The Moustache of Wisdom has decided to tell us how “Syria is Iraq.” He has a question: What if the opposition forces in Syria can’t prevail on their own? Any solution is going to be very hard. However, he says “I absolutely would not advocate U.S. intervention on the ground in Syria or anywhere in the Arab world again,” so we will be spared more explanations of how things will improve in just one more Friedman Unit. In “Hiding in Plain Sight” MoDo says welcome to The Secret Life of Willard Mitty. The man who skirted around the draft slams the man who hunted down Osama. Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
Lord knows I am rooting for the opposition forces in Syria to quickly prevail on their own and turn out to be as democratically inclined as we hope. But the chances of this best-of-all-possible outcomes is low. That’s because Syria is a lot like Iraq. Indeed, Syria is Iraq’s twin — a multisectarian, minority-ruled dictatorship that was held together by an iron fist under Baathist ideology. And, for me, the lesson of Iraq is quite simple: You can’t go from Saddam to Switzerland without getting stuck in Hobbes — a war of all against all — unless you have a well-armed external midwife, whom everyone on the ground both fears and trusts to manage the transition. In Iraq, that was America. The kind of low-cost, remote-control, U.S./NATO midwifery that ousted Qaddafi and gave birth to a new Libya is not likely to be repeated in Syria. Syria is harder. Syria is Iraq.
And Iraq was such a bitter experience for America that we prefer never to speak of it again. But Iraq is relevant here. The only reason Iraq has any chance for a decent outcome today is because America was on the ground with tens of thousands of troops to act as that well-armed midwife, reasonably trusted and certainly feared by all sides, to manage Iraq’s transition to more consensual politics. My gut tells me that Syria will require the same to have the same chance.
But because I absolutely would not advocate U.S. intervention on the ground in Syria or anywhere in the Arab world again — and the U.S. public would not support it — I find myself hoping my analysis is wrong and that Syrians will surprise us by finding their own way, with just arms and diplomatic assistance, to a better political future. I know columnists are supposed to pound the table and declaim what is necessary. But when you believe that what is necessary, an outside midwife for Syria, is impossible, you need to say so. I think those who have been advocating a more activist U.S. intervention in Syria — and excoriating President Obama for not leading that — are not being realistic about what it would take to create a decent outcome.
Why? In the Middle East, the alternative to bad is not always good. It can be worse. I am awed at the bravery of those Syrian rebels who started this uprising, peacefully, without any arms, against a regime that plays by what I call Hama Rules, which are no rules at all. The Assad regime deliberately killed demonstrators to turn this conflict into a sectarian struggle between the ruling minority Alawite sect, led by the Assad clan, and the country’s majority of Sunni Muslims. That’s why the opposite of the Assad dictatorship could be the breakup of Syria — as the Alawites retreat to their coastal redoubt — and a permanent civil war.
There are two things that could divert us from that outcome. One is the Iraq alternative, where America went in and decapitated the Saddam regime, occupied the country and forcibly changed it from a minority Sunni-led dictatorship to a majority Shiite-led democracy. Because of both U.S. incompetence and the nature of Iraq, this U.S. intervention triggered a civil war in which all the parties in Iraq — Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds — tested the new balance of power, inflicting enormous casualties on each other and leading, tragically, to ethnic cleansing that rearranged the country into more homogeneous blocks of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
But the U.S. presence in Iraq contained that civil war and ethnic cleansing from spreading to neighboring states. And once that civil war burned itself out — and all sides were exhausted and more separated — the U.S. successfully brokered a new constitution and power-sharing deal in Iraq, with the Shiites enjoying majority rule, the Sunnis out of power but not powerless, and the Kurds securing semi-autonomy. The cost of this transition in lives and money was huge, and even today Iraq is not a stable or healthy democracy. But it has a chance, and it’s now up to Iraqis.
Since it is highly unlikely that an armed, feared and trusted midwife will dare enter the fray in Syria, the rebels on the ground there will have to do it themselves. Given Syria’s fractured society, that will not be easy — unless there is a surprise. A surprise would be the disparate Syrian opposition groups congealing into a united political front — maybe with the help of U.S., Turkish and Saudi intelligence officers on the ground — and this new front reaching out to moderate Alawites and Christians who supported the Assads out of fear and agreeing to build a new order together that protects majority and minority rights. It would be wonderful to see the tyrannical Assad- Russia-Iran-Hezbollah axis replaced by a democratizing Syria, not a chaotic Syria.
