Monday, July 1, 2013

Syria, Obama and the US Congress: Managing the Domestic Side of Intervention

Congress and Syria: Should We Expect Help or Hindrance?

5 Star Gen. Ike Eisenhower (image)
We've all repeatedly heard Eisenhower's chilling 1960 admonition about the dangers of what he termed the "military industrial complex." [Read his entire speech here.]  This conveniently unsettling phrase is still muttered relentlessly in conversations between US citizens at coffee bars and drinking fountains.

It should be.

Now, in 2013, we can easily see that we, as citizens, have done very poorly with the responsibility of taking Ike's words to heart.  This warning was not the issue of a incompetent war maker or an isolationist.  These were the words of a 5 Star General of the Armies as he was bidding farewell after two terms as President.

Eisenhower's idea about the dangers of the "military industrial complex" are, once again, front and center as we consider what lies before our current President after his decision to "intervene" in the Syrian civil war.  This time around we find our democracy crippled by an unruly maelstrom of "military industrial" corruption lurking just below the murky surface of an even worse looking, hopelessly sold out Congress, all cast and scripted for the uninterested.

We have to begin any discussion of the domestic side of US intervention in Syria by facing this fact.  The illiterate chaos on Capitol Hill will present just as much -- or more -- of an obstacle for so much as even a glimmer of hope from even the most rational policy as the most determined enemy on the ground could ever hope to accomplish.

Syria was reported to have been a topic of discussion at the recent G8 conference of developed nations.  It's no coincidence that the "visible" surface of the talks led to no movement with the central impasse.  The primary participants in the G8 were the surprisingly war-ready Europeans, President Obama, the Russian Federation's Vladimir Putin and the Peoples' Republic's President Xi Jinping.

While these would have been the faces one might have seen if visiting those talks in Northern Ireland, there is a quite rational -- that is, not particularly wildly cynical -- darker side.  When we strip away the glamor of so many national leaders, we see quite another world of power and influence surfacing almost immediately, an alien world where values are stridently removed from what would have seemed to be in play.

Oligarchs Everywhere

Any serious effort to "decode" Syria must necessarily start here.  A cold look at those present at the G8 reveals, for the frankly honest among us, three powerful oligarchies, each with oligarchic interest in what might unfold in Syria.  The differences between these three megaliths hold the key to understanding Syria.

The Russian Federation is an oligarchy more similar, perhaps, to an Elliot Ness movie about the gangster days of Al Capone and the deep city Mafia crime families.  Russian oligarchs, unlike their American counterparts, are not so deeply invested in the military industrial complex, preferring the profits extracted from control of large businesses such as oil, gas, mining and, to some extent, corporate agriculture.  This is understandable.  These are the areas of great wealth in the Russian Federation.

The "crime family-like" influence of the Russian oligarchs reaches directly into the Kremlin -- and into the pants pockets in the Douma, as well.   Unlike the "no limit" access the American oligarchs have into the Congress and Senate, the Russian Federation occasionally demonstrates a violent jealousy when disciplining Russian oligarchs who "over step" -- that is, violate the lines of their acceptable distance from the decision making.

Perhaps the foremost Russian Federation interest in Syria is the naval base at Tartus, but there is quite a lot more.  Don't be mistaken.  The oligarchs directing the Russian Federation make money selling arms, too -- just not nearly as rapaciously as their corresponding American oligarchs.  The Russians spend a pittance on military procurement compared to the bulging, embarrassingly wasteful, over fed Pentagon, but in terms of expressing power and influence with that much smaller military, they do quite well.  This is largely attributable to the formidable geopolitical expertise of their "man in charge," Vladimir Putin.

The Chinese Peoples' Republic is an oligarchy where the Communist Party's State Council is the automatic "silent partner."  Deeply connected to the government, the Chinese oligarchs -- compared to the other two varieties -- are controllable by the Communist government.  While this doesn't mean that they are any less ruthless than their super power counterparts, it does mean that they are potentially controllable -- at least, potentially controllable by someone.

