A General Summing Up of the West’s March to Folly in Syria
These early failures by the German and American leaderships led to ever more costly missteps and a loss of purpose as the respective leaders ‘dug in’ to defend their mistakes. To make matters worse, some domestic interests — e.g., the Krupp in Germany and the MICC in the US — thrived on the carnage and had an economic interest in its continuation. And so, in very different circumstances, each conflict acquired a life of its own.
UPDATE 1: Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Complete essay and three links below the fold.
The Global War on Terror (GWOT) is beginning to look like a 21st Century version of World War I. This is particularly apparent in the case of Syria. Analogies are dangerous because they capture the imagination. A false analogy can lead one off a cliff into the fantasy lands of more Munichs and more Hitlers. And in this case, the similarity is by no means perfect. But consider the following: Both WWI and the GWOT opened with a leadership failure to appreciate what happened in its early months. The German’s refused to believe their strategy for victory was destroyed at the Battle of the Marne in the opening months of WWI. The Americans became drunk on a false sense of an easy strategic victory in the so-called rout of the Taliban during the opening months of the GWOT. But the Talibs, like all successful irregular forces, quickly dispersed to their villages in the face of superior firepower. The long-term consequence of our misapprehension was a series of strategic blunders that, in cumulative effect, converted the Taliban’s apparent defeat into an operational level retreat that preserved its capability to fight another day — Kunduz being the most recent example. These early failures by the German and American leaderships led to ever more costly missteps and a loss of purpose as the respective leaders ‘dug in’ to defend their mistakes. To make matters worse, some domestic interests — e.g., the Krupp in Germany and the MICC in the US — thrived on the carnage and had an economic interest in its continuation. And so, in very different circumstances, each conflict acquired a life of its own. Delusions in the openings of each set the stages for grinding stalemates and more delusion. Each war devolved into a strategically pointless bloodbath that no one could end, even though some participants realized its continuance was not worth the cost. World War I ended — or paused, because the entry of America added enough weight to one side to overwhelm the other. In that sense the GWOT is very different than WWI. Today there is no overwhelming power to end or pause the ongoing catastrophe. The closest alternative may involve some kind of cooperative arrangement with Russia and possibly Iran, because they also have interests in ending or defusing the GWOT, albeit for different reasons. In other words, it may be time to grab the lifeline of compromise. President Putin’s gambit in Syria may be a lifeline in that direction. But is grabbing it even possible?
This message contains three attachments that address this question. Attachments #1 & #2 are two report/opinion pieces on Syria by Patrick Cockburn, arguably the best reporter now covering the chaotic wars in the Middle East. Cockburn sums up the Syrian mess with special attention to the central role that self-delusion has had in creating, magnifying, and perpetuating this mess. As Cockburn argues in Attachment #1, there is a kind of mass psychosis in the West, particularly the US, driving a March to Folly that is hiding in plain sight; yet it persists without an impulse toward corrective action. In Attachment #2, he explains why Russia’s entry into the conflict may well be a salutary development. But in Attachment #3, investigative reporter Robert Parry argues that President Obama is under domestic pressure to continue business as usual in the GWOT — which brings us to heart of the problem.
The sheer breadth, depth, and staying power of the delusions disconnecting the West’s decisions in Syria from its reality is a case study in what ails contemporary American foreign policy in general. No doubt, this is a subject that will be studied by historians for decades to come. While not addressed directly in any of these attachments, the magnitude of the ongoing mass psychosis goes far beyond that described by Irving Janis in his classic book Groupthink. Janis studied how delusion creeps into and disconnects the decisions and actions of small, closely knit, often secretive, decision-making groups from the environment they are trying to cope with. But Cockburn’s first essay and Parry’s essay are not about small group psychosis, they are about mass psychosis. How and why this mass delusion has taken hold and persists in the face of massive evidence to the contrary brings us back to the nature of the tragedy of WWI. It is or should be the most important question facing Americans today. Yet it remains a little understood question, even though it is apparent that a kind of mental breakdown has now spread throughout the domain of America’s popular as well as its political culture.
It is also evident that the psychosis disconnecting the collective American mind from reality in Syria (and in our government’s decision making from reality in general) embodies, inter alia, some kind of opaque interaction among (1) the deep-state power structures distributed among the interest groups running the iron triangles of America’s peculiar political-economy with (2) divisive popular domestic politics — a subject introduced by Parry below, (3) a popular culture that displaces empiricism with ideology, and (4) the increasing malleability and speed of transmission of “info narratives” in what a wag in the Pentagon predicted accurately in 1981 would be the “post-information era.” The result is a mounting sense of confusion and disorder, that left unchecked will lead inevitably to paralysis and death by a thousand cuts.
Only one thing is clear: the roots of this self-destructive interaction will never be untangled and understood until the American people take off the blinders and try to understand what is really going on. And in this regard, demonizing President Putin’s initiative in Syria is more in line with the opposite.
Phi Beta Iota: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the US have been the destabilizing agents. Putin, Iran, and Iraq are now stabilizing agents.