Saturday, August 6, 2016

Michelle Flournoy, likely Pentagon Secretary, calls for "no bomb zone" in Syria

          Defense One is a reactionary, in the know, American war journal for the military elite/war complex.  Its editor recently wrote about the escalation in Syria proposed by Michelle Flournoy, the current 3rd civilian in the Penguin, whom Hillary Clinton is likely to appoint secretary of "Defense" Now the US has waged no strictly defensive wars since 1812 though the North justly fought bondage and the US helped take out the Nazis.  Arguably, the US taking out of Bin Laden, bombing of Benghazi, and bombing to protect the Yazidi, are all retributory or humanitarian interventions, though every other military action of American foreign policy in modern times, has either been an aggression or an expansionary quest for oil and bases (H.W.'s Gulf War)  In American English, the post is Secretary of War.


     Defense One suggests Flournoy wants both a no-fly zone - now called a "no-bombing" zone - and taking out Assad's troops and facilities with missiles in Syria.  It also says she want boots on the ground.  In a response, Flounoy affirms the former, but denies the latter.  These steps put the War once again on two fronts, against Daeesh seemingly in alliance with Russia and implicitly Assad, against Assad and its sponsor Russia.  That is, recently, a contrast to Obama.


    Flournoy is the founder and  CEO of another private war-making think-tank, the Center for New American Security for which she co-authored a report on Syria.  In a brilliant critique below,  Steve Walt rightly names the closed circle of dinner party guests, doing no significant research, having no new thoughts, reaffirming, for each other, a repetitive or cliched, self-defeating response:

"A New-Old Plan to Save the World...That Has No Hope of Saving the World
Why a big-name D.C.-based think tank's report on U.S. foreign policy is unimaginative, predictably U.S.-centric, and a recipe for failure."


    Walt mocks the insipidity of American foreign policy "expert" war-mongering:

   "Question: If a well-established set of policies is visibly failing, public skepticism is growing, and promising alternative approaches are beginning to gain a bit of traction in public discourse, what should dedicated defenders of the status quo do? Specifically, given that the grand strategy of liberal [sic - there is nothing genuinely liberal or decent about Imperial wars in the Middle East] hegemony has produced an array of costly failures over the past 20-plus years, how can its proponents head off calls for a smarter foreign policy and persuade the American people to keep trying to run the world?

Answer: Take your Official Beltway Policy Cookbook off the shelf and prepare the following recipe:

Step 1: Assemble a bipartisan group of experienced former officials, carefully chosen for their commitment to the familiar nostrums of “American leadership.”

Step 2: Invite them to a few meetings, dinners, or study sessions, where they can hear testimony from other like-minded experts. Do not prepare original research or listen to anyone who might offer a sharply critical, “outside-the-box” perspective.

Step 3: Hire an able wordsmith who knows how to dress up the same old conclusions with new and inspiring rhetoric. Produce a report that is long enough to appear substantial, but short enough that some people will actually read it.

Step 4: Slap a patriotic cover on the final report — the American flag is always a winner — and disseminate it widely via social media.

Step 5: Repeat as needed."


     If Flournoy were interested in innovation or even debate, Steve Walt would have been an obvious, lively policy person - from Harvard yet - to invite.  No chance...


       Now President Obama probably already has special forces troops on the ground in Syria.  For the Joint Special Operations Command, already does secret operations in some 70  countries, 12 a night.  These forces surfaced in taking out Bin Laden.  See Jeremy Scahill, Dirty Wars.  The JSOC are not in the normal line of military command, but run by officers who report, directly and secretly,  to the President.


       The kind of abuse the American Revolution rightly said was an act of tyranny under George III.  Yet it has now become what the American President commands even the Gandhi and King-admiring Obama.  There is no Congressional review or decision, nor even regular, public military authority.  This is, by the way, not constitutional.


     In addition, the last declaration of war was in 2001, the Authorization to Use Military Force against Al-Qaeda,  This did not even sanction Bush's aggression in Iraq - the crime of war, Article 2, section 4 of the UN Charter - since Saddam had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda. But one cannot say that this crime was also  Cheney/W. emulating King George III with a private army.   In contrast, the JSOC  is a private, monarchical army, doing acts of war in many countries, a paradigm of anti-democratic corruption, developed primarily under Barack Obama.


     Under Bush and Obama, private contractors also outnumber regular soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Yet the figures on this - 7 Xe (Blackwater), CACI and other mercenaries for every 3 soldiers in Afghanistan during Obama's escalation - were  also kept secret from the American public by bipartisan Congressional/corporate media agreement.  This "privatization" of the military is sickening enough.  Like voting, the military and prisons are public functions in a sane place, but sold off to corporate profiteers here in the US....


       But the JSOC is an additional, even more secret force.


      Barack has presided over NATO expansion on the borders of Russia into a larger war over the Ukraine.  See "The Democratic Convention, flag-waving, H.W. and the dangers of war" here.  Yet Barack has resisted State Deparment (particularly Victoria Nuland's) pressure to arm the Ukrainians and escalate further against nuclear armed Russia.