The China oligarchy's interest is primarily export manufacturing, but, rest assured, it enjoys startling advantages from its state connection.  It also pays dearly for the sympathetic attention of its sponsor.  For example, we saw just a glimpse of this with GOP billionaire Sheldon Addelson and his plutocratic habit of bribing Chinese government officials to grease the wheels for his next giant casino there.  It was worth $100 Mn to Sheldon to deliver Mittens to the Oval Office where his "Chinese crime problem" could be vaporized by a sympathetic President.

The US oligarchy is parasitic on a number of "avenues of cash flow" inside the American economy -- but primary among these is its noteworthy attachment to the "military industrial complex."  The amount of money flowing through annual Pentagon procurement channels is immense, and it naturally attracts the attention of the US oligarchs.  Because Pentagon procurement is, hypothetically, at least, controlled by the Congress, it is only natural that the Congress should be controlled by the oligarchs -- and, of course, it is.

Highest priority to un-elect Obama?  What about policy? (image)

The consequence of this oligarchic attraction to the Pentagon's massive spending is also sickeningly clear.  Making war means making money.  If a few million injected into the political campaign of an influential Congressman or Senator can deliver another war, that "seed money" will turn into a "return on investment" worth a hundred or a thousand times more.

So, while the President is working to implement any sort of rational foreign policy on Syria, the flood gates of corporate oligarch money will be thrown "wide open"  in another feeding frenzy -- a grisly layer cake made of blood and bullets and iced with another round of feckless, incendiary media fraud.

Count on it.

For the visitor who anticipated some MeanMesa discussion about domestic politics -- that is, perhaps some speculation about what this or that Senator might say or do and so on -- all this ranting and raving about oligarchs may seem somehow less that relevant.  It is highly relevant.  The faster the rapidly vaporizing ideal that representative governments -- here, in Europe, in China or in Russia -- represent any interests besides the interests of local oligarchs can be smashed, the sooner the world's response to the Syrian crisis will become comprehensible.

Watching Obama

More than other Presidents who have become Commander in Chief without direct experience in the military, Barack Obama has already demonstrated a remarkable, albeit civilian, pragmatism and effectivity in the "projecting force side" of foreign policy.  A comparison with the previous Commander in Chief reveals some of the reasons for this.

1. The current President probably gathered more insight into such matters during his time in the South Side of Chicago than George W. Bush did during his "career" as a failed, overly protected Air Force officer.

2.  President Obama has avoided the catastrophic mixing of political advisors with military advisors which effectively castrated the prospect of any rational military policy leadership in Afghanistan and Iraq in favor of brazenly exploitive defense support contracts, a plummeting national image around the world and outrageous damage from his Dark Ages biblical penchant for torture and other horrors.

3. The current Administration has, deservedly, regained the political endorsement of a demoralized military with policies aimed at re-establishing the vital trust factor between personnel and their government. 

4. Perhaps most importantly of all, military campaigns conducted under this Administration have worked.  There is nothing more discouraging to those Americans serving in our military than a string of poorly designed, costly military adventures with outcomes reeking of utter mediocrity.

Whatever course the President may select for our involvement in Syria, we can expect that it will produce outcomes which are befitting our nation and our fellow citizens in the military.  It takes a while to shake off the disasters of the last decade, but we have made a good start, and we have a President who is determined to not add any disasters to his legacy -- or ours.

Fortunately, at this time the Congress remains unable to sabotage foreign policy decisions with its penchant for political advantage.  There will be the predictable bellowing and pessimism, but the actions of the Administration will reflect the traditional, direct connection between the Commander in Chief and those he commands instead of the drawling political "theatre of the absurd" we see in other domestic matters.

The rest of the world remembers. (image DNC)
This may sound like typical MeanMesa ranting and raving, but the rest of the world -- especially the Middle East -- remembers the George W. Bush years even if we don't.  All that hatred and terror are an inextricable element limiting and complicating the possibilities of what can be accomplished in Syria.

The final post in this MeanMesa series on the Syria conflict will describe a possible "end game" for our involvement.  Is there a way in which we can actually applaud our efforts and the outcome? 

No comments:

Post a Comment