2015 October 04 Sunday
Ross Douthat Asks: Is Putin Winning?

Ross Douthat takes a look at Russia's widening intervention in Syria from a distinctly American elite perspective. Lots of nuance here as usual. But he does not get to the meat of the matter and I disagree in a big way with his conclusion:

... whatís closer to his grasp is something more destructive ó a wreckerís legacy, not Peter the Greatís, in which his own people gain little from his efforts, but the world grows more unstable with every move he makes.

Wrecker's legacy? That's America we are talking about. The far more powerful United States of America surely already has a wrecker's legacy in the Middle East. Consider: The US invasion of Iraq resulted in ISIS slavery, ethnic slaughter, and crucifixions in Iraq and Syria with at least half of Iraq's Christians fleeing and Syrian Christians major shafted. The support Obama and Hillary Clinton showed for Arab Spring has resulted in Libya fragmented into warring tribal regions. We have gained nothing for our efforts and racked up huge losses. Obama's policies (or MSM punditry for that matter) show little sign of having learned anything important from all these disasters and policy failures

Make no mistake: US military intervention in and around the Middle East is a failure. Ross' own employer publishes gems like the ones in this article: "Caught off guard by the Taliban's capture of an entire city in northern Afghanistan" and "They are just not fighting very well". Did the US government expect them (Afghan government soldiers) to fight well? Same question about soldiers in Iraq and Syria trained by the US.

Think about it. America's military interventions in the Middle East are a disaster. America's goals in Syria are lunacy. Against this background how are Vladimir Putin's interventions going to play a wrecking role? The wrecking is already in full swing.

To see why Putin isn't going to wreck a good outcome first understand how constrained the realistic list of potential outcomes are and why. Here are four realistic posts about Syria from Anatoly Karlin. As his posts make evident, the topics you most need to learn about to understand US foreign policy failures in the Middle East are outside the bounds of what our MSM and foreign policy elite find acceptable for consideration.

A secular united democratic state equally protective of the rights of all citizens is not one of the potential futures in Syria. The beliefs and loyalties of people in Syria's main ethnic groups (especially the Sunnis) preclude that. We should approach Syria by asking how bad does its future have to be and what lesser evil outcome might be achievable. One problem is that the various factions do not trust each other with good reason. The largest ethnic group (Sunni Muslims) would surely shaft the rest of them if it came into power. Democratic rule is Sunni rule in Syria just as it is Shia rule in Iraq.

A Sunni government in Damascus would be worse than the Shia government in Baghdad toward its own Sunni minority. It is telling that ISIS, a Sunni group, has the most territory among the Sunni factions and its rule is horrible from a human rights standpoint. Child sex slaves anyone?

US policy has failed. By contrast, suppose Putin moderately succeeds in bucking up Assad's government in Damascus. Who benefits? Almost anyone in Syria who isn't a Sunni Muslim. Assad's government before the uprising was better than what is likely to replace it. Christians were in far better shape under Assad and Saddam Hussein than they are today in most of Syria and Iraq. This is rarely mentioned in the MSM. It is too counter-narrative. Christians today might be better off in the Kurdish zone of Iraq (which is de facto a separate state from the Baghdad government) than they were under Saddam. I'm not sure on that point. Yezidis in Iraq: Well, a lot more were alive under Saddam and few if any were sex slaves. Saddam was better for the Yezidis. How about the Armenians in the middle of Syria? Definitely were better off under Assad before they became surrounded by ISIS.

The implicit assertion that since Putin is a problem for US policy in the Middle East he must be a problem for a good outcome in the Middle East is quite wrong. US policy in the Middle East is broken and intellectually and morally bankrupt. US policy makes no sense. Its continued failure in spite of a huge military technological advantage is a testament to its bankruptcy.

