The Blind Leading the Blind: Everyone’s Middle Eastern Madness.

“There is a holy mistaken zeal in politics as well as in religion. By persuading others, we convince ourselves,” or so said the forgotten English writer Junius in the mid-18th Century. When I read his words the other day I was reminded of other situations where ideology and ignorance of history replaced reason.

Operation Unthinkable is one of many such examples, a loonie scheme hatched in early 1945 by Winston Churchill. Exhausted by six years of war, drinking heavily, with a loathing for his Soviet nemesis — though he once told Field Marshal Montgomery he and Stalin could resolve all their problems if only they met weekly over dinner fortified with an ample supply of scotch and vodka.

Churchill wanted to forgive the Nazis and instead have 100,000 of their Wehrmacht troops link up with the British and Americans to attack the victorious Red Army as it sped toward Berlin and therefore “impose the will of the Western Allies on the Soviets.” The plan was clearly insane and unenforceable yet Churchill ordered the British Armed Forces Joint Planning Staff to develop his idea until rational members of his inner circle said No.

I thought of Churchill’s obsession after reading that Cato, the libertarian think tank, recalled describing in The New Republic “what it was like to oppose the [Iraq] war in 2003,” to which Cato writer Gene Healey added, “It was pretty damn lonely.”

During the run-up to the war, with the chicken hawks leading the charge, there was near unanimity among our think tank policy elites that the war was a just war – that is, all but Jessica Matthews at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Cato’s chair, the late Bill Niskkanen, both of whom dared to object.

Now, as we enter another year of the endless Afghan war (Brian McFadden, the Times’ smart political cartoonist, sent a greeting: “Happy Anniversary! Afghanistan. 14 years and you’re more intractable than ever”) not much has changed except that a few more American VIPS now dare question American Exceptionalism and the fantasy of regime change. After all, it was US involvement in Afghanistan and its invasion of Iraq which helped produce the chaos, mass deaths, ISIS, and indirectly that 3-year-old Kurdish boy, the child of desperate refugees, lying dead on a Greek beach. We could do much worse than read Gareth Porter, one of our more acute and thus ignored specialists on the Middle Eastern disaster, whose online Truthdig article, “Why the US Owns the Rise of Islamic State and the Syrian Disaster” is worth a hundred columns by our punditocracy. The late great NY Times writer David Carr understood better than his paper’s Op Ed-ers that, “while America was done with Iraq, Iraq was not done with America, not by a long shot.” Had he lived he could just as well have said “Middle East.”

(My conscript father served as a combat soldier in Imperial Russia’s terrible WWI army and after the Bolshevik Revolution was dragooned into White General Kornilov’s pro-Tsarist, anti-Red force, where he told me, he witnessed horrendous brutality on all sides, a familiar Middle Eastern sight today).

Now hard-line Putin, no liberator he, has entered the game. What’s he up to, “experts” around the world keep asking? No doubt Putin and his own resident hawks, with no apparent domestic dissent (so far) are pushing him to keep in mind Russia’s historic Middle Eastern role while reminding him as well of the need to save Assad and the Alawite and Christian minorities and by doing so, demonstrate with force of arms that his Russia is no longer a Yeltsin-Gorbachev pushover. But Russia’s entry also demonstrates that there are no good guys and bad guys in this dangerous game of Russian Roulette. Putin has challenged the US, which since the end of WWII, has believed – with virtually no dissent at home — that the Middle East is its exclusive playing field.

In the region’s complex and intricate tangle of religious and political rivalries, Shiite Iraq, Iran, Assad’s Syria, Hezbollah and Russia, now welcomed by Egypt’s authoritarians because of its contempt for the Moslem Brotherhood in its midst, have formed a de facto alliance opposed to the US, and its “coalition,” including Turkey, a member of NATO but mainly concerned with keeping the Kurds in check along with Sunni Persian Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, both of whom are ready to fight until the last American soldier. If necessary, even repentant remnants of Al Qaeda and its Nusra Front, once considered by the US to be terrorists, might be recruited if things get really dicey.

Meanwhile, America’s hawks, safe and secure at home, are fuming, assuring themselves that “We Are (Still) Number One.” They’d love to send the troops in again (but never their own kids) but are afraid of a quagmire or defeat, and, naturally, political retribution at home. Their latest chestnut is calling for a “no-fly” zone, never explaining how it would deter Russian aircraft. So everyone holds fast to the unworkable “Assad must go,” policy before considering any possibility of a US-Russian compromise to jointly fight ISIS and only after worrying about persuading Assad to retire to a beautiful Swiss resort.

At least the hard-pressed Obama has (so far) rejected the idiocy emanating from his hawkish critics. “Half-baked ideas as if they are solutions or trying to downplay the challenges involved in the situation,” he said. “What I’d like to see people ask, specifically, precisely, what exactly would you do and how long would you fund it and how would you sustain it? And typically, what you get is a bunch of mumbo-jumbo.”

