Advising War

Advice is cheap, and it’s cheap because of the nature of market forces. It’s not that anyone can’t have an opinion – anyone can, informed or not. It’s a free country. It’s just that what is produced at little or no real cost to the provider is usually crap. People will shell out good money for food made from the finest and freshest ingredients, or some gizmo made of heavy-gauge something or other, or some gizmo that took hours of painstaking labor by skilled craftsmen to assemble. What’s slapped together by amateurs, using whatever spare parts are lying around, doesn’t command a high price – and all advice is like that too. People who tell you what you really ought to do may be amateurs – they’ve never been in the situation being discussed – or they may be slapping together second-hand ideas they’ve heard somewhere, ideas that sound quite plausible, oblivious to the real cost of implementing those ideas. There’s a reason that Dick Cheney and Bill Kristol and the rest of the neoconservative crowd was always urging war everywhere, on the notion that other nations, and those terrorists that weren’t associated with any one nation, would cower in simpering obedience at our manliness and strength – while the generals and anyone else who had actually been in war, except for John McCain, always urged caution. Somehow Colin Powell became the wimp in the Bush administration, because of his Pottery Barn Rule – you break it, you own it. Yeah, but everyone else urged war with Iraq, which once again proved that advice is cheap, and worthless. When you’re offered advice, consider the source. If it costs them nothing, or if they’ve never once faced the cost of the sort of thing that they’re proposing, listen politely – and then go do what seems best, to you – reason things out. They’ll get over it.

It’s not that simple in politics. There, those with advice also have an agenda, and an ill-informed constituency that will throw them out of office next time around, unless their guy in Washington proposes some nonsense that will make that constituency less angry about the outrage of the day. That’s nothing new. Those who joined the Bush administration in advising war with Iraq, most Democrats included, knew the nation was angry – and if that anger wasn’t fed they’d be voted out of office next time around, simply for saying consider the source and let’s use our reason here.

Consider the source? Almost to a man, the Bush crowd had never been to war. No, this war wasn’t going to pay for itself, out of Iraqi oil revenues, and it wasn’t going to be shock-and-awe-and-gone, over in no more than four months. There is no war on the cheap. Their advice was worthless. It goes without saying that the reasoning behind their advice – mushroom clouds and mobile chemical weapons labs and those millions of tiny drones that were poised to spray anthrax over all off America – was pretty much slapped together from whatever spare parts were lying around. They grabbed whatever flimsy stuff was at hand and slapped together a cause for war. At one point it was those mysterious aluminum tubes. All of it was cheap off-the-shelf junk that fell apart quickly, so then they’d slap together something new again – from whatever was lying around. We fought the war to spread secular Jeffersonian democracy and unregulated free-market capitalism? It’s hard to remember what they finally settled on as a cause for that war, long after the fact. Maybe it doesn’t matter now.

Maybe that doesn’t matter now, but what may matter now is that no one trusts any foreign policy advice these days, if it involves heroic war to save us from the end of the world as we know it. Advice is cheap – and so is that very cool replica Rolex watch made of realistic-looking injection-molded plastic, that stops working after a few hours. Everyone knows what it’s like to be burned by cheap goods, thinking they’d do just fine. People hate being burned. They feel shame, then anger. They become a hard sell.

That does mean politicians no longer offer foreign policy advice, like this from Rand Paul:

Sen. Rand Paul lashed out at U.S. foreign aid policies again Thursday, restating his opposition against aiding Syrian rebels during a speech to social conservatives.

“It is clear that American taxpayer dollars are being used to enable a war on Christianity in the Middle East and I believe that must end,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Mentioning Egypt, Iraq and Libya, Paul said atrocities were being committed against Christians despite U.S. assistance.

“These countries are not our true allies and no amount of money will make them so. They are not allies of Israel, and I fear one day our money and military arms that we have paid for will be used against Israel,” Paul said. “This fight has made me unpopular in Washington but I am willing to risk unpopularity with politicians to do what I am convinced is right.”

Speaking at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, Paul highlighted his ill-fated proposals to cut off U.S. foreign aid to various countries until they meet conditions, including Pakistan and Egypt.

Don’t aid those Syrian rebels! Don’t aid anyone over there, actually – because all of it is no more than a war on Christianity, which is the one thing we must defend. The business about Israel confuses things a bit, but the idea seems to be that they like our Christianity, and the conversion of the Jews is mentioned in Revelations – so those folks are really incipient Christians anyway, who do live in Jesus Land after all. Rand’s policy advice is to make all of this a holy war. It’s the Christians, and the childlike Jews who will one day grow up and get the Jesus thing, against the rest of the world. Let’s go for it!

