Monday, January 13, 2014

The Hopelessness of Victory

Barry Rubin

"So, let me just say, it went bad for us over there, but that was our job. That's what we did. We didn't complain about it." –Former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell 

The Obama administration is engaging in over a dozen failed operations in the Middle East, and reason shows just why they're failing: The Islamist philosophy is totally different from theirs. The Islamists are indifferent to the cost of victory, but this makes them not give up.

"Hopelessness really never came into it," Luttrell said, "… Because there was never a point where we just felt like we were hopelessly lost or anything like that. We never gave up. We never felt like we were losing until we were actually dead."

Clearly, the Obama administration does not understand Middle Eastern regimes and terrorist organizations, and if it doesn't, it will meet miserable defeats. Luttrell understands the minds of the terrorists and how to bring victory–at least as close an approximation as there can be–to the Middle East.

The terrorist does not begin to calculate a winning strategy just because he believes in an ordained victory from Allah. He will not engage in strategy or tactics that are troublesome. For example, do you think that September 11, 2001, will lead to victory or advancement? That depends. It is shaping the regional issues, the play of what has been happening, lives and deaths, political situations, and designation of resources. Just because you have a strategy without a victory doesn't mean that the strategy will not have long-term effects.

It shapes the rules of the game.

In addition, the Obama administration's goals have not been consistent. If you can't depend on someone for consistency in times of trouble, you can't depend on them at all. The United States has become an untrustworthy ally, as many Middle Eastern regimes can attest to.

Let's look at how Egypt has played its cards over the last three years. You could say, as probably a Western statesman like Vice President Joe Biden would, that the Muslim Brotherhood "couldn't win." But wait, all they need to do is do enough to block others' victories. If the Muslim Brotherhood, or al-Qa'ida for that matter, never gave up, they defied the enemy victory. That is a strategy for triumph.

After having published an article on the Muslim Brotherhood, in which I generally analyzed their situation, I received a very nice critique from Egypt's chief Muslim Brotherhood magazine, which completely understood it and yet concluded that the Brotherhood strategy was right. They understand us more than we understand them. If they never despair, they spend all the blood and treasure that is required, and Allah–in addition to other measures–will give them victory.

So let's explain why Obama and his administration do not understand the Middle East.

Obama sees Egypt as a huge conventional military power (He doesn't want it to obtain nuclear weapons). Egypt can easily call the United States' bluff. Egypt must make certain compromises, but with popular support and going to great lengths through use of violence, the army knows it can win. Egypt's new government has mass popular support, unity of the army, and inside national security.

Also, there are some key factors that Obama doesn't see, such as the alternative of Saudi aid and Russian arms. As I said when Egypt's Army was originally going to go out of power in 2011, "the Arab and Egyptian warriors, they cannot compromise on some issues." Ultimately, they were bold soldiers, not politicians.

Theoretically, they would rather commit hara-kiri then betray their people for the wrong reasons. But again, note the following: By supporting the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Obama shows he is not a trustworthy ally. And besides, Obama has shown that he runs away from Russian arms and has been outbid by Saudis. Who is going to break, Egypt or Obama?

This leads to an important factor: He who wins is he who will compromise less, not he who is willing to compromise more.

This principle is the same everywhere in the Middle East. Iran is willing to risk having the negotiations fall apart, and so is Karzai's government in Afghanistan. Remember, he who is willing to let the negotiations fall apart will win, like a game of chicken not a game of bridge, like a game of backgammon not like chess.

A new story has just come out in Tunisia in which the government fell apart due to the army's pressure. Quietly, that was the end of the Tunisia's democratic dream. And in fact, all true Arab, Turkish, and Iranian democracies have fallen apart.

The same has been true of the Iraqi democratic dream. Iran, not the United States, is the country that has played the game well there.

This is a game of chutes and ladders.

In another example, the West thinks the Syrian political opposition, politicians, and terrorists actually care how many people they are willing to sacrifice, when in fact they are willing to sacrifice millions. The West simply cannot understand that these people are fighting for different stakes. They think that materialistic consideration and pragmatism will determine their decisionmaking.

Yet everybody who knows the Middle East knows the problem is that you need to think the Middle Eastern way, not the Western way. Or perhaps to cite another Western leader, "You come with a rock, we come with a knife. You come with a knife, we come with a gun."  The closest thing in American politics to Middle East politics is that of Chicago or Boston with its bridges and outlets.

Western policy is deemed to flourish in compromise; Middle Eastern on victory.

