Special Forces deployed to Syria

Peter Van Buren (Reuters) and Fred Kagan (CNN) offer negative opinions of the recent decision to deploy 50 Special Forces to Syria.

These are well constructed articles, designed to be satisfying reads complete with a reader’s belch at the end. Unless you have a preexisting  opinion other than general unhappiness, you will enjoy these articles, with the feeling that you have been properly educated. This, of course, is what opinion writers strive for. Solutions are beyond their grasp. Peter Van Buren has even made publication capital out of his mistakes with the book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.

The White House announcement was deliberately ambiguous with respect to deployment details and mission. It is not in the interest of the U.S. for this blog to remove that ambiguity. But for those who hoped for a more proactive mission description,  “adviser” admits the flexibility to be a powerful force multiplier.

The number, 50, is criticized as too small, too tentative, and indicative of the weakness of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. Here I must disclose that I am very partial to Barack Obama as a person. The decision to seek the presidency is almost a sign of psychosis, supported by the revelations of Ronald Kessler’s In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect. But Barack Obama is the kind of guy I would have a (nonalcoholic) beer with.

One part of Obama’s formative experience was as a community organizer. That kind of experience sharply draws the distinction between the average American, who is not rich and possibly struggling to survive, and the class and kind of people who put the U.S in Vietnam. Then and today, the people who devise foreign policy are at least somewhat removed from the struggle to survive.

But the argument is that they see further. Obama’s choice is to be very conservative as to how much. Perhaps, when deciding when to put lives at risk, he sees himself as the direct proxy of the average American. But the retrospective of U.S. policy in Syria shows that foreign policy requires the office holder  to be more than one’s self. This apparent impossibility is resolved by  the occasional magic of the select group, multiplying individual powers instead of succumbing to group-think policy inertia. Rare but possible, we have seen it happen.

The number, 50, is a legitimate number for an advance team, for exploring working relationships with poorly known opposites. Eager to publish,  op-ed writers tend to prejudge. We cannot tell if the 50 are the spearhead of a new Syria policy, invested not just with boots on the ground, but with new ideas as well, such as partitioning Syria to separate combatants saturated in murderous hatred. This has been explored in recent posts on this blog.

We cannot tell also whether, in possible disagreement with Russia, Obama is willing to engage in brinksmanship. In the practical description of nationalism, the nation is the largest unit governed by  moral and legal norms. Brinksmanship challenges the instincts and decency of a domestic  presidency.


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