I talk about things I find interesting. I find a lot of things interesting…

Bumbling Away from War

by Ken Arnold on Tue 17 September 2013

I’m in favor of the current thrust towards resolving the Syrian chemical weapons problem without war. If the disarmament can be made to work it is far preferable to an uncertain future after we kill more people by remote control in the Middle East.

That said, I have to say I was stunned by how it happened. An offhand remark by our Secretary of State turned out to actually describe a workable path forward. A remark that he tried to walk back.

Why wasn’t this something floated for real? The administration was so stuck in a path towards violent response that it didn’t even consider offering anything else at all. They saw no way around it.

The team was frankly incompetent here. We have some very smart people in the State Department, the White House, and the Pentagon. And between them all they didn’t think to make this proposal. Forgive me for citing the Bush administration, but even they gave Afghanistan a potential path to avoid the war (turn over bin Laden and followers). They weren’t going to take it, but just offering it was smart. And what if they had turned them over? At least that possibility was on the table.

This administration couldn’t see that it should offer an out. And that’s doubly bad because it happens that — as far as we can tell, pending future events — the Russians and Syrians were ready to take that kind of out.

Instead we went out on a limb for military action, and that limb was collapsing, with the British vote in Parliament, and the lack of nearly any support from any ally. In fact, Putin saved Obama from having to go it alone, and probably an embarrassing defeat in Congress.

We will see if this process actually produces anything. But we will actually see. No thanks to the smart folks in charge of our foreign policy.  (Well, minor thanks I suppose for not being stubborn after the fact.) We stumbled into a path when we should have led with it.

We pay those folks to figure out solutions. They let us down. I hope they’ve learned, not just that they should think harder, but how seductive, apparently, is the path to war.

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