     Obama also signed the Iran treaty which has prevented a larger war in the Middle East.  But as Leslie Gelb former leader of the Council on Foreign Relations and now regretful, former supporter of W's aggression in Iraq, has underlined, Obama has become more inclined to military intervention in his final years ("Countering the Neo-con Comeback" here). With the new bombing in Libya Tuesday, Barack is waging war currently in 8 countries.  Of these, most, including Libya, have received no Congressional approval.  For given opposition from below to American wars, the Republican hawks are too cowardly to push war in Congress. The neo-cons, notably Robert Kagan and Victoria Nuland, have Clinton's ear.  

    Reflex Republican war-makers in the Senate and House claim Obama does not wage war enough. Republicans control the Senate and the House (there is some Republican dissidence about war in the House).  Yet anti-War resistance of people from below, including among ordinary Republicans (the costs are too great, the successive wars too futile,  make them afraid to vote authorization for more, and more counterproductive aggressions.  


     Now Michelle Flournoy, Bob Kagan, Victoria Nuland, Amanda Stroud and Genevieve Smith among Clinton advisors - not to mention the older Democratic "humanitarian interventionists" who overlap with neo-cons and 51 diplomats in the State Department whose views for an internal "complaint channel" were "leaked" to the New York Times here  - support escalation in Syria as a step against Obama's decision to focus on Daeesh and avoid a larger war with Russia.  Here again - and this is the coming Clinton administration -  Walt's point about a self-sealed coterie, talking undisturbedly among itself, recycling arrogance and war, war, war, comes into focus even more vividly.  American-centric - and without thought about consequences - clashes with Russia are even more dangerous than the ordinary wars..


     Now, Obama has also worried that what Flournoy and Leon Panetta name "moderates" in the South centrally features Al-Nusra which wants an "Islamic state," celebrates 9/11 and is an enemy of the U.S. Al-Nusra has recently broken with Daeesh, but that is a tactical, maybe even a "for show" difference for Clinton and Floury.


      It would be good for the US to aid/protect the Syrian Kurds who are egalitarian, feminist and socialist but don't hold your breath.


      2017, if Hillary is elected (if we are spared the monster Trump), will be a year of escalated war in Syria and possibly with the Russians.


     Once again, it is the US/NATO's refusal to take in capitalist Russia - Russia applied in 1991 - and expansion right up to Russia's border which has created the continuing danger of nuclear war. See here.  


“I know Hillary cares more about Ukraine than the current president does,” Kagan replied. “[Obama] said to me [that he wouldn’t arm Ukraine because] he doesn’t want a nuclear war with Russia,” he added, rolling his eyes dismissively. “I don’t think Obama cares about Putin anymore at all. I think he’s hopeless.” - Robert Kagan speaking at a Democratic fundraiser for Hillary here.


     Hillary can pressure Barack to put more boots on the ground in the next six months, as prelude to her own escalation. In the primary debates, Bernie Sanders warned sharply of the dangers of regime-change.  But the corporate media did not mention no regime-change or comment on Sanders' attempt to shift American policy in a more sensible, less quagmire-like direction.  And now the New York Times, MSNBC, Fox et al - keep their mouths firmly shut about Flournoy, Nuland, Kagan and other plans for war.  Kagan, among other things, a columnist at the Washington Post, writes creatively of the dangers of Trump's fascism.

     Why, after all, should the people, in a democracy, know about peace and war?


      Now, Daeesh probably takes heart from the clashes of America and Russia. Instead, of trying to crush Daeesh first - Obama's de facto strategy to ally with Iran's military against Daeesh in Iraq (an important step forward under Obama, opposed by Flournoy here), and be less reliant on/bound to the Israeli government's occupation of Palestinian territories and Saudi Wahhabism/bombing civilians in Yemen with American weapons, the US will increasingly skirmish in Syria with Russia.


    Flournoy et al's proposed escalation is linked to larger war in the Ukraine which Victoria Nuland, candidate Secretary of State under Clinton, has long worked for. Flournoy and the diplomats' dangerous policy would involve the US with the most reactionary, corrupt forces detested by ordinary people in the Middle East: the Israeli brutalization of the Palestinians, luxurious Saudi murderousness.  This policy would leave no room, as Hillary stresses, between her and Netanyahu, who runs - I speak as a Jew - a Jim Crow, race-government in Israel.


      Note: Flournoy or Nuland or Panetta who spoke at the Democratic Convention or the 51 diplomats all have their finger in the wind.  Their announcements do not occur separate from Hillary Clinton...


         Hillary's imperial entourage, Flournoy, Nuland, Bob Kagan, Amanda Sloat and Genevieve Smith, are far more thoughtful than the monster Trump.  Trump's bizarre, extended clash with Khizr and Ghazala Khan underlines Hillary's point that one doesn't want Trump with the nuclear codes - twitchy fingers exposed, twitching uncontrollably, by the wrong tweet...


