I am currently plowing through Christopher Clark’s superb history of how the world bungled itself into World War I. Once you’ve parsed your way through the intricacies of fin de siècle Balkan political knavery, the overriding impression with which the book leaves you is how easy it is for even the brightest statesmen—which not all of these guys were, god knows—can bring down almost unimaginable destruction through blind, arrogant confidence in their own chessmaster brilliance. As I said, not all of the people leading nations at that critical time were the brightest bulbs in the chandelier. This is also true of our current moment.
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For example, this here from CNN sounds less than promising:
The shootdown came a little more than two hours after forces allied with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad attacked the north-central Syria town of Ja’Din, which was controlled by the SDF. A number of SDF forces, who are backed by the US-led coalition, were wounded in the attack, the statement from the Combined Joint Task Force said. The attack drove the SDF from Ja’Din, which is west of Raqqa, the coalition statement said.
Assad, of course, is a bad man and a war criminal. He’s also fighting Daesh, which is our overall Hitler of the moment. So you end up with explanations like this one.
The Syrian Armed Forces, meanwhile, said one of its warplanes was attacked in the Raqqa countryside, “while it was carrying out a combatant mission against ISIS terrorist organization.” The pilot is missing, the Syrian statement said. The Syrian military called the action a “flagrant aggression” that affirmed the United States’ “real stance in support of terrorism,” according to Syrian Armed Forces.
The attack stresses coordination between the US and ISIS, and it reveals the evil intentions of the US in administrating terrorism and investing it to pass the US-Zionist project in the region,” it said. The statement from the US-led coalition said it is operating in Syria to fight ISIS, which has taken over areas of Syria during the country’s civil war, and not the Syrian regime or its partners. But the coalition said it would defend itself and its allies.
Does this make any sense? Has it ever made any sense? Assad and the United States are both fighting Daesh, allegedly, anyway. But the U.S. is also going to guns to protect the people fighting Assad who are not Daesh. During the Aughts, when we launched the great neoconservative project to democratize the Middle East, we managed to strand ourselves in a wilderness of blind alleys in which there never are any good choices and, increasingly, very few less-bad ones.
Meanwhile, over in Afghanistan, plans are underway for an increase in the number of American troops to pursue whatever the hell we’re trying to pursue over there. From ABC:
The decision by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis could be announced as early as next week, the official said. It follows Trump’s move to give Mattis the authority to set troop levels and seeks to address assertions by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan that he doesn’t have enough forces to help Afghanistan’s army against a resurgent Taliban insurgency. The rising threat posed by Islamic State extremists, evidenced in a rash of deadly attacks in the capital city of Kabul, has only fueled calls for a stronger U.S. presence, as have several recent American combat deaths. The bulk of the additional troops will train and advise Afghan forces, according to the administration official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss details of the decision publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. A smaller number would be assigned to counterterror operations against the Taliban and IS, the official said.
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I am not sanguine about any president’s handing over that much authority to his Defense Secretary, even less so about this president’s doing it to this Defense Secretary. And even less so in any case because of what The Boston Globe is reporting as a bad case of the flummoxes breaking out within the administration.
As Trump faces his most consequential decision yet as commander-in-chief — whether to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan, where a truck bombing on Wednesday offered a brutal reminder that the 16-year-old war is far from over — his administration is divided along familiar fault lines. The dispute pits two generals who had formative experiences in Afghanistan — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the national security adviser, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster — against political aides, led by the chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, who fear that sending in more troops would be a slippery slope toward nation-building.