Things that happen in foreign countries produce strange effects in the media. If you’re a Fox person, you hear one set of talking heads. If you’re an NPR person, you hear another, and so on. There’s still a little bit of overlap, but the usual partisan divides are a little less marked here, but this doesn’t mean that the ideologies aren’t more forceful, just that they are cryptic to the usual news consumer.
For the most part, cable news has already gone wall to wall on the 2016 election. This is sociopathic. The print media and NPR seem to be all about Syria. Last week it was the refugees, this week the Russian involvement.
So we hear some intelligent-sounding, informed-sounding experts with fancy job descriptions saying almost completely the opposite things about Asad or whether the US has an interest. Then there are commentators who think they know a lot, like David Ignatius, warning the president not to cede Syria to the Russians! You know, the columnists who are disguising their hackery in wonk’s clothing.
The fact is these debates are cloaked in so many cognitive dissonances, it’s hard to keep them straight. Largely it has to do with that 21st century American obsession with the Double Half-Decaf Half-Light Mocha Cappucino in a tall cup mentality. We want to have what we want, but we want it “our way” with the atmospherics to match. We want to enjoy our $5 coffee—more than hundreds of millions of people live off of in a week—but we want it to be “organic,” “fair trade,” and with no peanuts.
Similarly, we want our wars to be noble, for the purposes of democracy, without hurting civilians, without any possibility of ethnic cleansing, the propping up of dictators, and the threat to us must not be that it would do something that would make us homicidal (like raising the cost of that coffee to $10!) but that it would mean another 9/11 at home. Fuck you rest of the world, we don’t want to bomb you. We want all of globalization’s fruits with only attention to risks at home.
So, we want to prop up Syrian “moderates.” Moderates are shit at civil war. Have moderates ever not been purged in any civil war, ever? What the hell is a Syrian moderate anyway? Stupid. We want there to be democracy. Great, then they’ll have elections in ethnoreligious blocks and try to buy each other off with the foreign aid money for a while before they start shooting again.
We also don’t want to risk any civilians getting killed so we do nothing that will end civilians getting killed. We don’t want there to be ethnic cleansing so we force people with blood feuds and revenge on their mind (and weapons!) to live next door to each other. Literally!
I understand that nothing will persuade the American public that there’s enough of an American interest in Syria that it would be worth sending in the Marines and having them force transfer groups into ethnic enclaves and blow up everyone who gets in their way. But unlike most of the pundits, I also understand that our unwillingness to do this means that we aren’t serious about an actual solution, we are serious about crying about how the mess won’t work out according to our ideals.
I don’t know enough about the micro-level dynamics of the Syrian groups to draw a map or say what to do with every inch of territory or every subgroup. But it seems to me that you need a coastal Alawite state, a Sunni state, a Kurdish state, and some other map alterations, maybe moving some Druze areas into Lebanon or (gasp!!) Israel. Then you need some kind of neutral zones enforced by someone less limp dicked than the UN—maybe the Russians can guard the Alawite frontier. Whatever.
Yes, ideally, we could all live next to each other and celebrate our common humanity, but when one group is killing your friends and family in another group that gets hard. Sometimes separation is what’s needed.
As for Asad, you can’t put Syria back together with him in charge, but you can’t put it back together anyway. He might as well be used to build a rump Alawite state on the coast. You need an authoritarian state to bring these anarchic lands out of the dark ages anyway, unfortunately. Do not hold any fucking elections.
After all of this is done, if we need to land the 101st in Raqqa fine.
Explaining how this affects US interests isn’t easy. But this situation has already destabilized Europe and if we let the whole country collapse, it probably means the end of Jordan and Lebanon, even more trouble in Turkey too. How does that affect us? Well we do business with Europe and even though not as much oil comes from the Middle East as most people think, it still more or less sets the price world wide. Whether all of that meets your worthiness test is up to you to decide, but don’t tell me it doesn’t affect you. It does.
There may be no solution to insurgent warfare. Counterinsurgency may be fraudulent. It may be that there is no clean way to fight a war and that in order to beat insurgents you have to be much more ruthless than our current politics allows. But politics change. Especially when a long string of military failures confronts an electorate.