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Only Making Matters Worse in Syria

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From Consortium News

Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN, addresses the Security Council meeting on Syria, Sept. 25, 2016. Power has been an advocate for escalating U.S. military involvement in Syria.
Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN, addresses the Security Council meeting on Syria, Sept. 25, 2016. Power has been an advocate for escalating U.S. military involvement in Syria.
(Image by (UN Photo))
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Middle East policy has reached an inflexion point, a moment when Official Washington seems to be caught in the middle between escalation and retreat.

On one hand, the rhetoric has not been more militant since Hillary Clinton's famous "we came, we saw, he died" moment in October 2011. With Barack Obama halfway out the door and Clinton all but crowned, Washington's laptop bombardiers are rejoicing that the half-measures are over and judgment day nearly at hand.

Thus, The New York Times assures us that that the Middle East is "desperate for American leadership" while the Washington Post reports that "the Republicans and Democrats who make up the foreign policy elite are laying the ground work for a more assertive American foreign policy."

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Leading think tanks are publishing "a flurry of reports" urging stepped-up intervention, including U.S.-backed "safe zones to protect moderate rebels from Syrian and Russian forces" and even "limited" cruise-missile strikes. But while differing on the details, all agree something must be done. The time to act is now.

As Vox puts it: "The hot new policy idea in Washington is the hottest old idea: direct US military intervention in Syria's civil war."

But reading between the lines, a very different picture emerges, a realization that the U.S. has painted itself into a corner and that there is little it can do after all. Thus, the Times observes that while the Middle East is clamoring for U.S. leadership, it is not clamoring for Bush-style intervention but for some mythical "middle ground" in between him and Obama.

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While reporting that pro-escalation sentiment is unanimous in Washington's vast foreign-policy establishment -- sometimes known as "the blob" -- the Washington Post notes that "even pinprick cruise-missile strikes designed to hobble the Syrian air force or punish [President Bashar al-]Assad would risk a direct confrontation with Russian forces" and wonders whether a war-weary public will support any intervention at all.

"My concern is that we may be talking to each other and agreeing with each other," it quotes one expert as saying, "but that these discussions are isolated from where the public may be right now."

Official Washington in a Bubble

Thus, even the Establishment worries that it lives in a bubble. Washington wants war, it needs war, and yet it admits in practically the same breath that it can't have it. So what will it do?

Then there are the mild liberals over at Vox, the hip and successful Washington website founded by journalistic wunderkind Ezra Klein. Voxers pride themselves on being sharp and practical yet in the end they are sealed off as well. The poster boy for this tendency is Zack Beauchamp, a young writer who stars in a recent Vox video entitled, "The crisis in Aleppo, explained in 4 minutes."

As Beauchamp lectures away amid fancy graphics and cool background music, the video faithfully toes the Washington line, both the stirring gung-ho part and the downbeat refrain that inevitably follows. Thus, he describes the Syrian civil war as a "story of flip-flops," with Assad seemingly on the ropes until Iran and Russia put him back on his feet, at which point the Saudis and Qataris put the rebels back on their feet so the game can continue.

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But the real turning point, he says, occurred in September 2015 when Russia stepped in with airstrikes that allowed the government to besiege the Salafists in eastern Aleppo.

"A siege," Beauchamp then explains, "involves trapping a group of people, civilians and fighters both, inside a certain territory and denying them supplies until they can no longer fight. Assad's strategy has a vicious logic to it. When you deprive people of food and you bomb them over and over again, they're likely to give in just to make the fighting stop."

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Freelance journalist and author of three books: The Frozen Republic (Harcourt, 1996); The Velvet Coup (Verso, 2001) and America's Undeclared War (Harcourt 2001).


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