       But unfortunately, this judgment is also something of a projection on Hillary's part.  For  no one in their right mind would want Hillary and her "thoughtful" militarists like Flounoy and Nuland and Sloat and Smith, in a self-sealed chamber, without discussion or criticism, escalating an unnecessary, NATO-expansion up to Russia's border and provoking war with nuclear armed foe.  


    Further, instead of bombing civilians (an unwise American policy now extended to Libya) and relying on local forces to stop Daeesh, Hillary et al want to take on Russia and Iran who are key local fighters against IS in Iraq and Syria.


      The point of bombing is supposedly to support others to take out Daeesh.  Yet Flournoy here and Hillary want to fight again Iran and Russia, who are fighting Daeesh.  For  Flournoy speaks out against any cooperation with Iran  - see here - let alone, balancing towards Israel/Saudi Arabia...


    Now the Shia in Iran, were strengthened by W's aggression in Iraq which brought the Shia there to power.  They are, in total, but 10% of Muslims.  The danger of Iran as a regional power is a vapid Netanyahu-American establishment myth - to take your eyes of the brutal Israeli oppression of Palestinians...In contrast, the Sunnis are 90% of Muslims.  Yet this is another big secret in the American press.  I learned it a year ago.  Say those figures to yourself a few times to take in why what the New York Times writes or the Congress blathers about this matter is false.


       The reality of reactionary Sunni power - particularly, the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, linked to Al-Qaida and Daeesh  - and cooperating often with the racist Israeli government is, unfortunately to the fore. Clinton thus seeks to abandon in foreign policy the wisest steps for deescalating a potentially larger, more chaotic and more dangerous war in the Middle East which Obama has taken.


   And all this will be sprung upon the public after Hillary is elected.   Bernie Sanders was right about a policy of no regime change. American "regime-change" over 40 years has steadily brought about more dangerous and harder to suppress enemies in the Middle East.

     Now Barack rightly said that Libya was the worst thing in his Presidency, but then embraced its author, Hillary.  The corporate media/bipartisan Congress keep their mouths firmly shut about escalation, and do not cover the people who rightly chanted "No More Wars" at General John Allen's frightening speech - see here -  and the belligerent Leon Panetta at the Democratic Convention.  Beyond sad and stupid, this is also dangerous.


   As Gareth Porter rightly insists below, this signaling for escalated War in Syria against Assad and Russia, is associated strongly with Clinton, the new nominee, to pressure Obama in the last 6 months of his Presidency, send a belligerent signal internationally and make headway with the neocons like Robert Kagan, and other members of the Republican national security elite.  Yet it is novelly being kept from the democracy, in an election...

      "It is highly unusual, if not unprecedented, for figures known to be close to a presidential candidate to make public recommendations for new and broader war abroad. The fact that such explicit plans for military strikes against the Assad regime were aired so openly soon after Clinton had clinched the Democratic nomination suggests that Clinton had encouraged Flournoy and Panetta to do so."

     Perhaps in a campaign, only Lyndon Johnson, who told Barry Goldwater he planned to escalate in Vietnam at security briefings in 1964, but let Goldwater take the fall in the election as a big warmonger, was more duplicitous.  Johnson sent many more troops in spring, 1965...


     Hubris, as Thucydides. Sophocles and Socrates say, is the fatal disease of democratic empires.  As shown by the long Peloponnesian War, Athenian leaders puff themselves up and make unending war with worse and worse results until democracy finally collapses.


     Bob Kagan, leading campaigner for W's aggression in Iraq, is now also advisor to Hillary.  He is a frank and interesting interpreter of the history of American aggressions starting with its massacres of indigenous people from Coast to Coast (he acknowledges at least that they were massacres. He has also maneuvered himself from Project for a New American Century leader to Hillary clinton supporter, welcomed among prospective Clinton wars-makers at a fund-raiser.   He is married to Victoria Nuland who has played an unprecedented role in the events in the Ukraine.  See here.

     Kagan celebrates America being "on top through exercising vast military strength."  Obama read his The World America Made (2012) and took him to lunch. Kagan seems to be a main theme-maker of the late Obama Presidency morphing into the new, more strident, anti-Russia "3:AM" Clinton period.


    Now a democratic revolution from below also scares Russia in the Ukraine (more even than the US was scared by the revolution in Cuba).  An anti-Putin spring may await over the next few years in Russia.  Sam Madison, a radical who has spent much time in the Ukraine, sent a long report about the many positive aspects of the uprising. See "What happened in the Ukraine?" here.  But of course, Nuland's/the United States's intervention, right at Russia's border, undercuts this uprising.  Putin seized Crimea especially to protect Russia's naval base in Sebastopol and prevent the US from getting one.  NATO and the US should allow Georgia and the Ukraine to become neutral, buffer states with Russia, and probably reconsider trying to get Russia into NATO again at some, near point (H.W.'s refusal to allow this, in 1991, was a historic American crime against peace...).