Iraq and Syria need partition into more viable ethnic states. If policy makers in Washington DC became more realistic I do not know if this is an achievable option. But a united Syria and united Iraq as secular liberal democracies isn't a realistic future possibility.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2015 October 04 01:21 PM 


Comments
Jim said at October 5, 2015 4:17 AM:

I totally agree. The idea of the Middle East becoming a bunch of Western type democratic nation states is a total fantasy. For that matter actual Western type nation states like Spain and Great Britain may be be begining to split up.

bob sykes said at October 5, 2015 5:05 AM:

The chaos in the Middle East, North Africa and Ukraina and the refugee flood in Europe are direct results of American policy. Russia has reacted defensively and opportunistically to the chaos. Now, many members of the Ruling Class and several Presidential candidates are calling for some sort of direct action against the Russians in Syria. This is the kind of advice that Feldmarschall Conrad gave to the Emperor Franz Joseph, and it would almost certainly have the same result--world war, this time with nukes.

Black Death said at October 5, 2015 7:28 AM:

Completely agree - very insightful post with good links. Douthat isn't bad, but Karlin really gets to the heart of the matter. In fairness to Obama, he inherited this mess from Bush II, but our current Dear Leader has done his best to make matters worse, which seems to be a common theme of his blundering foreign policy.

There is NO CHANCE of creating some sort of peaceful, democratic government that protects the rights of religious and ethnic minorities anywhere in the Middle East (except Israel, of course). The choices are division along ethnic/religious lines or rule by some sort of brutal dictator (e.g., Saddam, the Assads, Qaddafi, etc.) Yet Fantasyland thinking continues to dominate US policy. Remarkably, this style of self-deception spans the political spectrum, from Obama and Hillary to McCain and Fiorina.

Russia is trying to expand its influence in the Middle East and maintain access to a precious warm-water port for its navy. It makes sense. Russia has a GDP about the size of Italy or Canada, and its currently shrinking. Is Putin overplaying his hand, as did the Soviets in Afghanistan? Time will tell. Should the US care? If so, why? For decades, US policy in the Middle East was dominated by two themes - supporting Israel and protecting access to oil by cozying up to thuggish regimes such as the Shah's Iran and the Saudi royal family. But now, Israel is the regional superpower and doesn't need much US support, and our need for oil from the region is rapidly disappearing in the face of booming North American production.

Maybe it's time to rethink our involvement in this dreadful region.

Jim said at October 5, 2015 8:15 AM:

To Black Death - Israel isn't that much of a democracy since a large number of the people it rules over have no vote in or say over how they are ruled. Israel has a large population of helots. Also there is no equality of religions in Israel and certainly nothing like the modern Western idea of separation of church and state. Israel is a semi-theocracy.

chris said at October 5, 2015 9:33 AM:

@ Randall

Which major do you think would be more useful for a career?

Electrical/Electronic Engineering and Physics

or

Electrical/Electronic Engineering and Computer Science

Black Death said at October 5, 2015 11:56 AM:

@Jim -

"Israel isn't that much of a democracy ...."

Well, when it comes to voting rights, Israel isn't perfect:

7,659,000 residents of Israel have voting rights, 2,128,000 don't. Those who can't vote are almost always
Arabs, about 80% Muslim. Arabs on the West Bank and Gaza can't vote. Arabs living in Israel proper can vote in all elections, while those living in East Jerusalem can vote only in local elections.

....

Israeli Arabs have their own political parties which hold around ten seats in the Knesset. Arabic, like Hebrew, is an official language. Arabs enjoy the same civil rights as other Israelis. Arab women have full equality with men and are allowed to vote. Arabs are not required to serve in the Israeli military unless they choose to do so (e.g., Druze, Christians).

Referring to the non-Jewish population of Israel as "helots" is preposterous. Helots is from ancient Greek and means a type of slave. Well, these suffering "helots" mostly enjoy the same civil rights as Jews, including voting, can work anywhere they want and are exempt from military service. And they're free to leave any time they wish, which they almost never do, because, in any other Arab country, they would be treated much worse than they were in Israel.

And if you're worried about separation of church and state, try any Arab country.


i

Jim said at October 5, 2015 12:39 PM:

Israel is simialr to many countries in history where one people have conquered another but the conquered population remains in a subordinate status. This is similar to Sparta where the conquered population formed the class of helots. It is also similar to Anglo-Saxon England where the conquered Celts lived under the domination of the conquering Germans. The caste society of India also derives from the Aryan conquest. This kind of society is not a basis for anything like a nation state such as Japan where there is a strong sense of common identity. Rather such societies are riven by deep hostility, bitterness and hatred.

