AFD Ep 51 – Citizens v. Drones

Latest Episode:
“AFD Ep 51 – Citizens v. Drones”
Posted: Mon, 29 July 2013

Persephone and Bill discuss the civil war in Syria, American drone strikes on US civilians, the US jobs market, and President Obama’s new comments on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Back on the Air! AFD Ep 48 – June Recap

Latest Episode:
“AFD Ep 48 – June Recap”
Posted: Tues, 02 July 2013

In the first episode of the summer at the new studio, my new co-host, Persephone, joins me to discuss the Voting Rights Act decision, the DOMA and Prop 8 cases, Wendy Davis, Obama’s climate speech, and Syria. This online version of the episode includes a much longer debate on the Syria problem.

Neo-Feudal Syria

Recommended reading from The Guardian: “Syria’s oilfields create surreal battle lines amid chaos and tribal loyalties”.

This crazy-intense profile paints a picture of a nation descending into neo-feudalism. The pre-Socialism clan system is re-asserting itself in the midst of the chaos because people need local order and income. These clan administrators take control of local oil & gas production and then essentially pay electricity or gas tributes to both the regime and the Islamist rebels to keep them off their backs. One guy says he wants to sell his production to Turkey and buy Patriot missiles (are those just available???) so he can create an autonomous, self-guarding fiefdom.

Pick your crises

I still don’t understand why people are demanding the United States “do something” about the Syrian Civil War and “show leadership” when there doesn’t seem to be much evidence for our ability to do anything positive (if at all) about the situation.

And as an interventionist in general, I offer this observation:
An America that intervenes everywhere will soon be able to intervene nowhere.

If we go in there, we won’t be able to help anyone else for at least a decade. Or maybe ever. 

The Syria Deadlock

“War in Syria: Major powers in a strategic deadlock”

By far the most comprehensive explanation I have yet read about why the major powers on both sides of the Syrian Civil War are deadlocked and can’t figure out how to resolve it (through either war or peace). This one is probably going to have to burn itself out. There won’t be a 19th century carve-em-up style peace conference or a Dayton Accord. And Russia has figured out how to tip the military equation close enough to balanced to block a NATO intervention.

AFD 47A – Hiatus Bonus Episode

Latest Episode:
“AFD Ep 47A – Hiatus Bonus”
Posted: Mon, 22 May 2013

Play Now
The show will be going on hiatus for several weeks as we re-locate to a new studio. In this bonus episode recorded on Monday May 20, Bill looks at the challenges in Syria and the northern Caucasus.

Two-Prong Test for a Syria Intervention

I just quickly wrote this out in the past hour based on a half dozen papers and radio segments I’ve done in the past, but I hope it is illuminating in some way to readers.

When considering a U.S. humanitarian military intervention — i.e. an intervention premised upon the notion that it will stop some atrocity in progress, as opposed to one premised upon a direct national security interest — I have a very simple two-pronged assessment system:

1. Does the United States have the capacity to execute the intervention successfully?
2. Will the intervention create a net positive outcome for the involved civilians while not worsening the position of the United States?

Those two clear points address myriad potential problems. And both must be satisfied to justify intervening.

The first one tells you not to do it if the U.S. can’t militarily execute a strategy successfully (for example if the topography, geography, or type of war prevent the successful use of the primary tactic such as airstrikes — or if a strike/invasion won’t actually stop the atrocity or accomplish its goals). And it tells you not to do it if the U.S. military is stretched too thin for a successful operation at necessary levels due to other engagements. Finally, it tells you not to do it if it brings reasonably likely chance of getting sucked in and failing after an initially successful entrance (a quagmire isn’t a win and avoiding one falls under capacity to succeed).

The second one tells you not to do it if intervening will make the situation worse for the affected civilians (total anarchy and brutal civil war with mass civilian slaughter *resulting from* an intervention is not better than “liberating” an oppressed population — see Iraq). And it also tells you again not to intervene to save a population if the goal is totally open-ended and will make the U.S. more precarious. If the presence of U.S. troops helps stabilize a situation and establish a workable transition to a permanent replacement, that’s fine. If the U.S. troops exacerbate a situation or are the ONLY thing preventing genocide permanently, that doesn’t help either. There has to be a better plan and a way out/forward for both the affected civilians and for the U.S. Why? Because even setting aside U.S. interests and costs, every quagmire intervention makes it less possible to help the next place. Thus it’s against global humanitarian interests to have a failed mess of an intervention in any one place.

I actually highly support the principle of military interventions for humanitarian reasons that don’t directly affect U.S. interests. But only if they satisfy those 2 criteria.

Syria doesn’t meet that 2-pronged test. Due to Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. isn’t prepared for a short or long intervention in a large(ish), mountainous nation like Syria that’s in the middle of a big civil war with no clear end in sight (or even a winner to back that won’t screw over the population later or stab the U.S. in the back). There’s almost not even a concrete goal the United States could successfully “achieve” in such an intervention. No easy way to take out the regime, no plan to deal with the resulting mess if the regime does fall (which won’t end the conflict), and no legitimate group to empower to lead a transition successfully to reunite the nation. So the first one fails. And it’s not at all clear (unlike say Libya or Kosovo) that the U.S. can even actually help the civilian population and could even make it worse. While harming U.S. strength. So the second definitely fails.

Thus, the U.S. shouldn’t intervene in Syria as the situation currently stands. If the scale of chemical weapons attacks — if they are indeed being used on civilians — increases dramatically, the benefits of an intervention may rise above the costs. And if they were being used in a different country even once, that might be another story. But right now, right there, it’s a no go. Everybody would lose.