Syria, Spookhousing, And A Scary Stroll Through The Neoconservative Mind

It was inevitable, of course. No, I’m not talking about the Obama-Kerry agreement with the Russians on what to do with Syria’s chemical weapons. I’m talking about the subsequent criticism and hysteria coming from the shoot-first-negotiate-later crowd.

No matter how things turned out, no matter what decision the President made, no matter whether we dropped bombs or didn’t drop bombs, shot missiles or didn’t shoot missiles, we could have expected this headline:

John McCain, Lindsey Graham Criticize Syria Deal: ‘An Act Of Provocative Weakness’

You have to admit that is a clever phrase: “Provocative weakness.” But what does it mean? McCain and Graham try to explain:

What concerns us most is that our friends and enemies will take the same lessons from this agreement: They see it as an act of provocative weakness on America’s part, We cannot imagine a worse signal to send to Iran as it continues its push for a nuclear weapon.

Let me see here. If seeking and perhaps finding a non-bomb way out of an international dispute, while keeping the threat of bombs on the table, represents a weakness that will provoke our enemies, then it is not hard to fathom what is the right thing to do for McCain and Graham and others today criticizing the President’s attempt to find a peaceful way out of a crisis: bomb the hell out of your enemies even if your enemies are willing to give you what you want! Because, apparently, getting what you want without dropping bombs is not a sign of strength and success but a sign of weakness and failure.

Even though it is sometimes necessary, I don’t like spending much time rummaging around in the spook-filled heads of people who think like that, who refuse to take yes for an answer while there are still plenty of cruise missiles to launch. Trying to figure out what makes people like McCain and Graham tick, what makes them long for and lead cheers for warfare even when, at least right now, it isn’t necessary to accomplish our stated limited goal, is not likely to bear much fruit.

But one thing is very clear: McCain’s and Graham’s goal in Syria is not limited. It is much more ambitious than stopping a dictator from using chemical weapons that the world long ago agreed were too horrendous to countenance. Obviously, these two and others on the right are eager to jump into every fire in the Middle East, no matter how many times we get burned, because, well, otherwise we look weak. It is much, much better to get burned to a crisp, or burn others to a crisp, than to appear weak to some warmongering conservatives. Never mind that we have spent a decade at war in at least two countries in the region and we don’t appear all that strong. In fact, a good case can be made that protracted warfare has genuinely weakened us in the eyes of the world.

As I say, I don’t want to spend much time spookhousing, trying to figure out what makes people like John McCain and Lindsey Graham think and act the way they do. Suffice it to say that today we should all give thanks that the band doesn’t play “Hail To The Chief” when John McCain walks into a room, and that the weight of his opinions on our international dos and don’ts is felt mainly on television talk shows, on which he appears almost daily and on which he is rarely if ever aggressively challenged.

Don Knotts searches for spooks in Ghost ProtocolIn any case, speaking of strange thinking, speaking of spookhouse-minds to explore, perhaps this is a good time to mention one of the craziest things I have read in a major publication in a long time. It comes via the Wall Street Journal and an article authored by Norman Podhoretz, an old neoconservative who is widely respected—and I mean widely respected: George W. Bush handed him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 for being “at the forefront of American intellectual thought for the last half-century.” Keep that in mind as we go on: “intellectual thought.”

There are at least three more things you need to know about Norman Podhoretz before we get to his article:

♦ He suggested in 1980 we might lose the Cold War with the Soviets and even believed Ronald Reagan wasn’t tough enough on the commies, saying in 1984 that the Gipper was “following a strategy of helping the Soviet Union stabilize its empire, rather than a strategy aimed at encouraging the breakup of that empire from within.” A mere five years later the Soviet Union began to dissolve. Yikes, Norman!

♦ Not only was he a cheerleader for the 2003 Iraq War, he was a cheerleader for attacking Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the 1990s. Yikes again, Norman!