That’s his foreign policy advice – a modified version of the Crusades of long ago. It’s simple. What could go wrong?

That’s madness. Rand Paul has no idea of the costs here, but one must consider the source. He will be running for president in 2016 and he could sweep the Republican primaries with this sort of talk. Stand for Jesus, or spit on him. It’s time to choose.

There’s another way to look at the situation in Syria, and the Big Dog has some interesting advice for the man who stole the presidency from his wife:

Bill Clinton said Tuesday that President Barack Obama should do more to aid rebels in the Syrian civil war and that he risks looking like “a total fool” if he allows public opinion polls to govern U.S. policy on that front, according to audio obtained by Politico.

The former president made his remarks to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), one of Obama’s fiercest critics on Syria, during a question-and-answer session at an event for the McCain Institute for International Leadership in Manhattan. Clinton told McCain that he sides him on this issue, and not Obama.

“Some people say, ‘Okay, see what a big mess it is? Stay out!’ I think that’s a big mistake. I agree with you about this,” Clinton reportedly told McCain. “Sometimes it’s just best to get caught trying, as long as you don’t overcommit – like, as long as you don’t make an improvident commitment.”

His advice is to ignore advice, at least advice that comes from polls:

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released late last month found that 68 percent of Americans oppose U.S. military intervention to end the bloody civil war in Syria. But Clinton appeared to scoff at the idea that polls should influence the President’s decisions.

According to Politico, Clinton said that if inaction was attributed to “a poll in the morning paper that said 80 percent of you were against it … you’d look like a total wuss.”

His advice is to never ever look like a total wuss. Just do something, even if it doesn’t work, even if it turns out to be the wrong thing. That’s what George Bush did, after all. No, wait…

Maybe Obama took that advice anyway:

In a sharp escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s bloody civil war, the White House announced late Thursday that it will provide military aid to rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad after confirming that his government used chemical weapons against the opposition.

Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes told reporters on a conference call that President Barack Obama had heard pleas from Syria’s rebel Supreme Military Council (SMC) for more help. “Our aim is to be responsive,” Rhodes said, underlining that the new assistance would have “direct military purposes.”

Don’t jump to conclusions. Obama is still a cautious guy:

Rhodes brushed aside repeated questions about whether this meant Washington would now start providing weapons to the rebels, insisting he could not give an “inventory” of the aid. But while he never explicitly confirmed that Obama had decided to arm the opposition, he left little doubt about Washington’s new course of action.

“The president has made a decision about providing more support to the opposition. That will involve providing direct support to the SMC. That includes military support. I cannot detail for you all of the types of that support for a variety of reasons,” Rhodes said. The assistance is “aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of the SMC on the ground.”

Obama reached the decision after America’s intelligence community concluded that “the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year,” Rhodes said. Those attacks killed at least 100-150 people, he added. Rhodes said Assad’s forces used chemical weapons on March 19, April 13, May 14 and May 23.

Ah, we didn’t want to do this, but we had to do this, as our hand was forced:

The confirmation – and a new United Nations study that raised the death toll from Syria’s bloody civil war to nearly 93,000 – ramped up pressure on Obama to escalate American involvement in the conflict. The president has been weighing whether to arm the opposition, help create safe areas for refugees, or impose “no-fly zones” inside Syria enforced by American-led forces. Obama last year called the confirmed use of chemical weapons a “red line” that would make him reconsider whether to arm the rebels, but he later hedged that statement.

He’s still weighing things, lots of things, but everyone knows where this is headed, or at least John McCain knew:

“In just a couple of minutes, the president of the United States will be announcing that it is now conclusive that Bashar Assad and the Syrian butchers have used chemical weapons,” McCain said.

“The president also will announce that we will be assisting the Syrian rebels in Syria by other assistance” but the president “had better understand that just supplying weapons is not going to change the equation on the ground of the balance of power,” the senator added. “These people of the Free Syrian Army need weapons and heavy weapons to counter tanks and aircraft – they need a no-fly zone.”

“Just providing arms is not enough,” McCain said.

We need to fight alongside them, just like when we needed to fight alongside the Georgians when Russia invaded Georgia briefly back in 2008, for five days, about the time McCain was prepping for his second debate with Obama. We are all Georgians now? All-out war with Russia would be fine, or at least the right thing to do? No one bought that then, but this time they might, or so he hopes. Never ever look like a total wuss.

That’s still a hard sell, and Obama isn’t going there:

Rhodes emphasized that “we have not made any decision to pursue a military operation such as a no-fly zone.”

Such an effort “would carry with it great and open-ended costs for the United States and the international community,” Rhodes said. And it would be “far more complex to undertake that effort in Syria than it was in Libya.”

