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Thoughts on Obama's March to Folly in Syria

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Thoughts on Obama’s March to Folly in Syria
Article by Robert Fisk with Introduction by Chuck Spinney
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Backbone Friends,

Amidst much movement building and action support work from Seattle to Kalamazoo to Chicago, and now planning for upcoming trainings and actions in DC, Obama’s sudden push for military action in Syria causes my mind to whirl. Like many of you, I have read about the Spanish Civil War and detest the abandoning of opponents of tyranny, but I also detest the idea of illegal, unConstitutional US military intervention, and the idea that our bombs ever bring peace.

Chuck Spinney, the person I look to as a mentor in grand strategy, domains of conflict and a guide to the Pentagon labyrinth sent the below article by Robert Fisk with his insightful introductory comments. I have included two graphics to help you understand the grand tactical concept of the “OODA loop” to which Spinney refers. Click on the images to view larger, more readable versions.

I hope it helps you as it helped me.

In collaboration,

Bill Moyer

From Chuck Spinney:

President Obama’s Syria nightmare is becoming increasingly bizarre. The man who claimed he could distinguish dumb from smart wars is marching headlong into the dumbest one yet, with allies jumping ship left and right. Consider, please, the following:

(1) NBC just released a poll saying a majority of the American people are opposed to another war in Syria, and 80% are opposed to a war without Congressional authorization.

(2) But Congress is out of session. Nevertheless Mr. Obama is under pressure to attack before Congress returns from its Labor Day vacation. Moreover, despite the fact that at least 188 members of Congress have called for a debate and vote on the war question; thus far, Mr. Obama has not indicated he will call Congress into an emergency session. Yet six years ago, Senator (candidate) Obama told interviewer Charlie Savage on December 20, 2007: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

(3) The nearest counterpart to our Congress, the British Parliament, just voted to pull the plug on Prime Minister David Cameron’s warmongering — and in so doing, the unwritten British Constitution has made a mockery of the written, legalistic US Constitution. Bottom line: the checks and balances in the UK are working to ensure our closest ally will not partake in our adventure, while those in the United States are being bypassed.

(4) The UN and the Security Council also pulled the plug on approving and supporting a US strike; ditto for the Arab League and Jordan, and our coup-leading friends in Egypt.

(5) The secretary general of NATO, Anders Rasmussen, said NATO will not be part of a strike on Syria.

So who is left in Obama’s increasingly isolated coalition of the willing: France and Israel — two countries with a lot of sordid baggage loading down the Syria Question. Some readers may never have heard of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, but your can bet most Syrians have.

A reasonable person might ask how an obviously intelligent Mr. Obama could land himself in such a mess?

The proximate cause is clear: Mimicking Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s provocative definition of a red line on Iranian nukes, Mr. Obama recklessly established a red line on chemical weapons in the ongoing increasingly chaotic Syrian civil war. But the red line made Obama vulnerable to being boxed in by all sorts of false flag operations — and false flags are a recurring reality in the wilderness of mirrors that is Middle Eastern politics. Ironically, President Assad, who is being blamed for the release of chemical weapons, is about the only player in the game who has nothing to gain from a such an attack.

OODA Loop simple - click for larger version.
OODA Loop simple – click for larger version.
While it is too early to understand the deeper reasons for Obama’s mad march to war, I submit there is at least one hypothesis that is at least superficially consistent with the behaviour patterns of Obama and his advisors: Mr. Obama’s (and that of his advisors’) behaviour stems in part from the subtle interactions of at least two psychological factors that shape the Orientation driving the decision making behaviour of their OODA loops.

The first stems from a habitual belief that Mr. Obama — an inveterate deal maker — can control domestic politics by cutting and shaving political differences at home. But cutting and shaving uses up maneuvering space, and its gradual loss has insensibly salami-sliced him into a corner. Policy to aid rebels with nonlethal aid then establishing the red line being cases in point; each bought time at the expense of future flexibility. In effect, Mr. Obama, by his own volition, has slowly become ensnared by the permanent war party in Versailles on the Potomac. This cutting and shaving is also evident in his conduct of the drone campaign and Afghan War, not to mention his inability to significantly reduce the Pentagon’s bloated budget.

OODA Loop complex – click for larger version.OODA Loop complex - click for larger version.
The second factor — a naiveté about the effectiveness of precision weapons — compounds the first in shaping the Orientation of the President and his advisors. Prior to becoming President, Mr. Obama had no experience in the conduct of military affairs. In effect, the Orientation driving his decision cycle was like a blank sheet to be filled in by “experts.” His obvious intelligence and lawyerly mind has made him especially vulnerable to pseudo-scientific, logical sounding exhortations of a group-thinking coterie of formal and informal defense advisors. These officials have a long track record of grossly exaggerating the revolutionary capabilities of precision weapons. The persuasive power of their exhortations is usually packaged in slick looking power point briefings, hard to fathom computer simulations, glossy contractor advertisements, etc. The hidden assumptions, excessive technical complexity, and aura of scientific authority surrounding these exhortations, especially when coupled with arrogant notions about the utility of guided bombs in carefully calibrated tit-for-tat political signaling, at once capture the intellect and stroke the political ego of leaders.