♦ In 2007—in 2007!— he called for and prayed for George W. Bush to bomb the hell out of Iran because time was running out. He answered critics of his scheme, who warned of the dangerous repercussions involved, by citing, who else, John McCain:

Nevertheless, there is a good response to them, and it is the one given by John McCain. The only thing worse than bombing Iran, McCain has declared, is allowing Iran to get the bomb.

Yikes once more, Norm! That’s three yikes! and Podhoretz should be out, but nope, he’s still in the game. His latest article, weirdly but strategically titled, “Obama’s Successful Foreign Failure,” is perhaps this old right-winger’s finest moment in right-wing intellectual nuttery.

Podhoretz believes that not only is the President’s leadership leading to national decline and an “erosion of American power,” it is not happening because Obama is “incompetent,” “bungling,” “feckless,” “amateurish,” and “in over his head.” No, no, no. The President is none of those things, says this respected neocon. You see, Obama means to lead the United States into decline. Obama wants to undermine American strength, but he has to hide his motives:

His foreign policy, far from a dismal failure, is a brilliant success as measured by what he intended all along to accomplish. The accomplishment would not have been possible if the intention had been too obvious. The skill lies in how effectively he has used rhetorical tricks to disguise it.

Referencing Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers and Saul Alinsky—the unholy trinity in the liturgy that informs right-wing conspiracists in the First Church of Obama-Haters—Podhoretz says Obama is a “left-wing radical” who believes “that the United States had almost always been a retrograde and destructive force in world affairs” and, thus, the President wants to fundamentally transform the United States by reducing “the country’s power and influence.”

Obama is so crafty in pursuing this diabolical goal, that all this apparent incompetence, fecklessness and amateurism is just a cover. And the President, Podhoretz tells us, doesn’t really care that people see him that way:

For this fulfillment of his dearest political wishes, Mr. Obama is evidently willing to pay the price of a sullied reputation. In that sense, he is by his own lights sacrificing himself for what he imagines is the good of the nation of which he is the president, and also to the benefit of the world, of which he loves proclaiming himself a citizen.

You see? President Obama is willing to sacrifice his own reputation in order to weaken the country so that we will all live happily ever after as world citizens. Got it? Spooky, ain’t it?

Journeying through the ghoulish mind of Norman Podhoretz—again, a man well-respected as an “intellectual” on the right—makes one long for a respite in the little-less-scary and the lot-less-intellectual noggin of John McCain. Why? Because for all his militaristic bravado and chronic interventionism, I think John McCain really does believe President Obama is merely incompetent, amateurish, and in over his head, as opposed to believing that our Commander-in-Chief is skillfully misleading us all as he purposely engineers the decline of America.

No matter what, though, the neoconservative mind, represented either by John McCain or Norman Podhoretz, should send shivers down your spine.



  1. ansonburlingame

     /  September 16, 2013


    First you write “….while keeping the threat of bombs on the table.” As I have repeatedly said, such a threat is a lame threat, as articulated by the President and Secretary of State. When a super power threatens the use of force, it should not be a “very small strike”, “no boots on the ground” threat, etc. The timing and amount of force application should be a “secret” to those being threatened, period. But as well the ultimate goal of the threat, what our National Objective might be should be a very public matter for debate.

    Evolving National Objectives are never sound policy statements either. Our objectives in Syria have been confusing at a minimum for sure over the last 3 years or so. What McCain and Graham are really doing is trying to force the President to set a valid National Objective that is achievable using available American power, not some form of “rolling objectives” depending on day to day politics, domestically or geopolitically.

    Assad’s objective, backed up by Russian allies and others, has been to remain in power, no matter what in the face of a rebellion led by ……….? He does not need chemcal weapons to achieve that goal however. Why he ever used them in the first place is still unknown to me, IF he in fact ordered their use. All it did was raise the outrage against him from most countries in the world, a stupid strategy at best with little or no military value in doing so.