No extent of compromise is going to cause radical nationalists and Islamists to make real peace. Yes, Islamists can be and are often pragmatic, particularly in order to obtain millions of dollars of trade and nuclear weapons; but that is only if they not required to give much in return.

Here's an anecdote. A Western intelligence agent was interviewing captured Afghan terrorists. He said, reasonably, "Why did you come here?" They responded "To kill you," and attacked him with a knife. Several people in the camp were killed.

If you don't know why the Muslim Brotherhood will not make peace with Arab regimes, you cannot understand the Middle East.

The Gates of Hell: Obama and Clinton Are Cooked
Posted: 12 Jan 2014 08:04 AM PST
For the last five years, I have waited for the other shoe to drop.

In 2008, the American people elected an incompetent and foolish president, Obama. President Obama knew that he could only trust such a hand-cuffed politician and loyalist, Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state. He then later appointed the pompous John Kerry to fill this capacity. Yet this "gang that couldn't shoot straight" was a ticking time bomb.

Three strikes and you're out. Let me list them:

  1. Obama incompetent and disinterested in policy (president).
  2. Clinton, interested in policy but a potential rival politician, so she could not be assigned to do anything too productive (secretary of state).
  3. John Kerry, assigned to do productive work but totally incompetent (secretary of state).

Imagine former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates–who recently published a book Duty Memoirs of a Secretary at War, in which he criticized Obama and his administration–seething. Certainly, he never would have gotten as far as he did if he hadn't been an opportunist, but U.S. interests, not politics, was his duty. He knew that Americans were being sacrificed uselessly to make the situation "work."

Gates feels that he has a personal responsibility to the American public. Obama and Clinton, on the other hand, are pure politicians, and for all they try, they cannot get rid of their "me-first" mindsets. In other words, Obama and Clinton don't want to be rid of "how does it benefit me?" as their first priority, while Gates cannot get rid of that squeaky little voice asking, "What about America's interests?" and probably, "What stupid thing will Vice President Joe Biden say next?"

Here we have to remind everyone that politicians have to deal with the future of politics, post-Obama. And those future careerists like Gates need to be quiet and disciplined, because they know that they cannot risk offending other political interests, from whom they might need future support.

Career officials need supporters, especially in order to rise up the ladder.

One day, as a fourteen year old, I was riding the bus in Washington, D.C.  Of course, where else? I overheard two men, who were obviously government officials, talking. One said, "These people are so stupid. They don't know what they are doing. They all make the wrong decisions, but after all they and I will just go into retirement."

Almost 50 years later, I still haven't forgotten this.

Washington, D.C., is an endless game of thrones.  But for once it came to what may be more commonly called a perfect storm.  Gates was the one knight who had nothing to lose in publishing his memoirs, except reviews–which could only increase readership. On the one hand, he could have done the noble thing; on the other hand, he could act in his own interests. His interests and the public's, however, were congruent.

Gates could see himself as finally achieving genuine, national self-interest, as a real protector. He wasn't able to do any better, and it wasn't his fault; it was fault of the American people for not electing a competent president.

For example, Gates knew that the Iraq policy around 2007-2008 was the best idea. He knew that Kerry, Obama, and Clinton opposed it for the wrong political reasons. He knew that he would lose his fight against them and would have to confine that to the loneliness of the voter's box. Then he would have to support their decisions loyally.

Most people do not face such a situation, and it is very difficult. Men would die, U.S. interests would be abandoned, and terrorists would be strengthened while Gates had to listen to unpatriotic sentiments such as those from Joe Biden. He even wrote that he considered resigning due to Biden. "I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades," Gates wrote in his memoirs.

Yes, everyone would consider resigning. But you can only resign once.

Notice the timeline.

He was deputy director of the CIA from 1986 to 1989.

He accepted the job of CIA director in November of 1991 and then permanently resigned in January 1993. He never returned to the CIA.

He became Secretary of Defense in 2006 under George W. Bush. On December 1, 2008, President Obama announced that Gates would remain in his position as Secretary of Defense during his administration, at least for the first year. When he retired in 2011, Gates said, “I think that it would be a mistake to wait until January 2012… This is not the kind of job you want to fill in the spring of an election year.”

As a former civil servant, he may well have been correct to state it that way; let's see, there's Obama, Clinton, Kerry, Biden, and Harry Reid–how could they do more danger to U.S. interests? Most of the other senior foreign policy official experts would have said "duh."  Under such serious circumstances, I think he was sending a signal. And frankly, almost everyone had heard the same thing privately from these officials.