But color me dubious. The 20 percent of Syrians who are pro-Assad Alawites or Christians will be terrified of the new Sunni Muslim majority, with its Muslim Brotherhood component, and this Sunni Muslim majority has suffered such brutality from this regime that reconciliation will be difficult, especially with each passing day of bloodshed. Without an external midwife or a Syrian Mandela, the fires of conflict could burn for a long time. I hope I am surprised.
I’m sure conditions in Syria will improve in another FU, aren’t you? Here’s MoDo:
If I closed my eyes, and added a creepy monotone, I could have been listening to Dick Cheney.
The Republican speaker at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nev., was slashing the president with jingoistic jingles: Obama is ashamed of America, an apologist sapping the greatness of a country that is the greatest force for good the world has ever known, a weakling marring the American Century by gutting the military and the economy. And, on top of that, the Obama White House doesn’t know how to keep stuff secret.
Prodded by conservatives to attack the president more aggressively, the ever malleable Mitt Romney obliged Tuesday at the V.F.W., spouting chest-thumping clichés about putting “resolve in our might.” That resolve evidently doesn’t include Mitt, who passed on Vietnam, or his five strapping sons, none of whom have volunteered for the volunteer military.
It was at the V.F.W. convention in 2002 when Cheney, who got five deferments from Vietnam, set the gold standard for mindless belligerence, pushing pre-emptive action in Iraq. “Simply stated,” he said, “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.” The Arab street, he knew, would erupt in joy when we invaded.
In his speech, Romney demanded that any Obama administration leakers of classified information be found and punished because “the time for stonewalling is over,” “Americans are entitled to know” and Americans deserve “a full and prompt accounting of the facts.”
After the speech, Eric Edelman, a Romney campaign adviser, chimed in on ferreting out Obama leakers in a press release; unfortunately, BuzzFeed soon pointed out that Edelman “was implicated in the country’s last major national security leak investigation — the outing of C.I.A. agent Valerie Plame” when he served under former Cheney aide Scooter Libby in W.’s administration.
Romney is so secretive that he’s beginning to make the über-clandestine Cheney look like The Bachelorette.
The Boston Globe reported Tuesday that although Romney promised “complete transparency” when he stepped in to save the Salt Lake City Olympics, he became a black hole: “Some who worked with Romney describe a close-to-the-vest chief executive unwilling to share so much as a budget with a state board responsible for spending oversight. Archivists now say most key records about the Games’ internal workings were destroyed under the supervision of a staffer shortly after the flame was extinguished at Olympic Cauldron Park, after Romney had returned to Massachusetts.” (Wouldn’t it have been simpler to just burn the records in the flame?)
The public still can’t see the records, stored at the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott library, named for the same man as Willard Mitt Romney.
Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman, said that Mitt resigned from the Olympics job in early 2002 to run for governor of Massachusetts and “was not involved in the decision-making regarding the final disposition of records.”
Who was responsible for the final disposition? A former colleague at Bain Capital, Fraser Bullock, who succeeded Romney in the Olympic post. Ah, the old Bain handoff.
Romney spent $100,000 in state funds to replace office computers at the end of his term as governor and on the cusp of his 2008 presidential race, “as part of an unprecedented effort to keep his records secret,” reported Mark Hosenball of Reuters. Eleven Romney aides “bought the hard drives of their state-issued computers to keep for themselves,” Hosenball wrote. “Also before he left office, the governor’s staff had e-mails and other electronic communications by Romney’s administration wiped from the state servers, state officials say. Those actions erased much of the internal documentation of Romney’s four-year tenure as governor.”
It seems antithetical to Mormonism, since the Mormon Church loves to save documents, keeping 35 billion images of genealogical information and records on church history in the Granite Mountain Records Vault near Salt Lake City.
Doesn’t Mitt have space in that split-level, four-car garage elevator in La Jolla for a little deep-storage?
As Maggie Haberman observed in Politico, Romney has made a calculated decision to hide three major elements of his background: his Mormonism, his record at Bain and his time as governor. This creates, she wrote, “a kind of self-imposed paralysis on biographical messaging that some observers, including Republicans, say may wound his campaign in an era in which voters want to achieve a kind of unprecedented intimacy with their candidates.”
Former rival Newt Gingrich told Politico Tuesday that Romney needs to relax and let people see who he is, noting that, except for family, “there’s a place where Mitt clearly doesn’t let people get.”
So far, Mitt’s casting a shadowy silhouette, hiding his fortune in foreign tax havens, hiding tax returns, destroying and hiding records as head of the Olympics and as governor, hiding a specific sense of where he would take the country.
Americans don’t want to play hide-and-seek with their presidential candidates. Romney should listen to himself: The time for stonewalling is over.