He added, “Furthermore, there’s not even a clear guarantee that it would dramatically improve the situation on the ground.”

Yeah, yeah – but only a wuss cares about improving the situation on the ground, and asks for approval and cooperation:

Rhodes said Obama would consult with Congress and American allies on next steps – notably at next week’s summit of the Group of Eight rich countries plus Russia in Northern Ireland. The White House has not given up on a negotiated solution.

A spokesman for Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Brendan Buck, emphasized the need for the administration to keep lawmakers in the loop.

It’s hard to see that need. They will advise war, because that’s cheap low-cost advice. Obama will pay dearly for the inevitable mess, our troops will die, not them, and the taxpayers will foot the bill, and then they can rail about the deficit running far too high, again, thanks to Obama. What’s not to like?

The Wall Street Journal has all the details of what is being considered – very limited commitments – but the blogger BooMan isn’t impressed:

If this seems prudent or sane to you, you are probably crazy. We all know better than to trust government estimates of the cost of military intervention, but let’s go with the $50 million/day to create a limited no-fly zone in southern Syria. How many days are we willing to pay that $50 million? Five hundred days? A thousand days? What was it in Iraq? Over three thousand days? Followed by trillions of dollars more for a full-on invasion and decade-long occupation?

Once we put our skin in the game and start incurring costs, there is no end game but victory, and there can be no victory without escalation. We will own an irreparably broken country. Again.

And the American people are not going to stand for it. Trust has been broken. This is a terrible idea.

BooMan sees limited options here:

Working with the Jordanians is by far our best option. There’s a huge refugee population to pool from. The Jordanians are more moderate, in general, than Saudis or folks from the Emirates. Turkey has the Ottoman legacy and Kurdish problem that makes them less than ideal interveners. And Iraq’s sympathies lie more with the Shiite/Alawite side of this sectarian battle.

Nonetheless, we should expect our foreign relations with Russia and Iraq to immediately go into the toilet and stay there. We should expect to become the target of Iranian/Hezbollah/Shiite-inspired terrorism attacks. We should even expect some Sunnis to attack us just for being in Jordan.

There are other costs too:

Moving along, assuming that our intervention succeeds in tilting the scales away from the Assad regime and eventually forces their abdication, where are the Alawites and the Shiites going to live? Because they aren’t going to be living in Syria. Will they all move to Iraq? To Iran? America?

According to the CIA Factbook, the Syrian population is currently 74% Sunni Muslim, 16% other Muslim (including Shiites, Alawites, and Druze) and 10% Christian. Once the Alawite regime falls, the majority Sunni population will annihilate them. We’ll have all that blood on our hands for the simple fact that we intentionally created the conditions that made it inevitable. And don’t think that Shiites in Iraq won’t erupt in reaction and resume butchering Sunnis in their country.

Damn, that’s lot to consider, but the Wall Street Journal shows Obama kind of walked into this:

“Following a deliberative review, our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year,” the deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said in a statement released by the White House on Thursday afternoon. “Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information”

President Obama said in April that the United States had physiological evidence that the nerve gas sarin had been used in Syria but lacked proof of who used it and under what circumstances. Mr. Rhodes said that American intelligence officials now believed that 100 to 150 people had died from the attacks, and he said that the number “is likely incomplete.”

In his statement, Mr. Rhodes alluded to Mr. Obama’s position that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line for the United States. “The president has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has,” he said.

BooMan is bitter:

The small-scale use of sarin would be an insufficient reason for our country to assume this degree of risk and cost. And literally no one will thank us for our efforts.

So is P. M. Carpenter:

I just heard Democratic Sen. Chris Coons say on “Hardball” that we need to intervene in Syria to protect “American values.” And of course there’s John McCain, eager as ever on the Senate floor…

My bubbling rage is almost indescribable. Syria’s is a fucking religious war of immense complexities and byzantine, regional geopolitical dimensions and the United States is seriously pondering military intervention? After Iraq? After Afghanistan? American hounds of aggression are already howling as though we’ve unlimited funds; not to worry, our “values” are worth it, and…

It really leaves one speechless.

Republicans are advising war – they always do – and Democrats are too – they always must. That has to do with branding. No one wants to be seen as a total wuss. For his part, Obama seems to be thinking a very limited war is now necessary – send some arms, some trainers, and set up a very small no-fly zone to protect them. He wants to keep it limited too, but one cannot win limited wars – there are no such things – or then keep them limited.

Here we go again. We fell for the cheap advice again. People hate being burned. They feel shame, then anger. Then they forget.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Advising War

  1. Jermitt Krage says:

    My advise is cheap. But to go against it will be very costly. STAY OUT OF SYRIA!!

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