      Pete Seeger sang of the general, up then to his waist, staggering on in the Big Muddy in Vietnam:  "the big fool carries on."  This is elite, bipartisan madness. And Hillary believes in and has chosen to be - "3:AM," into regime change, delighting in murder (chortling over the sodomization of Qaddafi), heedless of consequences and frightening, except compared to the monster Trump who occasionally says something sensible, although perhaps for venal reasons, about avoiding war with Russia,  before taking it back - blustering "torture torture torture" - in the next sentence.

     And anyone who thinks the women are tougher than W., tougher, that is, about being wrong-headed and sticking stubbornly with it in what is clearly becoming an echo-chamber - Hillary, Nuland, Flournoy, Stroud, Smith, Power, Susan Rice - probably has it right.  They are more intelligent and  interested in politics than W., but just as self-sealed.

    Not just one Maggie or Indira, but a crew...


    Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad...


     It is heartening that Black Lives Matter  is meeting with Palestinians (I heard Patrisse Cullors speak on this at a conference in Atlanta last November of the American Committee for the Liberation of Palestine).  See here.  They and everyone else will need to mount a great effort to stop renewed, hopeless, potentially provocative of nuclear war, endlessly wasteful of domestic resources which could be used for a common good American aggressions.

Hillary Clinton’s Likely Defense Secretary Wants More US Troops Fighting ISIS and Assad

Michèle Flournoy on the fifth anniversary of CNAS
If the cards fall where many think they will, 2017 could be the year of the no-bomb zone.
UPDATE: After publication, Michele Flournoy responded to this article. See below for her letter to the editor.

The woman expected to run the Pentagon under Hillary Clinton said she would direct U.S. troops to push President Bashar al-Assad’s forces out of southern Syria and would send more American boots to fight the Islamic State in the region.   
Michele Flournoy, formerly the third-ranking civilian in the Pentagon under President Barack Obama, called for “limited military coercion” to help remove Assad from power in Syria, including a “no bombing” zone over parts of Syria held by U.S.-backed rebels.

Flournoy, and several of her colleagues at the Center for New American Security, or CNAS, have been making the case for sending more American troops into combat against ISIS and the Assad regime than the Obama administration has been willing to commit.

Since Russia’s increased involvement, the facts on the ground in Syria, she said, “Do not support the kind of negotiated conditions we would like to get to.” U.S. policy should be the removal of Assad even if that meant “using limited military coercion,” Flournoy said, at Monday’s annual CNAS conference in Washington.  

What might that look like?

Last week, three CNAS authors, in a new report, call for the United States to “go beyond the current Cessation of Hostilities.” The United States should press Syria and Russia to agree “not to treat the Southern Front as an extremist group and to cease air attacks on the territory it controls,” wrote Ilan Goldenberg, Paul Scharre, and Nicholas Heras. CNAS says those views are not the entire organization’s, but noted the report was “informed by deliberations of CNAS’ ISIS Study Group, chaired by CNAS CEO Michèle Flournoy and CNAS President Richard Fontaine,” a former foreign policy advisor to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.   

If Syria’s bombing continues, the United States should consider instituting what the paper dubs a “no bomb zone.” If the Assad regime bombs areas that are held by the Southern Front, an opposition alliance that the United States supports, then the United States would retaliate, using standoff weapons like cruise missiles to hit targets associated with the Assad regime, but notairbases housing Russian forces. The retaliatory strikes might include Syrian forward operating bases or “security apparatus facilities in Damascus that are fixed regime targets and would require less invasive reconnaissance.”

The targets need not be ones that are directly tied to Assad strikes on, so long as the message is clear to Assad.
“It’s not a traditional no-fly zone so you’re not having air craft drill holes in the sky. You’re not having to take out the entire civilian air defense system,” Flournoy told Defense One. She called the bomb zone idea a declaratory policy backed up by the threat of force. “If you bomb the folks we support, we will retaliate using standoff means to destroy [Russian] proxy forces, or, in this case, Syrian assets.” The no bomb zone could “arguably slow the refugee flows. It would stop the bombing of certain civilian populations” she said.

Flournoy called the no-bomb zone worthy of more examination. “The analysis that needs to be done is playing out the concept, two, three and four steps down the road. What if the Russians do test it? What would the response be?” she said.
Flournoy served as Obama’s under secretary of defense for policy from 2009 to 2012. On Monday, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius described her as being on “short, short” list for the job. So what would she do in the job?
Last 2015, Flournoy delicately condemned the Obama administration’s ISIS policy as ineffectual. “The military dimensions of the strategy have been under-resourced, while many of the non-military lines of operation remain underdeveloped,” she wrote.

