Friday, June 14, 2013

Arming "rebels" is a great idea and never backfires!

So, now we're going to give more arms and support to Syria's "rebel" forces.  Somebody tell me just why this is a bright idea.  For one, this pretty much proves that whatever they're teaching in history class at a certain Ivy League school, they're leaving out the history of Al Qaeda bit.  You know, the part where "rebels" are given arms and support to overthrow an enemy, and then they later turn around and bite us in the ass.

I'm going to attribute this decision to a few different possible factors.

1.  We're going to fight a proxy war with Iran; we could care less about Syria, but what we want is to be able to engage Hezbollah inside of Syria.  Iran can't or won't do anything serious itself, so it relies on its Hezbollah proxy to fight for it, far enough away that it thinks we won't notice what's really going on.  Well, we see you, Iran, you and your photoshop missiles and hilarious "aircraft" designs.  We can't or won't do anything about Iran (and this is completely independent of the should we or shouldn't we argument so don't even start), so this will work instead.  Except that support and assistance has a way of turning into a massive debacle and sucking us in way too deep into something largely irrelevant, but I guess the plus side here is that Syria isn't covered in jungle?  Although why Hezbollah matters is another question, given that I haven't heard of them launching rockets across the Mexican border yet.

2.  It's Egypt all over again.  And no, not Egypt of a few years ago, Egypt of a few decades ago.  As in we're only picking this side because the "bad guys" (i.e. Russia and in Syria's case also China) are on the opposite side of the fence.  Which turned out to be such a stellar political decision back then. 

3.  We waited too long to do anything militarily productive.  I've been saying for a while now that relying on Soviet-era IADS components gets you bombed, apparently if you don't follow our rules.  See Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Libya.  Syria, with modern Chinese radars and modern Russian SAMs (even though Russia currently lacks the stones to just airlift S-300PMU-2 components using least I think they'd fit given that it could airlift Pioner), has moved away from the bombable model of air defense, which has given us pause.  Notice how a lot of the NFZ stuff disappeared with a quickness when all of the fun new toys started to be either delivered or reported in service, or it became obvious that Russia might eventually send the S-300PMU-2s that Syria ordered.  Which incidentially would mean the inclusion of Russian advisors and trainers, who might get bombed, and we don't want that...but aren't you supposed to want to bomb the "bad guys"?  Now I'm confused.

In reality, everyone should step back and let the situation play itself out.  Because I can't for the life of me see where this results in a "win" if we start trying to play nationbuilder again.  I understand that there is a certain need to play geopolitics and make it look like we're standing up to the "bad guys", but in reality none of us should be involved.  Why not engage Russia and China and get everyone to take a step back, because relations with those two are far more valuable and important in the long run than whatever happens to Syria.  If you want to look good to the international players, at least make yourself look good to the ones that actually matter.

Oh wait, I forgot...if they aren't the "bad guys", how can we justify billions of dollars for overpriced and unnecessary hardware like the F-35...

And before the inevitable question comes up, no, I am not necessarily against bombing things or sticking our nose into someone else's business when there's a definite endgame that will be to our benefit.  We have just as much right to act in our own national interest as anyone else does, despite what the rest of the world wants you to think.  But once again, someone really needs to explain to me how this one is in our national interest, because I'm just not seeing it.

...but there's also...

Nope.  Not going there.



Anonymous said...

How about because the two factions that are getting the most arms at the moment are the government dictatorship, and the parts of the opposition that want to turn Syria into a theocracy.

Giving arms to the more secular rebels increases the chance of this finishing with Syria looking more like Turkey in a few decades and less like Iran.

Will giving arms to them backfire on us? Of course it will. And so will not giving arms to them.

There are no good options here, just varying shades of we're screwed.

NICO said...

The record of the USA intervention and nation builder in the last 50 years isn't quite stellar so I agree, we don't have any national interests in Syria, we should stay out.

Silent Hunter said...

The Taliban did not take power in Afghanistan until ten years after the Soviets left. It could be argued that not assisting that country after 1988 was just as bad.

Unknown said...

Why? In a word, energy. Energy = wealth = power. Don't think here and now, but the future. Ponder some ideas : Israel as an energy exporter. American energy independence. Look at the map and see the importance of Tartus to the Russians. Southern oil and gas pipelines that are proposed to bypass Russia.
Why not engage the Russians and Chinese to resolve this? We are. SAM systems, arms to the rebels, chemical weapons, these are just the props. Humanitarian concern is the veneer.
The world is being realigned for the next 100 years. Thank God (or Allah) that you are not one of the poor Syrian villagers who are being dispensed with like chaff from an aircraft.

Welcome back, Sean


TrT said...

Is that the Turkey imposing increasingly sharia based law and whos president describes I'mADinnerJacket as his nations best friend?

Secular Syria/Turkey only exist as military dictatorships

Clark said...

"even though Russia currently lacks the stones to just airlift S-300PMU-2 components using An-124s..."

Heh, I actually laughed out loud at this one, Sean...

Seriously I very much agree with you here. [Even though, by nationality, I don't share "your" national security point of view]

It's a civil war in a rather "uniteresting" country. What good will picking sides do us? Ignoring "Moral inclinations" what geopolitical advantage is that whole farce supposed to be providing "us"? Not ignoring said "morals" what makes this "murderous dictator" fundamentaly different from all the others "we" are supporting, most recently monsieur Sanogo in Mali...

Anonymous said...

Arming rebels has sometimes worked extremely well for the US (Nicaragua), sometimes not so well (Cuba), and sometimes somewhere in between (Afghanistan). I would be certain that the risk of blowback is recognized by the administration. How big and serious that risk is a matter of complex judgment on which reasonable people can disagree.

It would be a mistake too, I think, to imagine that the "arming" started with the recent announcement. I would suspect that the US has played an important role in the massive supply of Croatian weapons into southern Syria since late 2012. Some of those weapons have certainly leaked to Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, but in general they have increased the strength of non-jihadist elements in the south relative to both the Syrian regime and jihadist opposition elements. (I suspect it is no accident that the supply involved a number of ex-Yugoslav weapons systems that had very particular ammo requirements, creating dependency on the covert supplier).

The arguments for arming would be: 1) it is better to keep the opposition in the fight than to see a Syrian victory, 2) that Iran/Syria/Hizbullah represent the major threat to US regional interests, and that regime overthrow would be a massive reversal to Iran and Hizbullah, 3) that Asad has been deliberately testing the limits of US CW tolerance, and a message had to be sent, 4) that US ally Jordan wants a buffer zone of friendly militias on its northern border, 5) that regional perceptions of US inaction--whether fair or unfair--were both damaging the US brand and fostering radicalization of the opposition.

I think anon captured it well in the first comment--there are no good options here, just shades of bad. And its a complicated, difficult call to make. I favour arming--although I would have done it a year ago--but I recognize the many risks that involved.

PS860 said...

I think Henry Kissinger's comment on the Iran-Iraq war applies on Syria as well: "It's too bad they both can't lose."