The Lamps Are Going Out All Over Europe
Posted: 12 Jan 2014 04:05 AM PST
The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time."  This prophetic remark was made by Foreign Secretary Edward Grey in 1914 on the eve of World War One. The First World War marked the end of an era.

The question is whether now, in 2014, we are in another temporary era or whether this is a long-term shift. To answer this, we need to ask what fundamental shifts are, what are simply factual shifts, and how they lead to new eras.

  1. What changes occur in the material-cultural and social realm (shifts such as gay marriage, material culture, family)?
  2. What comes in the realm of strategic power competition (relations between states)?
  3. What developments occur in ideology (new attitudes toward life)?
  4. What takes place in the relationship between states and their citizens?

The current era is strikingly different from the three past eras, particularly because it lacks truly innovative ideological growth. We must ask why the ideological framework has grown so slowly and why it has not caught up with the fast-growing technological framework. The need to create new concepts and frameworks for how society should be organized has fallen far behind technological development. Tech "culture" exists in an ideological and strategic vacuum. What intellectual gain is there in technology that exists in a world of outdated, archaic social systems?

In other words, on the one hand, the main solution of governments, societies, and economies is to produce wealth-sharing and social justice. But wealth-sharing and social justice dictate an inefficient form of society and do not set up wealth creation. An example of this progression is that there are far more up-to-date social media applications but there is far less wealth to distribute.

There have been four fundamental shifts in the past hundred years, beginning with 1914 and WWI; then the end of WWI in 1918 and the creation of a new order; followed by 1945–the turning point that created a new world; and last, our current system.

All of these shifts dictated new ideologies, new technologies, new economies, and challenges. Following is an overview of the eras:

Era one, 1914: War breaks out as Germany attempts to conquer the world. The British and French defend their empires. America is peripheral but becomes more engaged. There is a strategic shift to inter-continental wars, air power, and the emergence of tanks.
Results: Germany is defeated and Britain and France win, though the United States is in fact the big winner.

Era two, 1918-1945: Germany again fails to conquer the world. The USSR picks up the slack and attempts to conquer Europe and Asia; this is the start of the Cold War.

The united Western powers are insufficient to control the world. America begins to dominate, while in parallel, third world powers are strengthening. This is as much a cultural battle as a political and military one. The West believes that socialism and communism have been "defeated."

Third era, 1945 to 2014: China establishes a communist government.  The popularity of communism and socialism is manifest–Cuba, China, Albania–especially in the ideological sense. Communism is vanquished in action but not in theory. The only new recipe is seemingly socialism.

Fourth era in 2014: Western intellectuals, politicians, and journalists simply cannot understand why Islamism is growing while Western democracy dwindles.

The irony is that the current era's "Western democratic culture" is a thought system that could benefit from more of a sense of community, and even faith. It has become culturally and ideologically stagnant as our focus is pulled to distracting technologies. This leads me to believe that this is not the time to conclude that theological motives–whether Christian or Muslim–are really cynical. But many people, predominantly in the Western world, believe that we don't need spirituality in this era; that it is outdated.

And Western cultures wonder why many Muslims could have beliefs so "extreme" or different from their own. This is a perceptual gap. How could extremists say such extreme things? Can they really believe them? Of course, they sincerely believe them, and they have never come into genuine contact with anything else–even in this globalized era.

Globalization, in application, is a wholly new and radical change that has refreshed our very idea of what communication is. This time the cold war consists of the following forces:
  1. The United States.
  2. Russia.
  3. An increasingly weakening Europe
  4. Turkey
  5. The Shi'a-bloc, consisting of Iran, Hizballah, and Syria
  6. The Sunni bloc, consisting of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar
  7. An anti-al-Qa'ida bloc, consisting of the United States, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia
Note that some groups are members of more than one bloc.

There is no ideological challenge to the new world order, other than Islamism, although the U.S. government does not consider Islamists–apart from al-Qa'ida–as strong adversaries. One can predict that this foreign policy will weaken the Western alliance, create other wars, and will ultimately be an utter failure. Yet this policy is a current reality. The United States and the Muslim Brotherhood have formed a seemingly sudden alliance, a seemingly quick fix and radical change from past relations. All the Obama administration has to do is find people to "moderate" among the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the result of a large ideological commitment on the part of Obamaites in the defense department, CIA, and academia; it did not just happen.

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