Barack Obama’s repeated insistence that Bashar al-Assad must leave office – and that there are ‘moderate’ rebel groups in Syria capable of defeating him – has in recent years provoked quiet dissent, and even overt opposition, among some of the most senior officers on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.
The military’s resistance dates back to the summer of 2013, when a highly classified assessment, put together by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then led by General Martin Dempsey, forecast that the fall of the Assad regime would lead to chaos and, potentially, to Syria’s takeover by jihadi extremists, much as was then happening in Libya.
So in the autumn of 2013 they decided to take steps against the extremists without going through political channels, by providing US intelligence to the militaries of other nations, on the understanding that it would be passed on to the Syrian army and used against the common enemy, Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State.
You get the idea.
It is not my desire to get into the plausibility of the various statements in the piece; not every statement need be factual for one to conclude that US foreign policy is as much the result of chaos as it is order.
There is no such thing as a uniform, consolidated US foreign policy: there are dozens of departments and agencies that are both armed and also have intelligence capabilities; they also have the ability to act covertly – not just covertly from me and you, but from each other (at least to a reasonable degree). They spy on each other, they manage the messages delivered to each other. They tell the president not necessarily what he wants to hear but what they want him to hear. They are each led by an almost autonomous actor.
The one thing they have in common is a general tendency to expand power and control – both within the administration and throughout the globe. For this reason, they cover up for each other because to reveal one as rogue reveals them all as rogue.
But I suspect they also have something else in common – within each agency are many individuals with many disparate views, include some who see the catastrophe’s unleashed by previous actions and the likely catastrophes in the future. Suffer enough catastrophes and credibility will be lost; even worse, enough catastrophes and life on earth will likely end.
So, the one point on which I might disagree with Hersch is the emphasis placed on what Obama desires. He has little control over any of this; instead, I see a relationship of one hand washing the other: the various autonomous actors throw a few bones to the Puppet-in-Chief, and the Puppet-in-Chief provides cover to the various autonomous actors.
It is in these few bones that the Puppet-in-Chief can make a difference. The fact that these autonomous actors have views that differ with each other and the fact that there are individuals within each department and agencies that view the catastrophes rationally ensures this.
For this reason, it is interesting to watch the Trump campaign.