action will be best, in the short and the long term, for the Iraqi and Syrian people? What course of action will be most likely to stop the violence and misery they experience on a daily basis? What course of action will give them the best chance of peace, prosperity and a decent government?

The answer to those questions may well involve the use of force on a limited but immediate basis, in both countries. Enough force to remind all parties that we can, from the air, see and retaliate against not only Al Qaeda members, whom our drones track for months, but also any individuals guilty of mass atrocities and crimes against humanity. Enough force to compel governments and rebels alike to the negotiating table. And enough force to create a breathing space in which decent leaders can begin to consolidate power.

Here is the part that puzzles me:

This is not merely a humanitarian calculation. It is a strategic calculation. One that, if the president had been prepared to make it two years ago, could have stopped the carnage spreading today in Syria and in Iraq.

I don’t know that anyone has been urging action against both the Assad regime and the rebels. My recollection is that they’ve been urging us to support “moderate rebels” against the regime as though the various groups were completely discrete and there were a litmus test for distinguishing between the moderates and immoderates.

On the other hand if our main priority had been preventing the rise of radical Islamist militants like ISIS we’d’ve supported the Assad regime.

Update

As is not entirely surprising, the editors of the New York Times sound a similar note:

If Mr. Obama decides to take military action, he must make it clear that it would not be done to support Mr. Maliki’s government, but to disrupt the militants’ momentum while the Iraqi Army regroups.

In the meantime, the administration has to develop better intelligence on the militants’ movements. It plans to provide more weapons to the Iraqi Army, even though major units disintegrated as the militants swept through northern Iraq. American officials say there are still capable Iraqi units to build on, but that seems a risky bet.

Whatever action Mr. Obama takes, it must be grounded in a larger political strategy that considers the full spectrum of sectarian dangers that are roiling the region. On Monday night, militants reached Baquba, about 40 miles north of Baghdad, before being turned back. In a horrific show of sectarian reprisal, 44 Sunni prisoners held in a Baquba police station, controlled by the Shiite-led government, were killed by the police as the Sunni militants attacked the station.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

CStanley June 18, 2014 at 6:21 am

This part, too, is ridiculous:

Enough force to compel governments and rebels alike to the negotiating table.

These aren’t “rebels”, they are jihadists.

Andy June 18, 2014 at 6:51 am

Jeez, the stupid, it burns.

Slaughter, in another black comedy column, argued that if only we’d whacked Syria then that would have dissuaded Russia from taking Crimea.

She is basically the poster child for the a foreign policy underpants gnome strategy:

Step 1: Attack someone or, better yet, everyond.
…….
Step 3: Profit!

CStanley, Some of the rebels are Jihadists. The rebel faction isn’t wholly ISIS beheaders.

CStanley June 18, 2014 at 6:58 am

Andy, my point is that ISIS is the group that is currently marching through Iraq, and their leaders aren’t interested in negotiating for political power.

Dave Schuler June 18, 2014 at 7:17 am

The rebel faction isn’t wholly ISIS beheaders.

No but there are institutional, organizational, and financial reasons that “ISIS beheaders” will inevitably dominate the rebels. Consider the experience in Egypt. Although there were some liberals among the anti-regime demonstrators the MB came to dominate. The choice became between the MB and the military.

Andy June 18, 2014 at 9:12 am

CStanley,

ISIS isn’t marching through Iraq. ISIS is part of a larger coalition that’s marching through Iraq. That coalition is made of of ISIS, various Sunni tribes and former military Saddam-era military personnel. ISIS is getting all the press, but they don’t have the numbers to hold cities, much less assault Baghdad. You are right they aren’t interested in negotiating for political power, but then no one is Iraq is interested in that presently.

Dave,

The MB won out because they were the only opposition group that was nationally organized, so they were well placed to dominate.

... June 18, 2014 at 9:42 am

Speaking of a Syrian people or an Iraqi people is a fundamental error.

... June 18, 2014 at 9:46 am

Revolutions tend to be won by the factions that are best organized and most ruthless. Such factions are rarely moderate, and almost of necessity can’t be democratic.

... June 18, 2014 at 9:53 am

Other points:

The Iraqi Army doesn’t need more weapons. It needs better officers, better political leadership and esprit de corps. (The last would follow from the others, especially from having better officers, both commissioned and non-commissioned.)

Thank God we have chased off those neocons or else people would be pushing for direct military action on our part, in a region in which we can’t distinguish between our ass and a hole in the ground. Oh, wait….

steve June 18, 2014 at 6:14 pm

Have to agree with Andy. The MB already controlled a large percentage of the votes as they were well established in Egypt. That is not true of ISIS. If I were betting, I would bet that ISIS is likely to get kicked out once things settle down, just like AQ in Iraq got booted. The only way I think they stay is if they govern well and are not as extreme and brutal as AQ was. I dont know enough about them to know if that is possible.

Steve

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