In ancient Greek mythology, sailors determining to traverse the straits of Messina faced an intolerable dilemma. Hugging the northern coast of Sicily led them directly to the cave of Scylla, a sea nymph transformed into a sea monster with a predilection for devouring sailors. Trend to far off the coast to avoid Scylla, and the journey ended just as ignominiously in a ship devouring whirlpool known as Charybdis directly opposite the cave. Thus the ultimate predicament, the effort to avoid one danger simply positions one to meet the fate of the other. The Syrian civil war, hatched out of nonviolent demonstrations against the Assad regime in March, 2011, has evolved into a death match pitting monsters against monsters and drawing in the world’s greatest power into a no win situation.
Syria, the home of some of the oldest continuously inhabited real estate in the world, is now officially a Hades. Estimated deaths in this progressively spiraling war is felt to exceed 100,000 and the means of destruction has escalated to weapons of mass destruction, very possibly used by both sides. The Syrian people have become the ancient Greek sailor trying to navigate, and survive, the impossible situation between the two monsters of a Baathist dictatorship well aware of their fate should they pull back their killing machine one iota, and an opposition that has made a pact with the devil himself in securing an alliance with al Qaeda. The scene now displayed is out of Armageddon, destroyed cities, splattered bodies, roadside beheadings, and chemical warfare mass slaughter.
The world governance has played its usual worthless role in attempting to stop the disaster. The Arab League, a pitiful group of diplomats used to slinging unwarranted slop on the easy target of Israel, has proved incapable of calling into account one of their own. Of course, how could they, when half the members are not so secretly financially supporting the endless continuance of the conflict. The United Nations will likely reveal, surprise, that chemical weapons were used in the conflict, yet do nothing to force accountability when their many treaties are treated with scorn. Well, they actually might do something – perhaps a confirmation as to how all this violence is contributing to global warming. The former great powers of France and England, so involved in determining the original unstable design of the Middle East, crow about the horror of WMD, but find themselves buckling at the knees when they realize their threats to intervene are empty without the capacities of their American partner. The Russians are frankly immune to the concept of savagery, having had a first row seat through Stalinist pogroms, Nazi leviathans, Afghan mujahedeen, and Chechnyan terrorists. Having given as good as they have gotten, the Russians fail to see any shades of grey in a world of black horizons and therefore are willing to support their strategic needs whatever the dirtiness of their partnership.
Of course that leaves the United States. Once considered the last remaining superpower and moral force in the world, the impotent Americans have been driven into irrelevance by leadership that functions at a level of incompetence that would flunk them out of any basic strategy course or even a tough game of battleship. Having displayed a brazen contempt for the hard won victories of the previous administration’s strategic vision, the Obama administration has led a bumbler’s hall of fame game plan over the next five years, putting themselves in their current intolerable strategic corner:
1) The painful investment over 5 years of a trillion dollars and over 4000 lives was required to achieve by 2009 an incredible strategic positional victory with a functioning Arab democracy in Iraq, an incalculably important dominant position at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, complete superiority of the air lanes, and a capable and mobile mobile force separating the two most radical forces for instability in the Middle East, the totalitarian mullahs of Iran and the Baathists of Syria. The residual price to hold this incredible prize was to negotiate a state of forces agreement with the Iraqis, but President Obama felt the undoing of all that was done was more important than the facts on the ground, and gave all the advantages up to remove any trace of America on the Euphrates.
2) The cynical and disgusting abdication of any support for the opponents of the Iranian mullahs when Iran’s people rose in the Green Revolution of 2009 to protest a stolen presidential election and had the dictators of Iran on their heels. The strategic opportunity for a moderation in middle east tensions, possible defanging of the Iranian nuclear threat in a constructive way, death blow to numerous vicious terrorist conduits, and detachment of Iranian malevolence from Lebanon and eventually Syria was all a promising outcome of fairly painless strategic actions. And the Obama administration threw it all away – for nothing.
3) The acceleration of a war commitment to Afghanistan in 2010 at the exact moment of announcing the date of retreat and withdrawal, an absolutely unique martial strategy in world history in its special stupidity, affording any enemy to simply wait out their losses, and any village “liberated” to fail to cooperate in any positive way, knowing their ‘protectors’ were transient, and their ‘warlords’ soon to return. As Napoleon so aptly put, ‘Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake’.
4) The heavy hand of the so called peace president in the Libyan civil war of 2011, providing conclusive armaments and air power that achieved the overthrow of a stable tin horn dictator for a completely unstable cornucopia naïve facebook liberals, tribal warlords, assorted terrorists and gun runners. Libya, once a significant oil producing nation, is now a nest of ungovernable clans and has an economy in complete shambles. The final lesson to the terrorist cults was the President’s willingness to go unpunished the horrific loss and humiliation of a direct assault on US territory and the assassination of its ambassador. The determination to effect the collapse of one regime without the least bit strategic planning of the possible contingencies is foreshadowing the much more massive dilusions of a Syrian intervention.
5) The vacuous understanding and ham handed handling of Egypt, from dithering as to whether to back Mubarak, then clumsy support to an increasingly totalitarian Muslim Brotherhood, followed by insensitivity to the intensity of the Egyptian population’s revolt, and the indecisive yet irreverent lecturing of the military coup leaders has led to an America trusted by no one of any persuasion on Egyptian soil. Literally no one.
6) Now, the dilemma in Syria, ignored for two years, allowed to proliferate into a potentially explosive international conflict. The dithering so emblematic of this administration has reached its zenith. The lack of strategic overview. The red lines that aren’t. The transfer of armaments in a non influential way. The lack of coordination with allies. The lack of firmness with its strategic competitors. The announcement of formal action at the same time of announcing the decision to use will be in the hands of others. The complete unwillingness to lay out a strategy in which the fundamental ‘winner’ should be the government and people this administration is supposed to represent.
On Tuesday September 10th the President is supposed to finally come before the American people and explain that, while he has managed to unfold the record of strategic incoherence presented above, the American People should be willing to support him unreservedly in the misadventure he has managed to find himself mangled in.
It had better be one powerful message. The next day is September 11th, and his enemies have on many occasions used that anniversary to send a message of their own, to us. Sad as the disaster in Syria is, the unfolding disaster of a pitiful giant helpless to find its way, is just as tragic to the world of free people.