Black Death said at October 5, 2015 7:37 PM:

Yes, I am highly sympathetic to the great sufferings of the poor Israeli Arab helots, who long for the peace, stability, freedom and civil rights that they would enjoy in such ideal Arab countries as Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Libya. How they must suffer, seeing how well their brother (not to mention sister) Arabs live in these peaceful democracies. No doubt they would all emigrate, every last one of them, if the brutal Israeli military didn't keep them all locked up in concentration camps. Yes, how sad.

Jim said at October 6, 2015 4:56 AM:

Black Death - There are few if any real democracies in the Middle East. None is this likely to be any different in the forseeable future. But more fundamentally virtually all Middle Eastern "countries" are not real nations like Japan whose basis is a strong common sense of identity. Rather the Middle East today as for virtually all its history is a seething ocean of warring tribes.

Jim said at October 6, 2015 4:59 AM:

Black Death - There are few if any real democracies in the Middle East. Nore is this likely to be any different in the forseeable future. But more fundamentally virtually all Middle Eastern "countries" are not real nations like Japan whose basis is a strong common sense of identity. Rather the Middle East today as for virtually all its history is a seething ocean of warring tribes.

Mike Street Station said at October 6, 2015 7:58 AM:

"Iraq and Syria need partition into more viable ethnic states."

Exactly right. That's the ultimate solution to the current strife. Unfortunately the arrival of Russia to buck up it's client state of Syria makes negotiations to that end impossible for now. Plus, you would need a US willing to play the role that we played in the Dayton Accords to make that happen. The current US administration isn't up for that at all, they are still on their crazy jihad of "Assad must go." Tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people will die in the meantime before we get to the point that we all know we're going to anyway.

Randall Parker said at October 6, 2015 8:54 PM:

@chris,

Computer science with a math minor. Throw in an masters degree in machine learning and you would be in excellent shape.

Randall Parker said at October 6, 2015 9:26 PM:

@chris,

On second thought: I would choose CS with Physics and or Math. Either of them will give you quantitative skills to help with the CS. Then add in ML. EE: Not so much. My guess is the CS/EE ratio will rise. More software design and less hardware design.

Wolf-Dog said at October 9, 2015 5:50 PM:

RP: "My guess is the CS/EE ratio will rise. More software design and less hardware design."

// ------------------------------------------------------------------------

The CS/EE ratio itself might rise, but this does not mean that EE will not grow dramatically. In the future new applied physics based computer paradigms will emerge. In addition to regular desktop computers, a lot of hardware will be computerized, and this will also give a positive feedback to software too, but it will be a different kind of software. Maybe more neural computing.

Wolf-Dog said at October 9, 2015 6:26 PM:

Black Death: "7,659,000 residents of Israel have voting rights, 2,128,000 don't. Those who can't vote are almost always
Arabs, about 80% Muslim. Arabs on the West Bank and Gaza can't vote. Arabs living in Israel proper can vote in all elections, while those living in East Jerusalem can vote only in local elections."

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Nobody says that Israel is perfect, but your statistics must be made more accurate.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Israel

The Jewish population of Israel is 6,119,000 (75 %). The Israeli Arabs (with Israeli citizenship, not including those Arabs who are in Gaza and West Bank) comprise 1,668,000 (20 %). If you add the latter figures, you get 7,787,000. The Israeli Arabs with citizenship obviously do have voting rights and they even have their own parties in the Israeli government, sometimes even challenging Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state and these parties are still not being disbanded.

