Syria, Reality and Metaphor

Wretchard pens a piece responding to an earlier piece by Peggy Noonan, which likens the geopolitical moment to a gamble. It's most rational to bet when you have good cards, Wretchard notes, but also when you have terrible ones: bluffing is the only option to avoid losing then.

I would dispute that. As a lifelong poker player, I almost always fold a bad hand. Bluffing works best when you almost never do it. Then, people who have called you in the past have learned that your cards are always strong when they try you. At that point you can get one over on them from time to time. The small cost of losing the ante now and then by folding weak hands preserves your ability to win a pot when it matters, later on, with a weak hand.

Wretchard's point is that America gambled a lot on Obama and has lost. With Obama at the head of the table, not only America but everyone -- allies and enemies alike -- have lost so much that they can no longer afford to play.
Kerry is probably accurate in saying of Syria that "there is no military solution to this conflict" because no one is strong enough to emerge the victor. The failed Obama gambit drained so much energy from international system that it cannot rebuild order yet paradoxically left more than enough fuel to burn what was left.

The ruined cities of Homs or Aleppo may come to perfectly symbolize the current predicament, examples of once bustling places now without the wherewithal to rebuild yet with more than enough to destroy. Like the militias in those agonized cities the post WW2 Security Council members are no longer strong enough to pursue an independent strategy. They will be forced into a constantly shifting constellation of coalitions each competing and cooperating with the other to ensure survival and acquire gains.

Russia may pair off in its facile way with first one partner then another. Turkey will play the same duplicitous game, only more duplicitously, as will China. And Europe will do what is necessary to survive. In both the international and domestic political spheres, -- betrayal and counterbetrayal -- will become the rule rather than the exception. And this will continue until a new order emerges.
A new world order may not emerge. We may see a collapse of world order, and the rise of local hegemonies. The one power that has gained in the last year is Iran. It is going to be richer and stronger, even as it tears down other oil-producing powers by flooding the market with crude. Iran is likely to emerge the leader of the Middle East's northern crescent, from Afghanistan to the Levant.

Russia, just because it is weak and on the verge of crisis, will expand again. The one way for a weakened power to enrich itself is by stealing. Europe is too weak to resist. The next expansion will probably be in the Baltics, and aimed at breaking NATO by proving its treaty guarantees are worthless. Russia may wish to prove that first with Turkey, where the stakes are lower and the NATO power much less sympathetic. The Turkish government, openly Islamist, deceitful, and murderous, does not deserve our support.

China is likely to be consumed with its own problems for some time, and not to look too far abroad for a while.

And Syria, as a real front and not just a metaphor? It is a massacre, a war being waged by clearing the land of people because it is easier to rule over an empty waste. The Russians have only doubled-down on Assad's policy of destroying civilian infrastructure. The Iranian-backed militias are as bad as ISIS, who are backed by our allies the Turks. The West will do nothing to stop it, not for a year at least, if indeed we ever do.


E Hines said...

When I was a poor boy in college, there were three types of poker games I'd get into. One was the nickel ante kind where the point of the game was to socialize with friends. One was with truly skilled players where I expected to lose the entirety of my stake, but the point of the game for me was to learn better poker. The third was a game I played just before the start of each semester with such of my rich classmates as also arrived early. The point of that game was to trade an evening/night with my smiling self for their money, which I used to buy my books for the semester.

As a nation, we don't need the money, yet. Nor do we have the sort of friends, anymore, with whom we could goof around over cards with. We do seem, though, to have found ourselves in that game where we lose our stake, but without the purpose of learning how to do better. And no one else around the table is smiling.

Eric Hines

Ymar Sakar said...

Noonan, again, I see.

MikeD said...

I don't think for a moment that the rise of Iran as a Middle Eastern hegemony is anything other than pure intent by the Obama Administration. I fully believe the working theory was to get the US out of being the world's policeman by setting up local powers to be the local policeman. Iran for the Middle East, China for the Far East, and the EU (or Russia) for Europe. Remember, this is a President who fundamentally does not believe there is anything special or noteworthy about the US, and would dearly love to see us as just another player on the world stage. I don't know that the idea isn't sound in theory, I just wish he could have picked less evil governments to place as the local Hegemons. Ok, ok, the EU isn't evil, merely stupid, bureaucratic, and completely divorced from the wants or needs of its citizens (so... apathetic?). And there is a certain amount of satisfaction in telling the Middle East to go screw rather than expending our blood and treasure in a futile attempt to bring them into the 21st Century. If they want to wallow in 7th Century barbarism, let them.

The problem is, they won't just wallow over there. And the futile belief that if we just leave them alone, they'll leave us alone is the battle-cry of cowards and fools. If we were willing to close off our markets and borders to all external sources (a near impossibility in today's world) then MAYBE we could get away with it. We'd need to issue travel advisories to all citizens "if you leave our borders, you're on your own". And forbid foreign travelers to our shores. Because sure as hell, if we do anything anywhere overseas (or anything happens here to their citizens) it's cause for some whacko somewhere to declare eternal enmity on us, and spark an attack.

We do NOT live in a world where we can just pull into the shell of isolationism and expect everything to go just fine. And unless we did so, someone somewhere will always have "cause" to blame us for their poverty, or crappy government, or lack of opportunities in the international markets, or whatever. Which is one of my major problems with the Libertarian Party as an organization. Because they believe that crap. Of course, they also believe in open borders (because THAT sure isn't a recipe for disaster), which compounds the error of isolationism. Bah... I need a drink.

Ymar Sakar said...

If they want to wallow in 7th Century barbarism, let them.

That's what the Christian majority in the ME said about those Arabs back in the 7th century.

Funny, they aren't a majority any longer.