She outlined several key steps to increase pressure on ISIS. They included: increased numbers of combat missions; embedding U.S. military advisors in the Iraqi Security Forces at the battalion level and allowing them to advise Iraqi commanders during operations; deploying forward air-controllers to call in air support during combat missions; and direct arming of Sunni tribes and the Kurdish Peshmerga. The strategy would “hold out the prospect that arms will flow through Baghdad if and when the central government establishes a reliable process for their transfer.”
In Syria, the United States “should cease its insistence on the Islamic State as the sole target and begin training and equipping moderate opposition fighters who wish to take on the Assad regime as well,” she said.

To the Editor of Defense One:

I am writing in response to your piece on June 20 that fundamentally mischaracterized my views on the role U.S. forces should play in Syria.  Both the headline and article erroneously suggested that I advocate sending more U.S. troops to “push President Bashar al-Assad’s forces out of southern Syria” and “remove Assad from power.” I do not.
I have argued for increasing U.S. military support to moderate Syrian opposition groups fighting ISIS and the Assad regime, like the Southern Front, not asking U.S. troops to do the fighting in their stead.  I further argue that the U.S. should under some circumstances consider using limited military coercion – primarily strikes using standoff weapons – to retaliate against Syrian military targets in order to stop violations of the Cessation of Hostilities, deter Russian and Syrian bombing of innocent civilians and the opposition groups we support, and set more favorable conditions on the ground for a negotiated political settlement.

In short, I advocate doing more to support our partners on the ground to make them more effective; I do NOT advocate putting U.S. combat troops on the ground to take territory from Assad’s forces or remove Assad from power. 

Michele A. Flournoy
  • ***
Hillary Clinton and Her Hawks
By Gareth Porter
Consortium News
30 July 16

Focusing on domestic issues, Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech sidestepped the deep concerns anti-war Democrats have about her hawkish foreign policy, which is already taking shape in the shadows, reports Gareth Porter.
As Hillary Clinton begins her final charge for the White House, her advisers are already recommending air strikes and other new military measures against the Assad regime in Syria.
The clear signals of Clinton’s readiness to go to war appears to be aimed at influencing the course of the war in Syria as well as U.S. policy over the remaining six months of the Obama administration. (She also may be hoping to corral the votes of Republican neoconservatives concerned about Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.)
Last month, the think tank run by Michele Flournoy, the former Defense Department official considered to be most likely to be Clinton’s choice to be Secretary of Defense, explicitly called for “limited military strikes” against the Assad regime.
And earlier this month Leon Panetta, former Defense Secretary and CIA Director, who has been advising candidate Clinton, declared in an interview that the next president would have to increase the number of Special Forces and carry out air strikes to help “moderate” groups against President Bashal al-Assad. (When Panetta gave a belligerent speech at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night, he was interrupted by chants from the delegates on the floor of “no more war!”)
Flournoy co-founded the Center for New American Security (CNAS) in 2007 to promote support for U.S. war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then became Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the Obama administration in 2009.
Flournoy left her Pentagon position in 2012 and returned to CNAS as Chief Executive Officer.  She has been described by ultimate insider journalist David Ignatius of the Washington Post, as being on a “short, short list” for the job Secretary of Defense in a Clinton administration.
Last month, CNAS published a report of a “Study Group” on military policy in Syria on the eve of the organization’s annual conference.  Ostensibly focused on how to defeat the Islamic State, the report recommends new U.S. military actions against the Assad regime.
Flournoy chaired the task force, along with CNAS president Richard Fontaine, and publicly embraced its main policy recommendation in remarks at the conference.
She called for “using limited military coercion” to help support the forces seeking to force President Assad from power, in part by creating a “no bombing” zone over those areas in which the opposition groups backed by the United States could operate safely.
In an interview with Defense One, Flournoy described the no-bomb zone as saying to the Russian and Syrian governments, “If you bomb the folks we support, we will retaliate using standoff means to destroy [Russian] proxy forces, or, in this case, Syrian assets.”  That would “stop the bombing of certain civilian populations,” Flournoy said.
In a letter to the editor of Defense One, Flournoy denied having advocated “putting U.S. combat troops on the ground to take territory from Assad’s forces or remove Assad from power,” which she said the title and content of the article had suggested.
But she confirmed that she had argued that “the U.S. should under some circumstances consider using limited military coercion – primarily trikes using standoff weapons – to retaliate against Syrian military targets” for attacks on civilian or opposition groups “and to set more favorable conditions on the ground for a negotiated political settlement.”
Renaming a ‘No-Fly’ Zone
The proposal for a “no bombing zone” has clearly replaced the “no fly zone,” which Clinton has repeatedly supported in the past as the slogan to cover a much broader U.S. military role in Syria.
Panetta served as Defense Secretary and CIA Director in the Obama administration when Clinton was Secretary of State, and was Clinton’s ally on Syria policy. On July 17, he gave an interview to CBS News in which he called for steps that partly complemented and partly paralleled the recommendations in the CNAS paper.
“I think the likelihood is that the next president is gonna have to consider adding additional special forces on the ground,” Panetta said, “to try to assist those moderate forces that are taking on ISIS and that are taking on Assad’s forces.”
Panetta was deliberately conflating two different issues in supporting more U.S. Special Forces in Syria. The existing military mission for those forces is to support the anti-ISIS forces made up overwhelmingly of the Kurdish YPG and a few opposition groups.
Neither the Kurds nor the opposition groups the Special Forces are supporting are fighting against the Assad regime.  What Panetta presented as a need only for additional personnel is in fact a completely new U.S. mission for Special Forces of putting military pressure on the Assad regime.
He also called for increasing “strikes” in order to “put increasing pressure on ISIS but also on Assad.” That wording, which jibes with the Flournoy-CNAS recommendation, again conflates two entirely different strategic programs as a single program.
The Panetta ploys in confusing two separate policy issues reflects the reality that the majority of the American public strongly supports doing more militarily to defeat ISIS but has been opposed to U.S. war against the government in Syria.
poll taken last spring showed 57 percent in favor of a more aggressive U.S. military force against ISIS. The last time public opinion was surveyed on the issue of war against the Assad regime, however, was in September 2013, just as Congress was about to vote on authorizing such a strike.
At that time, 55 percent to 77 percent of those surveyed opposed the use of military force against the Syrian regime, depending on whether Congress voted to authorize such a strike or to oppose it.
Shaping the Debate
It is highly unusual, if not unprecedented, for figures known to be close to a presidential candidate to make public recommendations for new and broader war abroad. The fact that such explicit plans for military strikes against the Assad regime were aired so openly soon after Clinton had clinched the Democratic nomination suggests that Clinton had encouraged Flournoy and Panetta to do so.
The rationale for doing so is evidently not to strengthen her public support at home but to shape the policy decisions made by the Obama administration and the coalition of external supporters of the armed opposition to Assad.
Obama’s refusal to threaten to use military force on behalf of the anti-Assad forces or to step up military assistance to them has provoked a series of leaks to the news media by unnamed officials – primarily from the Defense Department – criticizing Obama’s willingness to cooperate with Russia in seeking a Syrian ceasefire and political settlement as “naïve.”
The news of Clinton’s advisers calling openly for military measures signals to those critics in the administration to continue to push for a more aggressive policy on the premise that she will do just that as president.
Even more important to Clinton and close associates, however, is the hope of encouraging Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have been supporting the armed opposition to Assad, to persist in and even intensify their efforts in the face of the prospect of U.S.-Russian cooperation in Syria.
Even before the recommendations were revealed, specialists on Syria in Washington think tanks were already observing signs that Saudi and Qatari policymakers were waiting for the Obama administration to end in the hope that Clinton would be elected and take a more activist role in the war against Assad.
The new Prime Minister of Turkey, Binali Yildirim, however, made a statement on July 13 suggesting that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan may be considering a deal with Russia and the Assad regime at the expense of both Syrian Kurds and the anti-Assad opposition.
That certainly would have alarmed Clinton’s advisers, and four days later, Panetta made his comments on network television about what “the next president” would have to do in Syria.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