    The only reason Syria has manufactured and kept CW in an arsenal is a defense against Israel, its biggest enemy. Assad and Putin have conducted a very careful geopolitical calculation that the threat against Syria from the “world” is bigger than the need for CW to “deter” Israel in an all out war, which is very unlikely.

    Try to look at it outside your ‘protect Obama all the time” pespective. Obama’s policy has been “confusing” and irregular vis a vise Syria for about 3 years. By Syria I don’t just mean Assad but the whole country. We cannot find anyone therein to actually support other than dead women and children and those to follow. So get in or stay out and if we get in then who exactly do we support?

    What McCain and Graham and others fail to take into account is American views of “getting in” to such matters. To think that Americans would support any President to do what is needed to put into effect a regime change in Syria and leaving in place a government supporting our values is “crazy thinking” today.

    Of course the bigger foe in all of this is Iran. Now do you really think this latest round of threats to use American military power in Syria have given Iranian leaders pause to consider? My guess is the Iranian leaders are simply laughing at America right now, very quietly. They know full well that the use of American military power has been essentially neutered now, by Americans, regardless who is our President.

    Did Obama PLAN to “lower American power and influence” around the world? Probably not.

    But the reality now is that American power and influence has been degraded, once again. We have been doing it to ourselves for over 20 years now and our power and influence keep going down around the world today.

    Many of your progressive supports think as well that is a good idea, overall. I’m not yet sure where you stand on that larger issue however, the reality of American power and influcence now. But as a “union man” you know full well that empty threats do little constructively in “combat”. It would be like your union threatening a two day strike, unless ……!



    • Anson,

      No, what McCain and Graham are doing is trying to get us directly involved in Syria’s civil war, not get Obama “to set a valid National Objective that is achievable using available American power.” By the way, their own responses have been somewhat ad hoc and “rolling,” to the extent that they are evolving responses to changes everywhere from Libya to Iran. The only unifying principle in all of their pronouncements is that we should get in the fires over there with both feet but, oddly, without putting “boots on the ground.” You explain the coherence of that National Objective to me, Anson.

      As for why Syria manufactured chemical weapons in the first place, I find that irrelevant. Why? Because they are irrelevant in any war against Israel. Why? Because the Israelis will nuke them in five minutes. That’s why Israel has launched military strikes against Syria this year with no retaliation from the Syrians. There is little they can do, especially since there is a civil war going on.

      How about instead of me trying to look outside my “protect Obama all the time” perspective, you look outside your ring of ex-military buddies who no matter what the President does, find fault with it? Of course Obama’s Syria policy has been “confusing” and “irregular.” You know why? Because this is a complicated matter and by its nature it breeds confusion and irregularity. The easiest path to take through all this is to do absolutely nothing—which we are not doing, since we are arming some factions of the resistance and we have threatened military strikes—or to do what McCain and Graham want us to do, which is use strong military force to support the rebels, many of whom we have no idea what their motives are, and many of whom we do know and abhor their motives.

      Finally, you offer this ridiculous analysis:

      My guess is the Iranian leaders are simply laughing at America right now, very quietly. They know full well that the use of American military power has been essentially neutered now, by Americans, regardless who is our President.

      What exactly does that mean? They are laughing at us? Really? Does that mean anything real? Does their jollity have any geopolitical significance? Will they, with sly grins on their face and quiet giggles in their throats, do something stupid like provoke Israel or us? Hell no, they won’t. You know why? It’s those goddamned Israeli nukes again! Dammit!

      So, you an other people who push this “they’re laughing at us” nonsense have to ask yourself: So what if they are? What does it matter? Answer: not a damn thing. They move against us or Israel and those empty threats you worry about will be filled up with American outrage, which will trigger the end of the Iranian regime.