We need to look elsewhere for different views. David Shipler, who once covered Israel for the Times and managed to come away clear-headed now writes his insightful online Shipler Report. He points out there have been important understandings between 0bama and Putin (possible precedents?), most notably saving Obama from his “red line” blunder about bombing Damascus for its alleged use of chemicals as weapons (still unproven) and both supporting the 5+1 Iran Agreement.

Then there’s Charles Glass, former ABC News Chief Middle East Correspondent who wrote “Syria Burning: ISIS the Death of the Arab Spring.” Glass, whose maternal grandmother was born in a locale now part of Syria, wrote in the New York Review of Books that, heading into the sixth year of the Syrian civil war, “Neither side has the power to defeat the other.”

Recently returned from Damascus, he worries about the “savagery from all sides in what has become an apocalyptic struggle for dominance and survival,” where the US has “encouraged the opposition [to Assad] from the very beginning,” thus helping to trigger the civil war, which has become a “free-for-all in which everyone pursues his own interests to the detriment of the Syrians themselves,” who are suffering “unimaginable torment.” And more: “The regime’s security services practice torture on an industrial scale. Both sides besiege villages and both sides commit massacres” and Glass asks, no, pleads, that the civil war be stopped.”What are they waiting for?”

It’s an optimistic dream. War trumps peace in today’s Middle East. There are mountains of money to be made and shipped to secret bank accounts, ancient religious feuds to be settled with mass murders, Great Power muscles to be flexed, and political reputations to be burnished. There is no easy way out, let alone caring about the fate of the shattered and demoralized Syrian people. Far easier to imagine that in the bowels of the Pentagon nuclear plans are being drawn, when and if ordered. No doubt the Russians are doing the same.

Dmitry Kiselyov, director of the TV network Russia Segodnya, pulled no punches. “Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the US into radioactive ash.” Yes, Dmitry, my friend, but two crazies can play the same game.
Sarajevo anyone, but this time with nukes?

13 thoughts on “The Blind Leading the Blind: Everyone’s Middle Eastern Madness.”

  1. I'm sorry, but equating Russia's involvement in Syria with America's is a gross fallacy. The US got involved to start a war. Russia got involved to stop it. The difference is stark and needs to be addressed regardless of whether or not you agree with Putin's choice to get involved. I for one do.

    1. Is that the way you see it !?!?!?
      (Russia got involved to stop it) a war??
      Russia will just prolong the war, the killing in support the Pol Pot of Syria

      1. I'm no fan of Mr. Assad, or his dead papa for that matter but the fact remains that in, spite of his cruelty,Bashar has made zero attempts at ethnic cleansing. In fact much like another brutal but often misunderstood despot, Slobodan Milosevic, he remains the only dog in this fight dedicated to a secular, multi ethnic nation. If Russia simply allows Assad to fall prey to another American-jihadi cluster f**k we will see the whole sale slaughter of the Alawites, the Druze, the Assyrians, the Kurds and the Yezhedis. Your Time-Warner approved perception of Middle East policy is adorable and I'm sure you feel clever but as Walter Sobchak of The Big Lebowski would say "God Damn it! Your out of your element Donny!"

        BTW- your comparison of Assad to Pol Pot isn't completely inaccurate however. After all both presided over heavily publicized war crimes which were, in reality, spontaneous acts of revenge for completely ignored/misunderstood war crimes committed by western imperialism but I'm sure you know even less about that.

  2. I hadn't heard that one about Churchill. Wasn't it Patton that wanted to march onwards (without the Germans in tow though)?

    But in any case, decisions about postwar Europe were taken not on the battlefield, but during long discussions, where a pliable and mendacious Roosevelt was easy prey for a hotheaded sociopathic survivor of the Bolshevic takeover:

    Roosevelt got nothing. He agreed with Stalin on everything – the second front in France, no attack through the Balkans, the surrender of eastern Poland, the desertion of Mikhailovitch, the sacrifice of the Baltic states. Above all, he had revealed himself to Stalin as a compliant ally. Stalin must have wondered why Roosevelt was yielding to him on everything so swiftly.