Why a big-name D.C.-based think tank’s report on U.S. foreign policy is unimaginative, predictably U.S.-centric, and a recipe for failure.

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
         MAY 26, 2016
Question: If a well-established set of policies is visibly failing, public skepticism is growing, and promising alternative approaches are beginning to gain a bit of traction in public discourse, what should dedicated defenders of the status quo do? Specifically, given that the grand strategy of liberal hegemony has produced an array of costly failures over the past 20-plus years, how can its proponents head off calls for a smarter foreign policy and persuade the American people to keep trying to run the world?
Answer: Take your Official Beltway Policy Cookbook off the shelf and prepare the following recipe:
Step 1: Assemble a bipartisan group of experienced former officials, carefully chosen for their commitment to the familiar nostrums of “American leadership.”
Step 2: Invite them to a few meetings, dinners, or study sessions, where they can hear testimony from other like-minded experts. Do not prepare original research or listen to anyone who might offer a sharply critical, “outside-the-box” perspective.
Step 3: Hire an able wordsmith who knows how to dress up the same old conclusions with new and inspiring rhetoric. Produce a report that is long enough to appear substantial, but short enough that some people will actually read it.
Step 4: Slap a patriotic cover on the final report — the American flag is always a winner — and disseminate it widely via social media.
Step 5: Repeat as needed.
The Center for a New American Security’s new report, Extending American Power, is a textbook illustration of what this recipe produces. Indeed, it is the latest in a series of similar documents that mainstream foreign-policy institutions have produced over the past decade or more, such as the lengthy Princeton Project in National Security (2006) or the Project for a United and Strong America’s more recent Setting Priorities for American Leadership: A New National Strategy for the United States (2013). These and other reports are essentially interchangeable, insofar as they all portray the United States as the “indispensable” linchpin of the present world order, they warn that any alteration of America’s role in the world would have catastrophic consequences, and offer up a lengthy “to-do” list of projects that Washington must undertake in far-flung corners of the globe.

