Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The “Dissent Channel” memo

When news of the recent State Department “dissent channel” memo  hit the headlines a few days ago, in which 51 diplomats called for U.S. airstrikes against the opponent of ISIL and defender of the Syrian Christian minority umm, the evil tyrant Bashar al-Assad,  I first assumed that this was something dug up from several years go.  Given all that has happened since -- given what has happened whenever a Muslim dictator was removed by force by the West or with heavy Western assistance (Mullah Omar, Saddam, Gaddhafi; and cf. the mess in Egypt and Yemen) -- surely no-one in their right mind would be calling for that now.   Accordingly we looked forward with Schadenfreude   to see  with what contortions  the signers would now backtrack from their foolish proposal.

But no -- the memo is new.  One gasps;  one stares;  on croit rêver.

Fortunately, the New York Times today published an analysis -- cum explication de texte -- of the memo, saying the things that seem so obvious  but which today’s unenterprising journalists seldom rise to.

BLUF:  Those diplomats must each have been dropped on their fontanelles shortly after birth, by some careless nurse.


Research by Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations found that airstrikes account for only a fraction of deaths in Syria. Mr. Zenko also found that no-fly zones tend to escalate wars rather than calm them.
Syria would be particularly tricky, given that many airstrikes are carried out by Russian rather than Syrian warplanes. The memo does not address whether a no-fly zone would apply to Russia or how Washington could enforce it without risking a major conflict.
Airstrikes, the memo argues, could be the leverage the United States needs to commandeer the negotiations and force Syria to compromise. This intervention would need to be forceful enough to overpower not only Mr. Assad, but also his Russian and Iranian backers, who have so far shown a willingness to escalate their involvement to keep their ally in power. The only way for the Obama administration to out-leverage Syria’s allies is to surpass their commitments, which at this point could require something as extreme as a ground invasion.
The most revealing aspect of this memo is what it excludes. It does not address how to resolve the deep disagreements even among allies about what a peace deal should look like. It does not offer a legal basis for war against Syria, which Russia would surely block at the United Nations. It does not say how to remove Mr. Assad without letting the Syrian government collapse.

A Dissent Channel is a good institution, offering an alternative to groupthink  and addressing the reluctance of subordinates to question their boss.  But it is not a guaranteed conduit for pearls of wisdom.

FWIW:  The stated foreign policy of Riemannistan  is to sit on the sidelines in lawn-chairs, and cheer Putin on, as he wades into yet another Islamic quagmire.


Observers have for some time  had qualms  about the martial adventurist tendencies of the former First Lady.   (Ditto John McCain, but he’s not running this year.)  Some observations from back in 2011:

Since then, especially since President Obama inked a pact with Iran (which already has brought great benefits to Boeing), such scenarious seemed less likely.    But apparently there is indeed a bloc out there that would back her, were she to decide to dive, once again, head-first into an alien morass.

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