This Is What Losing Looks Like:
By David Dienstag
WASHINGTON Some of my friends have been unhappy with me because I am not enthusiastic about America becoming involved in the war in Syria. I’m really going to catch it now. I am no fan of Assad, and early on, I was interested in helping in spite of the healthy skepticism I have for our American diplomatic and military leadership. Unfortunately, right from the start, I saw clear signs of the massive idiocy in the Syrian conversations held in diplomatic circles that have polluted the Afghan decisions for decades. Given the levels of craven, self-serving stupidity that American foreign policy leadership indulges itself in, I seriously doubt that they can come up with an operation requiring the fast thinking and delicacy required to support the resistance movement in Syria. So far, they’ve really made a mess of it.
The central theme in my point of view is something that many people around the world simply cannot wrap their heads around. It is this: American foreign policy leadership is so hopelessly stupid and spineless that the present crew of entrenched bureaucrats should not be allowed to make important decisions. New people are needed. Time after time, policies and programs have been foisted on the American people that are wrapped up in demagogic noise, typically displaying the best intentions as window dressing for cravenly corrupt, enormously stupid blunders. So a bloody surge was packaged as a crusade for women’s rights in Afghanistan, etc. It is alarming that foreign leaders think that American actions are a cover story for some kind of plan to dominate the world. It is a sad miscalculation. We keep losing. American foreign policy leadership is so lacking, it is inconceivable to the leaders in the capitals of the world. Foreign leaders still don’t understand that the stewards of American foreign policy are incompetents who are merely bad imitations of the planners, policy makers and statesmen that they should be. It used to be said that in WWI, British soldiers were "lions led by donkeys". The same paradigm exists today for America, and a culture of mediocrity has permanently nested in Washington that makes previous mediocrity look positively competent. Jezail has come to exist as means to highlight this policy malpractice.
That is why I choose to revisit a conference on Syria held by the Middle East Institute on August 10, 2011. In the fullness of time, an otherwise meaningless conference has come to have a strange kind of meaning. This conference attracted a large room full of reporters and diplomats and addressed the situation in Syria as the initial demonstrations were being held. The urgency of the moment was clear. The tension in the room was unmistakable. We later learned that those demonstrations were enthusiastically encouraged by the Clinton State Department in the wake of Arab Spring revolts in Egypt and Tunisia. So the conference was even more of a staged event by the administration than I originally suspected. The food was good, the weather was beautiful and the room began to fill with hyperbole immediately.
The critical concept that the representatives of the Syrian demonstrators hammered was the non-violent nature that they insisted was crucial to success. The rest of the conference was an exercise in outlining problems and opportunities, although laden with some dubious assumptions. That part of the conference should be stripped from the core, ground-breaking concept that was being heavily advocated: non-violent regime change in Syria. Simply put: the demonstrators were asserting that they could sweep away the Assad regime with non-violent tactics such as balloons and flowers. This I found to be quite shocking. I made no secret of this and asked about it then and there. Non-violence in the face of a monster like Assad?
The notion of non-violent regime change is the product of a school of thought that comes from "conflict resolution" adherents so popular in Washington. They think that they can solve anything from border disputes to genocides without the use of those icky, icky guns. In this mindset, guns are for goons, thugs, Bible-thumping rednecks and Republicans. It has been in Washington’s Kool-Aid since before Hillary took office but it really kicked in from the moment she sat at her desk. People like me who actually carried a rifle in a freedom fight are regarded as monsters. So the answer to my question was that the demonstrators knew that the regime’s response to violence would be so severe that it wouldn’t be worth it. A previous massacre in Hama was cited in which Bashar Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad wiped out some 30,000 Syrians who opposed the regime. I was shocked by this response. It occurred to me, at the time, that Syria has never been a client state of the West and has never had leadership that didnt rely almost entirely on raw power and repression to maintain regime survival. It was clear to me that this was not going to be Egypt or Tunisia. The Syrian tree of liberty would very obviously have to be fertilized with the blood of patriots and not flowers or balloons. We now know that these guys were selected and groomed by the Clinton State Department as "leadership" mannequins. They have become almost entirely irrelevant to events on the ground and virtually nobody on the ground in Syria recognizes them as leaders. The calculation was clearly made that Syrian freedom wasn’t worth fighting for, only demonstrating. They say so clearly in this video. It was also clear that these guys didn’t even have a Plan B. It has been a death sentence for 80,000 Syrians and counting including relatives of some of the very same people advocating non-violence. A word of advice here: never pick a fight you know you can’t win.
I tried desperately to come up with some kind of life preserver for them. So I asked them if they had been talking to anyone in the Congress. My suggestion was rejected. Too bad. I’d seen this kind of thing before many times. Freedom and Liberation movement leaders come to Washington believing that they have friends in State, CIA and/or the military over and over. Every time they are let down by incompetence and corruption. That’s why I asked if they have a delegation to the Congress. That’s what saved the Afghan Mujaheddin from CIA deliberate incompetence in the early 1980s. The part of the video that shows me asking about a Congressional delegation has vanished sadly. What happened next was emblematic of Washington behavior. There was an absolutely hostile response from the floor. First some suit claimed that I thought I was Charlie Wilson. Nope. I hated him when he was alive and Wilson knew it. Then some bovine Brahmin from the State Department sternly lectured me with the oft-repeated line from Al Jazeera: "America doesn't matter anymore". As we now know, it was only a matter of months before Syrian demonstrators began to demand an American no-fly-zone. Now they want American weapons. So much for America not mattering.