      Finally, once again you made the unsupported and unsupportable point that American power and influence has been degraded.” Our power is unquestioned by any sane international leader and our influence has never, I repeat never, been what you conservatives have thought it was. We’ve had to do things in our history, like what happened in Iran in the fifties that led to what we face today in Iran, that had nothing to do with “influence” but with the sheer exercise of our power, power that was not checked by any notion of American values, and often done for reasons that disgust ordinary Americans today. If that’s the kind of “influence” you say we have lost, I say, good riddance.



      • Sedate Me

         /  September 17, 2013

        As for why Syria manufactured chemical weapons in the first place, I find that irrelevant. Why? Because they are irrelevant in any war against Israel. Why? Because the Israelis will nuke them in five minutes. That’s why Israel has launched military strikes against Syria this year with no retaliation from the Syrians. There is little they can do, especially since there is a civil war going on.

        Anybody see Dr Stangelove? Remember the all the military boys obsessing about their weapons “gaps” and the silly competition to create/close those gaps? THAT’S why nations like Syria has chemical weapons despite the pointlessness of having them. In keeping with Dr Stragelove, they could also be meant as a potential Doomsday Device that wouldn’t win a war with Israel, but would kill Israeli civilians as Syria got wiped off the map.

        Although, it’s highly possible that the chemical weapons were always meant to be used on their own citizens as, unlike military forces, they have no defence against those weapons.

        Come to think of it, why does America still have a stockpile of chemical weapons about 10 times that of Syria, despite signing a treaty in the early 90s that required all such weapons be destroyed by 2007? Ten percent remains, but why? With its vast array of weaponry, what logical reason does America have for keeping chemical weapons?

        Once you start applying logic to the Military Industrial Security Complex, everything starts melting away. So don’t…unless you’re looking to get hit by a drone strike.


  2. RDG,

    News that McCain is considering retirement is good for the country, but bad for Sunday morning talk shows – and Lockheed Martin. David Gregory’s spine is shivering (assuming he has one). How does Meet the Press survive without McCain? It is unimaginable, like Turner without Hooch.

    War with Iran, not Syria, has always been the neoconservative objective. Even though the deluded “War on Terror” protagonists continue to occupy media airspace (who can ever forget the ease in which Iraq became our Arab version of Israel?), why anyone would buy their lethal lunacy passes all understanding.

    Silly talk: President Obama is “weak” because no launched missiles killed people in the wrong place at the wrong time. God forbid that diplomacy might actually remove chemical weapons from Assad’s control – or al Qaeda or Hezbollah or whatever contingent fights under the “rebel” flag. Engaging Russia diplomatically, which has an obvious geopolitical stake in the region, is a smart move.

    Of course, President Obama has “degraded” everything in the blurry eyes of those suffering from Obama Derangement Syndrome.

    I’m linking an article from Foreign Affairs. It provides a peek into Iran not usually discussed on teevee.


    • John,

      Good point about the ultimate focus for right-wingers is on Iran, which will, in due time, present a thousand times more difficulties in deciding what to do with American military might should the Iranians go ahead with an aggressive pursuit of nuclear capabilities.

      And I couldn’t see the FP article without submitting my credit card number. If you have access to it how about posting it here so I can see it?



      • King Beauregard

         /  September 17, 2013

        It didn’t ask me for my credit card number, so here’s the article:

        Iran is once again in the midst of a fierce internal battle to come out of its latest ideological shell. The showdown in Syria will demonstrate how pragmatic the Islamic Republic will become. It will also set the stage for the upcoming nuclear negotiations.

        It was not that long ago that various Iranian figures claimed that fighting in Damascus would prevent fighting in Tehran. Now you hear these statements mostly from Syrian officials without any nod from their Iranian counterparts. Last February, a conservative cleric called Syria “Iran’s 35th province” and claimed that losing the secular, Alawite-ruled country would be strategically more devastating than losing the oil-rich province of Khuzestan. Grim internal and regional realities, however, have undermined these hardline views.