Bringing these two strains of thought together, habits and naive beliefs — more generally, arrogance and ignorance — have, in effect, worked insidiously to sap Mr. Obama of the initiative in the Syrian Question and have rendered him a passive traveler into a trap of his own making.

If I am right, then in effect, President Obama is now a reactive player struggling to preserve himself in the US march to folly. A natural question is who and what pressures are driving the parade? Cui bono?

The seasoned Middle Eastern reporter, Robert Fisk, has one theory:

Published on Friday, August 30, 2013 by The Independent/UK
Iran, Not Syria, Is the West’s Real Target

Iran is ever more deeply involved in protecting the Syrian government. Thus a victory for Bashar is a victory for Iran. And Iranian victories cannot be tolerated by the West
by Robert Fisk

Before the stupidest Western war in the history of the modern world begins – I am, of course, referring to the attack on Syria that we all yet have to swallow – it might be as well to say that the cruise missiles which we confidently expect to sweep onto one of mankind’s oldest cities have absolutely nothing to do with Syria.

They are intended to harm Iran. They are intended to strike at the Islamic republic now that it has a new and vibrant president – as opposed to the crackpot Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – and when it just might be a little more stable.

Iran is Israel’s enemy. Iran is therefore, naturally, America’s enemy. So fire the missiles at Iran’s only Arab ally.

There is nothing pleasant about the regime in Damascus. Nor do these comments let the regime off the hook when it comes to mass gassing. But I am old enough to remember that when Iraq – then America’s ally – used gas against the Kurds of Hallabjah in 1988, we did not assault Baghdad. Indeed, that attack would have to wait until 2003, when Saddam no longer had any gas or any of the other weapons we had nightmares over.

And I also happen to remember that the CIA put it about in 1988 that Iran was responsible for the Hallabjah gassings, a palpable lie that focused on America’s enemy whom Saddam was then fighting on our behalf. And thousands – not hundreds – died in Hallabjah. But there you go. Different days, different standards.

And I suppose it’s worth noting that when Israel killed up to 17,000 men, women and children in Lebanon in 1982, in an invasion supposedly provoked by the attempted PLO murder of the Israeli ambassador in London – it was Saddam’s mate Abu Nidal who arranged the killing, not the PLO, but that doesn’t matter now – America merely called for both sides to exercise “restraint”. And when, a few months before that invasion, Hafez al-Assad – father of Bashar – sent his brother up to Hama to wipe out thousands of Muslim Brotherhood rebels, nobody muttered a word of condemnation. “Hama Rules” is how my old mate Tom Friedman cynically styled this bloodbath.

Anyway, there’s a different Brotherhood around these days – and Obama couldn’t even bring himself to say “boo” when their elected president got deposed.

But hold on. Didn’t Iraq – when it was “our” ally against Iran – also use gas on the Iranian army? It did. I saw the Ypres-like wounded of this foul attack by Saddam – US officers, I should add, toured the battlefield later and reported back to Washington – and we didn’t care a tinker’s curse about it. Thousands of Iranian soldiers in the 1980-88 war were poisoned to death by this vile weapon.

I traveled back to Tehran overnight on a train of military wounded and actually smelled the stuff, opening the windows in the corridors to release the stench of the gas. These young men had wounds upon wounds – quite literally. They had horrible sores wherein floated even more painful sores that were close to indescribable. Yet when the soldiers were sent to Western hospitals for treatment, we journos called these wounded – after evidence from the UN infinitely more convincing than what we’re likely to get from outside Damascus – “alleged” gas victims.

So what in heaven’s name are we doing? After countless thousands have died in Syria’s awesome tragedy, suddenly – now, after months and years of prevarication – we are getting upset about a few hundred deaths. Terrible. Unconscionable. Yes, that is true. But we should have been traumatized into action by this war in 2011. And 2012. But why now?

I suspect I know the reason. I think that Bashar al-Assad’s ruthless army might just be winning against the rebels whom we secretly arm. With the assistance of the Lebanese Hezbollah – Iran’s ally in Lebanon – the Damascus regime broke the rebels in Qusayr and may be in the process of breaking them north of Homs. Iran is ever more deeply involved in protecting the Syrian government. Thus a victory for Bashar is a victory for Iran. And Iranian victories cannot be tolerated by the West.

And while we’re on the subject of war, what happened to those magnificent Palestinian-Israeli negotiations that John Kerry was boasting about? While we express our anguish at the hideous gassings in Syria, the land of Palestine continues to be gobbled up. Israel’s Likudist policy – to negotiate for peace until there is no Palestine left – continues apace, which is why King Abdullah of Jordan’s nightmare (a much more potent one than the “weapons of mass destruction” we dreamed up in 2003) grows larger: that “Palestine” will be in Jordan, not in Palestine.

Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper. He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.

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