It seems that you tried to include in your statistics about the Arabs who don't have voting rights in Israel, those Arabs of of West Bank and Gaza, even though Israel never tried to annex Gaza and West Bank, despite the illegal Jewish settlements in West Bank, which include 500,000 Jews but still comprise only about 5 % of West Bank since these settlements are very concentrated. As bad as the military occupation might be for the Arabs of West Bank, since they are not Israeli citizens, it is not fair to ask Israel to give them voting rights unless Israel annexes the region. There are 3.76 million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, who do not have Israeli citizenship and hence no voting rights since these territories have not been annexed.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_Palestinian_territories

If Palestinians recognize Israel's right to exist, then the situation would force Israel to withdraw from West Bank and lift the blockage of Gaza due to the fact that half the Israelis would support this arrangement and the world powers would put enormous pressure on Israel. But Israel cannot withdraw before a credible agreement or else once the military blockade of West Bank and Gaza is lifted, the Palestinians would bring in thousands of cannons and every square inch of Israel would be shelled within hours.

Brett Bellmore said at October 10, 2015 5:56 AM:

I think it's worth noting that Gaza isn't internal to Israel. It also borders on Egypt. So it seems a bit tendentious to blame the blockage of Gaza just on Israel. Egypt could open their side of the border any time they felt like it. They could permit open immigration from the West Bank, too, any time they wanted, there's no reason the Palestinians have to be trapped in there.

They don't, because they want the Palestinians penned up against Israel. The Palestinians are kept stuck there, and encouraged in their hate, because having the Palestinians attacking Israel has become a kind of proxy for the open warfare against Israel the surrounding nations have painfully learned they don't dare engage in. The Palestinians are trapped there as a matter of deliberate Arab policy.

The Arabs have much more guilt in this matter than Israel.

Jim said at October 10, 2015 7:52 AM:

Democracy exacerbates internal conflict. So it is not a workable form of government in a place like the Middle East which is riven by deeply rooted tribal/ethnic/sectarian conflicts involving myriads of peoples - Jews, Palestinians, Kurds ,Turks, Shia, Sunni, Alawites, Druze and on and on.

Going by Wolf-Dog's figures the population over which the Israeli government rules consists of about 6.1 million Jews and 5.5 million Palestinians. That wouldn't be workable as a genuine democracy. The distinction between "citizens" vs. "non-citizens" is a meaningless fiction. All of this population has been ruled by and paid taxes to the government of Israel for over 40 years. The sense in which Israel is a "democracy" is similar to the sense in which pre-apartheid South Africa was a "democracy".

Brett Bellmore said at October 10, 2015 8:53 AM:

"Going by Wolf-Dog's figures the population over which the Israeli government rules consists of about 6.1 million Jews and 5.5 million Palestinians."

Going by his figures, that would be 6.1 million Jews, and 1.7 million non-Jews. You're adding in people doesn't rule over, or else you'd have to ask what the Palestinian authority and Hamas think they're doing.

"All of this population has been ruled by and paid taxes to the government of Israel for over 40 years."

I'm pretty sure you're quite wrong about the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza paying Israeli taxes.

Big Bill said at October 10, 2015 11:20 AM:

Jewish rule is easy to calculate. Go to any Israeli government map, look at the borders of Israel, and add up the number of people who live inside them.

There may be some Arab "Indian reservations" inside the boundaries, with their tribal officers, schools, cop shops, casinos, whatever. But they no more "rule" themselves than the Indians on American Indian reservations "rule" themselves.

I expect the total number of Jews ruled by the Israeli state is close to 6.1 million, and the number of goyim is close to 5.5 million.

Jim said at October 10, 2015 3:01 PM:

Brett - Does the Palestinian authority rule over East Jerusalem? Can they prevent Jewish settlement in the West Bank or deport the Jews living there back to the pre-67 borders? The political situation in Israel is essentially similar to that which existed in apartheid South Africa.

Dorian said at October 12, 2015 10:56 AM:

Jim,

The Palestinian Authority governs the majority of Arabs Muslims in the West Bank. Hamas further governs 100% of them in Gaza, and per original Partition Jordan governs the rest.

There are a few cities in Israel proper that are Arab Muslim majority. Under a number of offered deals by the Israeli Govt they would be swapped for the settlement blocks. The large Jewish blocks, and the rest would be abandoned, very much as they have been in the past in the Sinai with Egypt and in Gaza during Sharon's unilateral withdrawal. The Settlement issue is a bogus one, the real issue is Muslim irredentism and propensity to do ethnic cleansing when they are in majority or close to it.


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