The composition and conduct of this latest CNAS study are precisely what one expects, as are its conclusions. The co-chairs were former Clinton-era State Department official James Rubin and the ubiquitous neoconservative pundit Robert Kagan. The team members included boldface foreign-policy names such as Michele Flournoy, Robert Zoellick, Kurt Campbell, Stephen Hadley, James Steinberg, Eric Edelman, and a number of others. The witnesses invited to testify at the group’s working dinners were equally unsurprising: Stephen Sestanovich, Elliot Abrams, Dennis Ross, Victoria Nuland, Martin Indyk, and a few more familiar faces. The only potentially contrarian witnesses were Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group and Vali Nasr of John Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, but even they are hardly outside the mainstream.

Needless to say, this is neither a group nor a process likely to produce a deep or rigorous evaluation of recent U.S. foreign policy. After all, the report’s signatories helped create many of the problems they now seek to fix, so you’d hardly expect them to cast a critical eye on their own handiwork. As a result, the CNAS report is the last place to look for an evenhanded assessment of past successes and failures, much less new ideas about how America should approach today’s world.

Instead, what one reads is a rather tired defense of American liberal hegemony. It begins by lauding the “liberal world order” that has “produced immense benefits” for humankind, and declares “to preserve and strengthen this order will require a renewal of American leadership in the international system.” Never mind that the report neither spells out what that “order” is nor identifies the connection between this supposed order and the policies needed to preserve it. Never mind that much of the planet was not part of that order or that recent U.S. efforts to expand its sway have produced costly quagmires, rising chaos, and deteriorating relations with other major powers. Nor does it ask if there are elements of the existing order that should be rethought. Instead, the report simply posits that a liberal world order exists and that it cannot survive without the energetic use of American power in many places.

To maintain America’s “leadership role,” the report calls for significant increases in national security spending and recommends the United States expand its military activities in three major areas: Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. It leaves open the possibility that the United States might have to do more in other places too, so its real agenda may be even more ambitious than the authors admit.

In Europe, Washington must “stabilize Ukraine and anchor it in Europe” (ignoring the U.S. role in causing the present crisis), “establish a more robust U.S. presence in Central and Eastern European countries,” and “restore capacity for European strategic leadership.” The contradiction here is hard to miss: Why should we expect Europe to develop a renewed capacity for “strategic leadership” when the United States reserves that role for itself and Europe’s leaders can still rely on Uncle Sam to ride to the rescue whenever things look worrisome?

In Asia, the United States should counter a rising China by continuing the Obama administration’s “pivot,” implementing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and strengthening its defense capabilities. Washington may also have to “impose regional costs” on China for its actions in the South China Sea and inflict “commensurate economic penalties to slow Chinese dominance.” Yet Washington should also “facilitate China’s continued integration so as to blunt its historical fears of ‘containment.’” Huh? We’re going to assemble all the ingredients and policies needed to contain China — and maybe even slow its rise — but somehow Beijing won’t notice or care or respond. This is wishful thinking, not strategy.

In the Middle East, the CNAS group wants to “scale up” the effort against the Islamic State, with the United States in the leading role. It also calls for a no-fly zone in Syria, and if that’s not enough, Washington “must adopt as a matter of policy, the goal of defeating Iran’s determined effort to dominate the Middle East.” The report does not explain how Persian Iran will manage to “dominate” the Arab Middle East with a defense budget that is less than 5 percent of ours, and in the face of potential opposition from Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and several other states. In fact, the only way Iran will dominate the Middle East in the near future is if the United States keeps toppling its rivals, as it did when it foolishly invaded Iraq in 2003 (a step most of the signatories of this report supported).

The U.S. commitment to Israel must be “unshakable” (of course), but the authors do not bother to explain how unconditional U.S. support for Israel makes the United States richer, more influential, or more secure (hint: it doesn’t). Washington should “assist” Israel and the Palestinians in moving toward a two-state solution but “only when both sides are ready … to negotiate in good faith.” Given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s steadfast opposition to anything remotely resembling a viable Palestinian state and the rightward march of Israeli domestic politics, this prescription actually means doing nothing, while continuing to subsidize Israel’s occupation in perpetuity. The result will not be two states but a de facto one state — or Greater Israel — thus threatening Israel’s long-term future and making Washington look both hypocritical and ineffectual.

In short, this report calls on the United States to maintain every one of its current international commitments, double down on policies that have repeatedly failed, and take on expensive, risky, and uncertain projects in several regions at once. Some of its recommendations make sense — for example, I’d endorse some of their prescriptions regarding Asia — but the overall package is the same boundless vision of U.S. “leadership” that has guided U.S. foreign policy since the Soviet Union broke apart. And in case you haven’t noticed, that strategy has done little to make the world or the United States safer, stronger, or richer.

How can a group of smart and experienced people produce such an unimaginative document? Part of the reason is the process employed: You can’t expect any group of people — no matter how savvy — to come up with something rigorous, imaginative, and compelling in the course of few dinner meetings. Creative strategizing is even less likely to occur when the purpose of the exercise is to defend a predetermined bottom line. And that’s what is really on offer here.