        Syria has been Iran’s main, or rather only, ally since the 1979 Revolution. Syria’s ruling Baath party stood by Iran during the eight-year war against fellow-Baath leader Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who dreamed of swallowing Khuzestan and its sea of black gold. Unlike Turkey, which modernized its economy by maintaining good relations with both Iran and Iraq throughout the 1980s, Syria closed Iraq’s pipeline to the Mediterranean Sea. In return, Iran pumped free and cheap oil to Syria and sent thousands of pilgrims to Damascus every day.

        Syria has been Iran’s crucial link to Hezbollah — a much-feared proxy that brought significant regional power to Iran. Hezbollah’s “victory” against Israel in 2006 was claimed as Iran’s victory and celebrated across the country. Without the Assad regime, the Islamic Republic may find itself in a neighborhood that it can no longer recognize, suddenly bereft of a tool, glasses, and even a compass that it has had since birth.

        But an important change is taking place beneath the surface within the regime. The conservative faction, badly shaken by the 2009 Green Movement embarrassingly bruised by its own ally, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and then surprisingly defeated in the latest presidential election last June, is now forced to compromise and open the political space to the old pragmatic guard. Led by former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his protégé, current President Hassan Rowhani, and allied with former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, this is the faction that helped bring Iran out of a devastating war with Iraq and put it back on its feet. It also improved relations with the international community, stood aside to quietly benefit from the two Persian Gulf Wars against Saddam Hussein, and provided critical support to the United States to overthrow the Taliban. It is a faction that defines its interests in terms of better relations with the West, particularly the United States. It is a faction that is aware of and prepared to tap into the popular appetite to bring the country out of its current isolation.

        On the other side of the equation is a powerful conservative block led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who is deeply suspicious of the United States, and the top commanders of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Threatened by the post-9/11 era, flushed with cash by the skyrocketing oil prices, and then drunk with “victory” over Israel and the United States after the two countries’ military adventures in the region, the conservatives pursued a resurgent hardline and ideological foreign policy from 2005 to 2013.

        Khamenei has long argued that nothing but “resistance” to the United States would pay off. He references not just America’s enemies who eventually compromised (former Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi) with Washington, but even those puppets (former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak/former Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali) who only served the United States. They are all gone, he often points out. In a recent statement, he attributed the demise of Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi to his compromising position toward the West. Sticking to an anti-American ideology is not just about the ideology itself, but a practical key to survival. Khamenei argues Iran’s working relations with the United States in Afghanistan only made Tehran more vulnerable in the aftermath of President George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech. By contrast, Iran’s confrontation with the United States in Iraq and over the nuclear issue only brought power and status to Iran and softened the Bush administration’s threatening posture.

        But the Supreme Leader is increasingly challenged by a wide range of political groups that have publicly or quietly united behind Rafsanjani and Rowhani. They fear that Khamenei’s ideological worldview implemented during Ahmadinejad’s presidency has dangerously weakened the Islamic state. During Ahmadinejad’s first term, Iran lost the wedge that it had created between the United States and European Union over how to deal with Iran. During his second term, the West and the East (Russia and China) reached agreements on more effective sanctions against Iran. Eventually even the “Rising Powers” such as Brazil and Turkey lost interest in Iran. International sanctions that were called “worthless papers” might have empowered the IRGC, but have impaired the national economy and the middle class.

        As the United States prepares to possibly strike the Assad regime in Syria with the partial aim of sending a message to Iran, Tehran’s pragmatics are struggling to navigate both internally and internationally. Rafsanjani went even further and reportedly criticized the Assad government for gassing its own people. Although he later denied such a statement, the audio version of his speech went viral on the internet. A country that had been a victim of chemical weapons during the war with Iraq under the watchful eyes of the United States may now be signaling that it in fact shares the same redline with the United States. If Assad has gassed his people, Iran could use that as an excuse not to sacrifice too much in the coming conflict. In the same speech Rafsanjani warned that the country is in a difficult situation: “We cannot utilize our natural resources. We cannot sell our oil. Even when we sell the oil, we cannot repatriate the money. When we buy goods, we have to pay extra and then also pay more for transportation. And many more problems.” These statements are tarnishing the image of the Islamic Republic, and Khamenei has consistently warned Iranian officials against making them, not because they aren’t true, but because they indirectly question his judgment and leadership.

