The news is out — President Obama is not just watching the gory events unfold in Syria. The president signed an intelligence finding permitting the CIA to help the opposition with $25 million’s worth of non-lethal assistance, possibly including communications, logistics, and intelligence. Public acknowledgement of the finding follows a New York Times story that the CIA was “helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive weapons to fight the government … and to keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with al Qaeda”.
The Times added that “by helping to vet rebel groups, American intelligence operatives in Turkey also hope to learn more … and establish new ties to fighters who may be the country’s leaders one day.” Learning on the job, are they?
This is starting to look familiar, and not in a good way.
Aside from the appalling fact that more American intelligence information has found its way into the press, it appears to be another case of trying to buy influence among people we don’t know and expecting that they will later behave in ways that suit us.
The theory is that other countries/people would be more like us if a) they had a chance to be and b) they had the money to be. This meshes with our desire to have political and military influence in various places. But a quick survey of administration outreach to Iran, Egypt, Syria, the Palestinian territories, and Pakistan as well as the Taliban shows that the commitment of American troops, money, and/or political support has not resulted in a string of Western friends.
A more realistic policy would understand:
1. They already know how to kill. Our training and equipment may enable them to do it better, but with no guarantee that they will adopt our enemies as their own, or adopt Western human rights principles/practices. (See EUCOPP on Palestinian police brutality against Palestinian demonstrators.)
2. A brush with Western-style politics will not “moderate” previously immoderate people. The corollary is that they may adopt the rhetoric of democracy in English to receive benefits from the West, but they lie.
Hamas and Hezb’allah prove the point. Yet Mrs. Clinton’s first visit to Egypt included a lecture on how the Muslim Brotherhood is to govern, and Defense Secretary Panetta pronounced President Morsi a democrat. Do they really believe that after nearly 100 years of political persecution for deep-seated animosity toward — and violence against — secular governments and political compromise, the Brotherhood has achieved power only to adopt the platform of the opposition?
Did President Obama take the oath of office to govern as President Bush?
2a. Corollary to the corollary: elected radicals are not closet democrats, closet moderates, closet believers in the legitimacy of Israel, closet admirers of Western rights, civil liberties, and freedom of conscience.
The “pothole theory” says people who win elections have to keep the approval of the people to be reelected — thus, they have to pay attention to economic policy and good governance. But that’s only if they plan ever to run in another election. Hamas had one, and Abu Mazen had one — neither wishes to go again. Without American support, Iraq may have difficulty with another free, multiparty election as well. Post-electoral governance in Libya and Tunisia is not quite as liberal as it was touted to be.
2b. Other corollary: American military and economic aid do not equate to political influence. The U.S. spent more than 4,000 American lives and billions of dollars ousting a dictator and trying to turn Iraq into a functional state — and we did better than some said we could. But our influence left with our troops. Western Iraq hosts al-Qaeda again, killing Iraqi Shiites and crossing the border into Syria to aid the rebels, and Ali Mussa Daqduq is a free man.
We are on our do-over in Afghanistan (the first effort ousted the Russians but produced the Taliban). But after more than a thousand American lives and umpteen billions of dollars, the Afghan government remains corrupt, and the military is worried that the U.S. is planning to pull out too soon. Our political overtures to the Taliban suggest to both sides that we will be gone regardless of the situation on the ground, and cancelation of U.S. police training for Iraq did nothing to reassure the allies.
We helped the British and French oust Gaddafi, but no one knew who was on the ground fighting — and no one controlled the weapons. A brutal Islamic war is being waged in Mali now with weapons from Gaddafi’s arsenal and tribesmen with loyalties across borders.
Also in Africa, after decades of unremitting warfare from the North that killed millions of South Sudanese, the U.S. brokered the South’s independence, but left crucial issues to be resolved by negotiation later, including borders and oil revenue. To the surprise of almost no one, the two sides are unable to simply sit as equals and divvy up the rest of the points. Mrs. Clinton issued a stern command — to the South. “Make peace,” she said, as if they could do it alone. Speaking of the oil arrangement, but not the ongoing border war, she told the South Sudanese, “A percentage of something is better than a percentage of nothing.”
It sounds like the administration’s brokerage of “Palestine” by shunting problems aside for resolution “later.” But with all the money and political support the U.S. has lavished on Mahmoud Abbas, our political influence appears to be nil.
If money, training, troops, and political support aren’t enough to give the United States influence in the Middle East and South Asia, what will? Perhaps a return to the political theory that says the United States should support its allies and keep its adversaries from advancing.
We’ve spent more than a billion in post-earthquake Haiti. Haiti? How did that get in there?
Haiti is useful for understanding that the conundrum of structural reform in societies with deep-rooted cultures is not one that applies only to the Middle East and South Asia — and not only in violent or anti-Western societies. After the Haiti earthquake, the hopeful slogan was “build back better,” an effort to bring Haiti’s government and social service systems to a standard never before achieved. While the $1.3 billion spent for immediate relief had its intended impact, the $1.8 billion planned for longer-term reconstruction has been mired in dysfunction, with the U.S. and Haitian governments pointing fingers at each other for the failures.
U.S. planners said the measurement of success would be a better ranking by the World Bank’s “Doing Business” indicators — Haiti sank 8 additional points last year.
Traditional American policies supported allies, held adversarial governments at arm’s length, and punished enemies. In the Middle East today, the first would be Israel, Christians, Druze, Kurds and liberal (small-l) Muslims. The second and third would encompass revolutionary and traditionally repressive governments, whether secular or religious. That division of interest would be a smarter way to proceed through the Islamic revolution than sending the CIA to pass out American favors in the false belief that we can buy friends.
 The Free Syrian Army, trained and supported by Turkey and armed largely by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, appears to be the primary beneficiary of the U.S. decision. The Treasury Department now permits the Washington-based Syrian Support Group to conduct financial transactions on behalf of the FSA, an indication of their rise in status.