Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Bottomliniest Bottom Line

This Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 file citizen journalism image shows rebels from al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, as they sit on a truck full of ammunition, at Taftanaz air base, that was captured by the rebels, in Idlib province, northern Syria (photo credit: AP/ENN)
“The U.S.’s ‘Yadda, Yadda, Yadda’ Doctrine for Syria: Ideas for how the U.S. could intervene in Syria are all talk and no foresight because they ignore a crucial question: How do you stabilize the country afterwards?”  What Jeremy Shapiro proposes here, the need for a stabilization force, a mechanism for coordinating international assistance, a plan for rebuilding infrastructure and ensuring the continuity of institutions, a transitional process, and a Mechanism for resolving political differences, is exactly what Syrian activists and opposition members have been lobbying for since the early days of the Syrian revolution, only to be met with the Obama administration’s real red lines that were noted privately during our various meetings with administrations officials. No, we are not talking here about the “no boots on the ground” policy, but of a policy of no involvement whatsoever, even in a political process, not to mention transitional planning.

Even when the U.S. and various European governments finally saw the wisdom of amending this policy and began funding extensive programs dealing with transition planning and coalition building, and lent support to Civil Society Organizations all over the country, little was done by way of military support. The administration even prevented its allies in the region, including Saudi, Qatar and Turkey from supplying any advanced weaponry to the rebels. Meanwhile, realities on the ground kept on changing and civil society activists and moderate rebels were left at the mercy of regime bombardments and air strikes, which targeted every community where local councils were able to provide effective local governance.

By late 2012 and early 2013, the rebels had to deal with all types of extremist Islamist groups, including Al-Nusra Front, Daesh, Ahrar Al-Sham and Jaish Al-Islam. At first, these groups sent their own elements to take part in some of the U.S. training programs under the pretense of being moderates. Once there, they used their participation to collect information on other activists and real moderate rebels whom they would later target upon their return to Syria. Representatives of the State Department taking part in selecting people for the training were repeatedly warned about such infiltrations and its dangers, but they ignored all warnings.

Vetting was never going to be an easy process, especially when you have a late start at it, then, you choose to do it haphazardly, in fits and struts, and keep refusing to offer advanced weaponry or at least aerial support, and keep changing your objective, thus, demonstrating a certain unreliability and untrustworthiness, while extremist groups offer continuous reliable support. Add bureaucratic mismanagement to the mix, and of course you can expect fuckups.

Be that at it may, The real bottom line is: despite all the problems of the Syrian activists and opposition members, including their fractiousness and their amateurishness, they did, nonetheless and with the support of variety of American and European organizations, and some of the more experienced elements in their midst, do their due diligence on transition planning and day-after visions. But they were faced with an administration that was adamant about doing nothing: that saw any intervention in Syria, or anywhere else for that matter, to be unwarranted even when the protests were nonviolent and the regime was clearly committed to the use of overwhelming force, that is, even when the protesters clearly had the higher moral ground, and there were so few extremists. Neither the overwhelming evidence of systematic slaughter and ethnic cleansing by the regime, nor use of chemical weapons, changed the President’s calculus. When finally the administration chose to intervene in the situation, it did so in response to the rise of IS in Iraq and Syria, and it chose to confront it in Iraq first then in Syria, and always with a lot of caveats: no boots on the ground (later amended to only the fewest possible boots on the ground), no advanced weapons to rebels in Syria (but plenty to the Shia-dominated Iraqi army, which was also arming Shia militias fighting rebels in Syria), no no-fly zone over Syria (thus no cover to rebels fighting against anyone), and a slow-pace training program  for moderate rebels that was even more catastrophically mismanaged than the earlier training programs (and we cannot blame neither activists nor rebels here, since the management was always in the hands of American and European brokers). In fact, the entire training program with its half a billion dollar price tag seems to have been designed to enable the administration to claim that something was being done, when the administration had no intention of doing anything at all, yet.

Moreover, the administration never admitted to any miscalculations in connection to the Syria conflict, be it the persistence of the regime and its head, the rise of IS, the dwindling numbers of moderate rebels, or the fact that Syria seems to have been transformed into a failed state parts of which now are practically run by Iranian and Russian military advisers.


The real bottom line of the bottom line is: we have been dealing with an administration that doesn’t even see in the rise of Daesh a major threat, and is, therefore, willing to adopt a very slow-response strategy to combating it.