        A few days later, Rafsanjani denied implicating Assad in the use of chemical weapons after conservatives warned him that his statements could be used by Western powers to make a case against Syria. However, Rafsanjani quickly moved on to admire Khomeini’s “intelligence” for “drinking the chalice of poison” to end the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, the very moment he “discovered the people’s expediency.” Rafsanjani, who has been accused of forcing Khomeini to end the war, stressed that Khomeini “chose” to do so because he cared about his people more than his reputation. By comparing the current situation to the difficult days of the war, he is pressing for a U-turn. Rafsanjani, the head of the Expediency Council, who was ironically and controversially disqualified in the last presidential race before putting his support behind Rowhani, said he would never doubt whether or not he should express what he calls the interest of the people. In other words, he won’t be bullied. He is determined to help reshape the Islamic state whose foundations owe as much to him, if not more, as to Khamenei. While both columns of the regime agree that the country is at a critical point, Rafsanjani fears that Khamenei’s “steadfast” approach means that although the road has evidently turned, the driver may not have.

        Beneath this elite-level conflict, there is a restless society that could not care less about Syria unless it is a prelude for a war against Iran. It is the same constituency that has shown its unqualified dedication to bring about peaceful change in Iran through the 1997 Reform Movement, the 1999 Student Movement, and the 2009 Green Movement. It is the same constituency that voted for the pragmatic candidate it had (Rowhani) not the candidate it wished it had. This “pragmatic” candidate is the same man who boasts in his memoir that he is the one who enforced mandatory veiling in Iran’s Army after the 1979 Revolution, yet endears himself 30 years later by criticizing the humiliating treatment of women and youth. During his political campaign last spring Rowhani shrewdly touched on the mounting social and economic problems in these two often-quoted statements: “I am a lawyer not a colonel,” and “It is good to have centrifuges running, provided that people’s lives and livelihoods are also running.” Iran’s political elites across the board fully understand that despite the pretense of resuscitation in the past eight years, the grassroots revolutionary fervor of the 1980s is non-existent today.

        By putting its most pragmatic elements in charge, Rafsanjani and Rowhani are hoping to once again reduce tensions with regional countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and possibly even Israel. Time and again Rafsanjani has expressed concern over the deterioration of relations with Saudi Arabia, accusing Ahmadinejad and others of putting their own factional interests above the state’s. Rafsanjani once reportedly said that one atomic bomb is enough to destroy the Jewish state, nowadays stresses that Iran is not on the forefront of the Arab-Israeli conflict: “We are not going to war with Israel. If Arabs fight, we will help.” And in a clear departure from Ahmadinejad’s infamous statements against Israel, Rowhani was recently quick to correct the misstatements regarding “removing” Israel that had been attributed to him. Last week, in a Twitter exchange with Nancy Pelosi’s daughter, his Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also declared: “Iran never denied it [the Holocaust]. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year [Rosh Hashana].” The dismayed conservatives reacted immediately. On Sunday, Khamenei’s representative in the conservative paper Kayhan attacked Zarif for claiming that the Iranian government never denied the Holocaust and Zarif was pressed by some ultra-conservative elements to apologize. Tensions are at the highest levels.

        It is said that at his deathbed, Ayatollah Khomeini opined his two disciples, Khamenei and Rafsanjani, that if they stayed united, the Islamic state would stay firm. It was that alliance that helped eradicate all non-Islamist activists after the revolution. Soon after his death, though, the conflict between them arose. Syria can be the latest test to see if they further diverge or come together and strike a balance between ideological goals and the practical interests of the regime.