But this is the kind of inflated rhetoric that flies in Washington. One of the speakers cited Gandhi tactics as a method to win freedom from the House of Assad. Gandhi was a great man and had some fine ideas, but facing down an ailing British colonial administration and Louis Mountbatten is a far cry from squaring off with a nurtured monster like Assad. Foreign policy professionals should have known that and acted accordingly. They should have done something then and there, before committing Syrians to bloodshed and state dissolution. I certainly knew. I absolutely understood the difference. To me, it was painfully obvious. But these guys drank Mrs. Clinton’s Kool-Aid and believed that they could get rid of Assad as if he was an ailing British colonial diplomat. They drank the wrong Kool-Aid.
There is a terrible irony in this video too. The closest the Syrian Freedom movement ever got to winning has been through fighting, not balloons or flowers. Those tactics might have been good as opening moves but without a real fighting alternative to back them up, they were doomed to fail. After fighting broke out, the FSA really had Assad on the ropes. It looked for a while like they were going to win. But they failed miserably to elicit real help from Washington in a timely and meaningful way. They trusted the State Department and Mrs. Clinton without question. Now the Russians have jumped in, and Iran has increased its commitment. America has committed only to passing out Band-Aids, perhaps wisely at this point. More free advice: there is only a brief window of time when you can pull off something like this, and when it closes, it’s over. That window was clearly shut when the Kremlin realized that it had been hoodwinked in Libya. The bridge to freedom for Syria has become a bridge too far.
I had this queasy feeling in my stomach as I left the conference. It’s not that you know what is going to happen exactly. It’s just that you feel that something horrible and disastrous will. Some kind of Islamic meltdown was touched off. The body count is at 80,000 and rising as of this writing and Mrs. Clinton is acting as if she deserves to take a victory lap after stepping down. She’s aiming for the White House, not liberation in Syria. That’s Washington. It’s not about success. It’s about self-aggrandizement, resume padding and career advancement or getting government contracts. In Washington, a short, sweet victory is in no one’s interest, not really. When you win too quickly or easily, you have to go out and look for more work sooner, maybe just as you’re getting comfortable. So long, drawn-out slogs are preferable. It’s job security. That’s what they served up in Iraq and that’s what they engineered in Afghanistan. You can get away with blaming Iraq on George W. Bush, but Mrs. Clinton wholly owns Afghanistan, where we’ve been fighting Pakistani proxies while calling Pakistan friend, ally and "frenemy" but never admitting that Pakistan is a threat to every so-called "gain" in Afghanistan. America was steered into fighting a counter insurgency when, in fact, the Afghans were fighting a Freedom and Liberation struggle against the Pakistanis. No one in the Department of State will admit that the enemy is Pakistan so they run with a cover story about fighting the Taliban. No one will admit that the Taliban would never have existed without Pakistan. That’s modern Washington too. Policy makers lie so much and so large that people begin to believe these cover stories, and it affects strategy to the point of engineering defeat. Instead of fighting a liberation struggle, we were crowbarred into a counter insurgency. It has happened over and over. Very few, if any, current Freedom and Liberation movements seem to understand this. They come to Washington thinking that they have allies and they end up in some nightmare entirely arranged by their "friends" in Washington.
Only a few people know how to pull off a successful insurgency. Many learned with the success of the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. As a young man, I knew that there was some potential to pull off an Afghan victory. I learned that it could be accomplished by wresting policy control out of the hands of people who ride on the backs of Freedom and Liberation movements for a living. I had read my Le Carré carefully. I studied T.E. Lawrence. After years of watching CIA dithering in Afghanistan, we decided to yank policy-making away from Langley. We were able to use the Congress to force a program to win decisively. We did it legally and democratically. The entire American people were behind us even after they had learned of the Iran-Contra scandal. I learned more from Andrew Eiva and Michael Pillsbury than Charlie Wilson. (More on that elsewhere.)
Unfortunately, the Syrian resistance cannot hope to elicit the emotional response that the Afghan Mujaheddin of the 1980s did. Not after 9/11. Not after Boston. Not after two years of horror on both sides. Americans are sick of losing wars, and Syria has historically not been a client of the West. Geography is destiny. The Syrian civil war will almost certainly plunge Lebanon back into flames and further destabilize Iraq and Jordan. If the America and the West get serious about supplying the Syrian resistance, prosperous Turkey will almost certainly be paying a much stiffer price than they already have been. The only real regional winners would likely be the Kurds. We have seen over and over how these sectarian Islamic meltdowns last for a decade or two and completely devastate a place. Is that really in America’s interest? Do we really want to give guns to that?
Support for Freedom and Resistance movements is not for amateurs. It’s not for people who cannot be honest with themselves either. Nor is it for people who regard appearances as more important than reality. Mrs. Clinton has, for her entire tenure at State, refused to confront the Pakistani Army and ISI over their support for the very people we are fighting. She’s not alone in this failure. She sat on top of an entire agency that practices willful blindness as an art form. Almost no one in Washington talks about it. At least a half trillion dollars have been squandered. Four thousand American lives have been snuffed. Countless Afghan lives have been lost and no one can credibly claim that Afghanistan is now better off than they were before the surge in Afghanistan. But for Mrs. Clinton, all of these things are just waypoints on her path to the White House. Mrs. Clinton has stepped down. But the agency that loved her and enthusiastically lied to the American people, and continued lying as over two thousand Americans died, is still there. That agency is the Department of State, and they have no plans for change.
The remaining video of the conference may be seen here.
External Link: Syria on the Verge: Implications for a Nation in Revolt