    Later Roosevelt told his son Elliott that "in between times Uncle Joe and I had a few words, too—just the two of us." As Stalin's guest in the Russian embassy, Roosevelt was accessible for a secret
    talk or two without Churchill's knowledge. One of these dealt with the Chinese Communist issue. Roosevelt told Elliott we couldn't do much about that "while Winnie was around/' He brought up the
    question of a common front against the British on the matter of Hongkong, Shanghai and Canton. Chiang, Roosevelt told Stalin, was worried about what Russia would do in Manchuria. Roosevelt
    The Great Conferences and Stalin agreed that Manchuria would remain with China and that Stalin and he would back Chiang against the British. Referring to this, Roosevelt confided to Elliott that "the biggest thing was in making clear to Stalin that the United States and Great Britain were not in one common block against the Soviet Union." After that, the way must have seemed wide open to Stalin for all his plans. Here was Roosevelt suggesting a secret deal between himself and Stalin against Churchill, just as he had suggested a secret deal between himself and Chiang against Churchill and as he was later to make another secret deal between himself and Stalin against Chiang.

    He was to have a golden opportunity to convince Stalin of this attitude before he quit Teheran. Roosevelt gave a dinner the first evening, Stalin the next and Churchill on the final evening at the British embassy. At Stalin's dinner the guests gave themselves over to the victuals and the vodka in a big way. Elliott Roosevelt tells how Stalin thrust a barbed shaft into Churchill's temper. In one of his numerous toasts he raised his glass and said: "To the swiftest possible justice for all Germany's war criminals—justice before a firing squad. I drink to our unity in dispatching them as fast as we catch them, all of them, and there must be at least 50,000 of them." Churchill flushed, leaped to his feet. He declared that any such mass murder was contrary to the British sense of justice. He was opposed to anybody, Nazis or anyone else, going before a firing squad without a proper legal trial. Certainly no American could take exception to that and no decent American could endorse the sentiments of Stalin. Churchill having taken up the challenge, Roosevelt might have been well advised to remain out of it or, if he intervened, to either support Churchill or, in any case, attempt to mollify both men. Instead he said in a jocular vein: "Clearly there must be some compromise . . . Perhaps we could say that instead of summarily executing 50,000 we should settle on a smaller number, say 49,500." The Americans and Russians laughed. The British remained silent "in the presence of Churchill's mounting fury." Stalin was delighted. He took up the cue and pressed die matter. He called on everyone present for an opinion. He got around to Elliott who was flushed with liquor, as he admits, and who rose "unsteadily to his feet" Elliott said "Our armies will settle the matter for most of those 50,000 and perhaps a hundred thousand more." Stalin, greatly pleased, walked around the table to Elliott, put his arm around his shoulder and drank to his health. (John T. Flynn — The Roosevelt Myth)

    1. Yeah, they were regular drinkin and bull****tin' buddies..that is until the Truman – Acheson foreign policy came into play and left Stalin nonplussed.

  3. Stalin, Patton. Churchill, Roosevelt, Hitler, they were all pretty much dicks. Churchill slaughtered his share in Africa and India and he always hated commies more then Nazi's. After all he was an unrepentant racist.

    I always kind of had a soft spot for Tito and Bukharin but that's just the opinion of one disgruntled socialist history nerd. Make of that what you will.

    1. Let us not forget, Truman accomplished in seconds what might have usually taken the Nazis a matter of weeks.

      1. Yes, Truman, by introducing the possibility of global nuclear holocaust, may very well be the biggest dick of them all. I'm sure Hitler still refuses to eat at his lunch table in hell for besting him.

  4. I disagree with "They’d love to send the troops in again (but never their own kids) but are afraid of a quagmire or defeat, and … political retribution at home." The neo-cons are not afraid of political retribution at home because they own both parties. Hillary voted to invade Iraq and may soon become President (horrified scream).

  5. Comrade Hermit you have a un-American way of seeing the world I'am not saying you are wrong .I watched Milosevic's trail . And I recall the Chinese Embassy was bombed accidently on purpose in Yugoslavia . China says they have not forgotten or forgiven what happened to them in Yugoslavia . I hardly expect Russia can forget the orders NATO commander Wesley Clark issued to British troops "Shoot the Russian soldiers " because they may try to protect the Serb Christians . Obviously NATO did not want Russian help in the good war of bombing Yugoslavia . Now the United States doesn't sound like they want Russian help in Syria either . First we gifted Iraq to Iran , Now Russia has partnered with Iran and 1/2 of Iraq to help Syria . I thought the plan was to isolate Russia . Russia seems to be gaining popularity rather fast in the middle east with very little effort After looking at what has happened over the last 3 US political administrations after the Soviet Union collapsed . the United States is the worlds one and only stupid power . Instead of enjoying our peace we expanded our military to the point of almost bankruptcy .

    1. I'm sorry eric, you started by saying I have an un-American way of seeing the world and then you basically gave a dozen reasons why I should, I'm not sure what your getting at.

      For the record, I'm an anti-imperialist not an anti-american. Anyone who truly loves his or her country should fight tooth and nail to keep it from becoming a despotic state that feasts on war.

      Were the partisans who fought against the Vichy regime anti-French? Were Gandhi and Nehru anti-Indian? No, I am not un-American and I don't appreciate the slur.

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