        In a recent interview with Iran’s state-controlled TV, Rowhani said he has been in touch with leaders of several countries and his foreign minister has spoken with his counterparts from 35 states to prevent a war. He emphasized that Iran would support “any initiative” to avoid a strike against Syria and pointed out that Tehran in principle agrees with the proposal for international control of Assad’s chemical arsenal. Moving to the nuclear issue, he said Iran’s approach for a “win-win solution” will begin during his upcoming trip to New York, where he will meet with foreign ministers of some of the P5+1 countries. He added that if the other side is serious, the “nuclear question will be resolved in a not very long period of time.”

        Both the United States and Islamic Republic view the situation in Syria as a means to signal to the other side. The Obama administration claims that its serious handling of Syria will send a message to Iran and its nuclear program. The Rowhani administration, on the other hand, intends to show its diplomatic handling of Syria will pave the way for a diplomatic solution of the nuclear issue.

        In the early days of the Islamic Republic, Iran’s young envoys, lost in the complex world of international politics, would often look to Syrian representatives before taking a position at international organizations. These now middle-aged diplomats sit and negotiate directly with representatives of big powers at one table. Syria is no longer their compass. The big question for Iran is whether Assad can be saved without becoming a liability.


  3. ansonburlingame

     /  September 17, 2013


    A couple of short observations, not intended as a full debate for sure. The details are in my own blog.

    Since the end of the Cold War American international power and influence have degraded, no doubt in my mind and both political parities have caused it. The lack of a unifying (keeping America united) set of National Objectives has been the cause by and large. As well, economic downturns no longer allow us to sustain a truly global military force unchallenged by any country or combination of countries. The Arab Spring is just such an example. Even the introduction of American military power in the Balkans was a failure in terms of the ultimate outcome. Our failure to achieve a favorable outcome to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are front and center as well in terms of American failure in “limited” wars.

    “Hawks” are now “dead meat” in American politics, for the next decade or so, at least. No way will Americans allow any President to put “boots on the ground” to influence geopolitics, now and in the foreseeable future. As well our Navy is less than what it was during the years before WWI and nobody reall cares, today. 10 years ago had the Syria events arose we would have had at least two full up carrier battle groups in the eastern Med, bristling with power and a real threat to anyone that would care to challenge them. No today, by a long shot.

    All of that is reality today, a lack of available American military power to some degree and for a sure a total lack of resolve to use what we now have left. That, Duane is NOT deterrence as it used to be.

    That is not an argument that we must pull out all the stops and regain such military power and the willingness to use it. It merely reflects reality today around the world. And you can bet you bippy Iran knows such facts now and will use that knowledge as they continue to engage, geopolitically, with an America that is not what it used to be. Israel as well knows that and from time to time may well “go it alone” if they really feel threatened.

    As for my “military buddies” forget it as far as my own views on such matters go. My own views are the result of years of reading, study (formally for a year), working every day for two years in the midst of such issues and lots of correspondence with many that are far more knowledgeable in these matters than I am as well.

    Look at it this way, a perspective you can understand. Unions have lost a lot of power in the last 20 plus years. Forget the reasons why. Just look at the facts related to union power that has declined. You don’t like it and call for stronger unions. I view geopolitics in the same manner, with American national interests and the ability to sustain them being my big concern today.

    You and other progressives think that is “good”, for America to no longer be able to exert power in American interests. Fine, now live with it as such is now the case.



    • Sedate Me

       /  September 17, 2013

      Forget about the ability to act in its own best interest. I’m not sure America & Americans can even TELL what is in their own best interests anymore, never mind act out of “right vs wrong” motives. (Right and wrong was always at the bottom of the priority list anyway.)

      That’s one thing the Arab Spring made perfectly clear. Even now, America still has no idea what to do. This isn’t an Obama thing. The lack of guiding principle is a top-to-bottom thing.


