Notebook, 3 February 2014: Bleeding

Bleeding: Consistently losing chips through bad play, possibly resulting from tilt (Emotional upset, mental confusion, or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in poor play and poor performance).

When a player is consistently losing chips, they are “bleeding chips.”

Wikipedia Glossary of Poker Terms

And as one Tweep replied, “I can only say No s–t Sherlock

There’s a confluence of reasons why the US should address the Syrian Civil War:

  1. A variety of non-state militant actors (ie: terrorists – a meaningless word by now) have gathered, threatening the creation of another safe haven.
  2. We have never had good relations with Assad, and this is, seemingly, an opportunity to indulge in some more regime-change.
  3. The humanitarian catastrophe.

It would be nice if we could do any of these things, but experience teaches us that we can only do one.

Rogin’s article highlights Lindsay Graham’s and John McCain’s concerns: hitting Al Qaeda, and we could do that, but that would solve exactly nothing, as we witnessed in Iraq, and as we continually witness in Af/Pak, Yemen and Libya. Graham and McCain, “leaders” of the Senate’s knee-jerk neocon caucus, don’t really care whether airstrikes or even troops on the ground will work or not. They’d get to spread the (electorally satisfying) claim that we’re doing something and indulge their veneration of the military, But we know how this plays out. Drones and/or boots don’t, in fact, bring stability or even materially diminish the Al Qaeda threat. They can, however, raise the cost of militant operations in specific localities. In other words, they can move it around (while also proving that those non-state militants have a point). Which brings up the question, how many countries do we want to be conducting military operations in? And will military operations of any scale whatsoever actually accomplish anything? More than a decade of war in Afghanistan and years of troops on the ground haven’t. McCain, at least, knows this, which is why he suggested maintaining a US military presence in Iraq for 100 years. (Which wouldn’t work either. Witness the Balkans and Central Asia, where those peoples simply began re-enacting their own history where it left off when the great powers came to town.) So, any massive “search-and-destroy” efforts on the part of the US military are, quite simply, a waste of time, money and most importantly, lives.

I think most people have a pretty good, if vague, sense of this.

As for replacing Assad, we can game this out and come to, I think, some pretty durable conclusions as well. If, by any means whatsoever, Assad is separated from power: overrun by opposition forces, voluntarily steps down (whether he faces justice for the chemical weapon attacks or not is immaterial) or simply drowns in the bathtub or chocks to death on a tuna sandwich, who will replace Assad? Another Sisi? Another Karzai? Another al-Maliki? Another whoever-the-hell-is-nominally-in-power-in-Tripoli? That amounts to a back-to-square-one scenario and merely postpones a repeat performance. History repeated, once again.

Addressing the humanitarian catastrophe is just about the only thing outside powers can do. There are lots of ideas about how to go about this, but one thing that hasn’t been seriously attempted is the creation of a safe haven. To do so effectively would require an invasion and boots on the ground – a massive military commitment and would be very, very costly.

Early on, it was recognized that there weren’t any good options for the US in Syria, and this hasn’t changed. I might add that the military sucks – totally sucks – at being stability to any theater of conflict, and again, Af/Pak and Iraq are merely the latest examples of a truth which dates back to Woodrow Wilson’s occupation of Vera Cruz.

Whatever happens, we’re stuck here at home with those like McCain and Graham who are ready to seize any opportunity to aggrandize American power throughout the world no matter the cost. They (and plenty of others) will use the humanitarian crisis, the “crime” (debatable and African leaders are right. International law is selectively and politically applied) of using chemical weapons on civilians as well as the presence of militant non-state actors as a pretext for getting our fingers in the Syrian pie, but this is precisely the kind of cold-blooded calculation we expect of a Putin and is in no small amount why we’re in mess with those militant non-state actors in the first place.

There is neither any winning scenario, any clear-cut victory, nor a credible exit strategy to taking sides in the Syrian Civil War. We can, however, attenuate the humanitarian distress, and I suggest we employ the Pentagon’s massive logistics capabilities to doing that, and only doing that.

Let’s be adults. Let’s cut through the tilt and forgo another round of bleeding. Our stack isn’t as deep as the knee-jerk neocons like to pretend it is.

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