For starters, Extending American Power never defines U.S. strategic interests or explains why those interests are important to our security and well-being. It says hardly anything about America’s geographic position, resource endowments, demographic characteristics, underlying economic interests, or core strategic requirements. It does not try to rank vital interests, assess the potential threats to those interests, or consider different ways potential threats might be addressed. Rather, the report simply assumes the United States has vital interests everywhere, that a liberal world order will preserve them, and that maintaining that order requires deploying and using American power in distant corners of the world.

Perhaps they’re right, but the report makes no attempt to explain why a no-fly zone in Syria would make Americans safer or more prosperous. Nor does it explain why U.S. security demands it take the leading role against the Islamic State, confront Iran, or stabilize Ukraine. Most revealing of all, the report does not tell readers why the United States must continue to underwrite the security of Europe, a continent that is far wealthier and more populous than its declining Russian neighbor [yes and no: the Russian army performed competently in Syria], and whose member states spend at least four times more on defense than Russia does each and every year.

Second, the authors cannot decide if the United States is supremely powerful or seriously vulnerable. The report suggests increased defense spending is easily affordable, because “the American economy has proven to be the most dynamic and most resilient in the face of setbacks.” But if this is true, then perhaps the U.S. economy is not that sensitive to events elsewhere in the world, and the turmoil that the signatories now decry does not threaten U.S. prosperity as much as they suggest. And if that is indeed the case, then why must the United States do the heavy lifting in three distant regions?

By contrast, if U.S. prosperity is critically dependent on events in distant corners of the planet, then perhaps America is not as omnipotent as they maintain and trying to manage local politics in three distinct regions will be harder than they think. As the report admits, the United States couldn’t even persuade its closest allies to stay out of China’s Asian Infrastructure Bank, yet it assumes Washington can still control the politics and security environment in three very different regions simultaneously.

Third, like the neoconservatives who promised the invasion of Iraq would be quick and cheap and yield manifold benefits, the report assumes the recommended “extensions” of American power carry no real risks. If America just asserts itself in all these places, the report assumes adversaries will be cowed and behave pretty much as we want. The past 25 years might have taught the signatories that 1) other states have vital interests too; 2) the enemy gets a vote; 3) even close allies don’t always follow the U.S. lead; and 4) military force is a crude instrument that typically produces lots of unintended consequences, and sometimes fails completely — as in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Yet the possibility that their various prescriptions will not work as intended does not seem to have occurred to them. As soon as one of their ambitious projects goes badly, America’s ability to pursue the others will perforce decline.

Fourth, and following from the last point, the report’s authors do not recognize that even a global power like the United States needs to set priorities and make choices. There is no recognition that doing more in the Middle East might impinge on the U.S. ability to balance China in Asia, or that the strategy they recommend might drive China, Russia, and Iran closer together. There is no awareness that confronting Russia in its own backyard might undermine efforts to cooperate with Moscow over the conflict in Syria, China’s rising power, Iran’s nuclear program, or nuclear security more broadly. Nor do they admit that their strategy inevitably means higher taxes or bigger deficits (or both) and less money to devote to strengthening the long-term foundations of U.S. power: infrastructure, education, and R&D. For these reasons, as Daniel Davis warns in his own critique of the report, their prescriptions are more likely to jeopardize U.S. primacy than prolong it.

That possibility is even more likely if China’s leaders are smart enough to avoid costly conflicts and focuses primarily on building a world-class economy. Remember: The United States joined the ranks of the great powers by staying out of distant battles and building power at home, and the European powers’ penchant for fighting ruinous wars helped accelerate America’s rise. Beijing appears to have learned that lesson well, while Washington repeatedly forgets it.

Fifth, what is perhaps most revealing about this unqualified defense of liberal hegemony is how insensitive it is to the actual state of the world. It doesn’t matter where the United States is located, what its internal condition is, where principal dangers might lie, what the balance of power is in different parts of the world, or whether the main challenge we face is a large and well-armed peer competitor like the Soviet Union or a shadowy terrorist network like al Qaeda. No matter what the question is, the answer is always the same: The United States is the “indispensable power,” it must take the lead in solving every global issue, and it must actively interfere in other countries in order to keep the current world order intact.

Extending American Power ends by warning that “the task of preserving a world order is both difficult and never-ending.” The authors undoubtedly hope this admonition will persuade readers to suck it up and bear the necessary burdens of running the world. What this statement actually reveals, however, is that they recognize the liberal order the United States has labored for decades to create is about as durable as cotton candy.

This depressing realization suggests America’s foreign-policy experts need to rethink their basic approach to dealing with the rest of the world, instead of simply devising new rationales for a failing strategy. But as this report (and others like it) demonstrate, that much-needed reassessment is not likely to emerge from the same people and institutions that helped bring us to where we are today.

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