  4. King Beauregard

     /  September 17, 2013

    Something I just noticed, visiting a certain toilet of Internet punditry where Bill Moyers was railing against involvement in Syria. I’ve been scratching my head over why even relatively intelligent journalists like Moyers can’t make heads or tails of Syria, when it hit me: they’re trying to make up for their failure in Iraq by being extra-critical of Obama today. So Obama can come right out and explain the situation (Assad / poison gas / civilians) and his plan (limited strikes / wreck Assad’s delivery systems / will also accept peaceable surrender of weapons), and the Moyerses are all “what is this savage, unlawful President trying to do? IT IS A MYSTERY.”

    Sorry guys, it doesn’t work that way. Your problem in 2003 was that you didn’t put on your thinking caps and question what needed to be questioned, and you’re making that mistake today. The only difference is, this time you’re practicing blind doubt instead of blind faith.

    Detestable, the lot of you. I’d flush the lot of you twice if it were physically possible.

    In other news, the Alyssa Milano celebrity sex tape. I link it because it is surprisingly germane, and surprisingly safe for work too:


  5. Thanks to John McKnight for the Foreign Affairs article. The politics are enlightening and it’s clear that Iran as a nation is as affected as any individual human by the desire for respect and wealth and the obvious means to those are nuclear weapons and oil. This reality informs everything the Iranians do in foreign affairs and it also gives the lie to any promise that Texas diplomacy, ala McCain and Graham, might hold for resolving Middle East tensions. Iranian ambitions will not diminish with the threat of air strikes. They will, like water, find an outlet, and the presence of the religion factor ensures that internal Iranian political passions will not be found wanting.

    The strategic value of Khuzestan, a name I had never heard of before, is immediately apparent from a map. No wonder Saddam wanted Kuwait so badly – Iran had cut off his alternate pipeline to the Mediterranean.

    America, as always, needs to be free of foreign oil dependency, but we still get about a third of our needs from Iran’s area of the world. Thanks to fracking technology, that need is less now, but still substantial. We are at a political fork in the road. One road leads to gluttony, a.k.a., Ugly American threats of violence and drill, baby, drill, and the other to deferred gratification, a.k.a., diminished usage of energy and a green philosophy. Two starkly different futures still beckon, as they have now for some time. But given the increased polarization between the parties, any hope of a middle road is, I think, less than ever before in modern times.

    Good post, Duane.


  6. ansonburlingame

     /  September 17, 2013

    Defered gratification, coming from a progressive. Hard to believe it!. America today is consumed with the need for more, more, more, now!



    • Sedate Me

       /  September 17, 2013

      That ain’t a left or right thing. Everybody in this sick & twisted consumer society is consumed with more, more, more, now, now, now!

      Hell, there are a lot of broke-ass millionaires out there who’ve spent themselves to death. They just have more rope to hang themselves with.


  7. I agree, Anson. The Big Banks are “consumed with the need for more, more, more now!”


  8. Mike Gaden

     /  September 20, 2013

    In the line of work I’m in, organizational culture and change, one saying that seems right to me is that “Behavior is king!” That is, if you want to know what someone really thinks and believes, pay attention, close attention, to how they behave, not what they say.

    To this end, I interpret President Obama’s behavior in the Syrian kerfuffle to indicate that his motivations are of a higher logical class than we have discussed so far. I think that for him, it is not just “bomb or not bomb” or even “punish or not punish Assad”, but “leaders do not deliberately harm those people they lead”. He will take whatever course of action that results in application of that principle especially when applied to him, not just Assad.

    So let us apply this technique to Senator McCain and Senator Graham. They say they want to stop Assad and other despots from using chemical weapons on their own people, but when Assad agrees to give up his weapons, they still push for military action. Conclusion? They want military action to punish Assad, show the world how strong America is, and demonstrate America’s ability to influence the rest of the world to kowtow to us.

    History demonstrates unequivocably what happens to every world power that pursues that goal: they disappear as a world power. The Neocons, as described in Duane’s blog above, desperately want America to pursue that course of action, oblivious to the self-destructive nature of that course.

    We cannot let that happen.


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