Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Barack goes wobbly

Richard Haass (President of Council on Foreign Relations), no doubt speaking for many of Washington DC's Very Serious People (VSPs) on foreign policy, advocating (in the FT, subs. req'd, preview) that Bashar al-Assad is Our Man in the Levant against ISIS --

Such a policy change would be costly but not as costly as a scenario in which Isis could use Syrian territory from which to mount attacks on the region and beyond. The Assad government may be evil – but it is a lesser evil than Isis, and a local one.

Richard Haass, explaining way back in the early 1990s to a PBS Frontline documentary about how the US Very Serious People on foreign policy had gotten Saddam Hussein so wrong in the late 1980s --

Q: And, again, you must have thought long and hard about this, why didn't you spot what was going to happen [in Kuwait]? What do you think was the fundamental reason why you weren't able to say to the President, hey, this guy [Saddam] we've got to watch, he's really dangerous, he's going to do it? 

RH: None of us harbored any illusions about Saddam Hussein. I think though that the reason we failed to predict what he did was simply because of its sheer brazenry and its magnitude. The idea that on a Sunday afternoon or something I was going to stroll into the Oval and go, by the way, Mr. President, Saddam Hussein is going to amass 100,000 plus forces and is going to walk into Kuwait and he's going to make this the 19th province of Iraq, and this is going to be major test of the post-Cold War world. It was too dramatic. Particularly when he probably could have had a lot of what he wanted short of doing that. Saddam, simply by being ... powerful, simply by being next door to Kuwait, it could have probably Finlandized and could have done what Syria did to Lebanon originally or what the Soviets did to Finland. He could have ..... pressured Kuwait into probably giving him a lot of what he wanted. Maybe we were - maybe we were victims of a mindset. Here it is, it's the post-Cold War world, people are talking about the end of history. Maybe we thought that the era had passed when countries, if you will, ............ with all their military force and simply tried to erase other countries off the map. Maybe it was simply too big of a thought for us to comfortably absorb. And if that's the case, I plead guilty.

So having admitted a long time ago that he underestimated the regional ambitions of a Baathist dictator, Richard Haass now wants us to gamble on another Baathist dictator.

If Bashar al-Assad actually comes out of the Syrian civil war that he caused still in power, he will do so owing Russia and Iran a lot of money and needing even more money to launch some kind of rebuilding, especially to keep his core Baathist constituency onside. And of course he has the track record of a semi-occupation of Lebanon for 20 years until his overreach of ordering Hezbollah to assassinate Rafik Hariri forced him out of there.

But despite the obvious parallels to the 1990 version of Saddam Hussein, Washington's VSPs are ready to cast their lot in with Bashar al-Assad. History happens the second time as farce in Washington, but always as tragedy in the Middle East.