Back in 2013, the CIA carried out an internal study to examine the history of the agency’s covert support for foreign rebel movements. It determined that covert intervention in foreign conflicts rarely if ever produced positive results. In fact, it could produce only one example of ‘success’ – the support given to the mujahideen in Afghanistan, although even that didn’t look too good given what happened later.
Despite having this information at hand, the Obama administration went ahead and decided to support the rebels in Syria. The results are now in: total, abject failure. Remember the 70,000 ‘moderate rebels’, which British Prime Minister David Cameron said existed in Syria? Where are they now? Nowhere to be seen. Yesterday, the last outpost of the alleged ‘moderates’, Idlib, fell to the armed group Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is often described as an ‘affiliate’ of Al-Qaeda. As Gareth Porter reports in The American Conservative, the main consequence of the US decision to arm the Syrian ‘moderates’ has been to funnel thousands of weapons into the hands of Al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, far from being overthrown, the government of Bashar al-Assad is rapidly increasing its control over the central and eastern parts of Syria, pushing deep into ISIS-held territory. American policy is in tatters.
Donald Trump’s decision last week to stop arming the Syrian rebels is, therefore, a welcome recognition of reality. The question which now arises is how far reality has managed to intrude into the thinking of the American security community. Is this just an admission of defeat in this particular instance, or is a different view of the world now beginning to make itself felt on US policy more generally?
Many non-interventionists supported Trump in last year’s presidential election because they hoped that he might make the second option a possibility. So far they have been disappointed, and sadly the evidence suggests that the decision on Syria represents a tactical retreat not a strategic rethink. A large segment of the American foreign policy community continues to think that every internal conflict everywhere in the world is somehow its business, obliging it to pick one side or the other as its ally and to support it by sending it weapons.
So it was that less than a week after the US said it would no longer supply arms to the Syrians, the new US ‘special representative for Ukraine’, Kurt Volker, said that the American government was reviewing whether to send weapons to Ukraine. American foreign policy thinking is clearly in a state of confusion. On the one hand, a US official said that the decision on Syria was ‘a signal to Putin that the administration wants to improve ties to Russia.’ On the other hand, the same administration is considering a policy designed precisely to damage ties. It’s hard to make sense of it all.
Giving some details of what he had in mind, Volker said: ‘defensive weapons, ones that would allow Ukraine to defend itself, and to take out tanks for example.’ I’m guessing that would mean anti-tank weapons, like the TOW missiles which used to be supplied to the ‘moderate rebels’ in Syria. After all, you can’t just keep them sitting in storage boxes. If you’re not sending them to Syria, you gotta send them somewhere else. Right?
19 thoughts on “Gotta give those weapons to someone”
“Back in 2013, the CIA carried out an internal study to examine the history of the agency’s covert support for foreign rebel movements. It determined that covert intervention in foreign conflicts rarely if ever produced positive results. In fact, it could produce only one example of ‘success’ – the support given to the mujahideen in Afghanistan, although even that didn’t look too good given what happened later.
Despite having this information at hand, the Obama administration went ahead and decided to support the rebels in Syria.”
What else?! Did you really expected them to destroy their own worldiev formed by watching and re-watching “Rembo” and “Airwolf” during their formative years? Never!
“A large segment of the American foreign policy community continues to think that every internal conflict everywhere in the world is somehow its business, obliging it to pick one side or the other as its ally and to support it by sending it weapons.”
Jaśnie wielmożny pan Volker after his visit to the brotherly Ukraine said, it’s hight time to supply valiant Urks with offensive weapons. Naturally, it won’t be for free. As the recent coal deal shows, the US is bound to profit from that trememndously. As the reports from the frontlines of the ATO show, most of that hardvare would be sold then to the “separs” – either for food and vodka, or for money.
Who needs Silicon Valley innovative start-ups, when you can simply come to the Ukraine and, literally, plunder your way into riches via many, many corruption schemes?
I believe I read somewhere that those TOW things are awfully expensive. It’d take a whole lot of sunflower oil (соняшникової олії) to pay the bill.
No, I don’t think so. Same as with Syria and every other place, the reward is in geopolitical advantage…
“No, I don’t think so. Same as with Syria and every other place, the reward is in geopolitical advantage…”
While it’s true, that jihadis in Syria were shytte-poor, it doesn’t mean that they’ve got shiny new TOWs for free. It only means that someone else footed the bill – aka the usual suspects, consisting onf SA, UAE, Quatar and Turkey (to name a few). The old adage of TINSTAFL reaign supreme.
As for the Ukraine lacking money – what the IMF and EU are credits for? To conduct reforms and combat corruption? Pfffffft!
The idea that warfare becomes more and more capitalized is both frighteneing and breathtaking for me. That’s some serious LARPing of 15-17 cc. here.
I don’t know, what’s the mechanics of your quid pro quo? TOWs are expensive, but they’re paid from the Pentagon budget – and that’s free money. And who’s getting paid by Kiev? It would have to be some private companies, for this to make some sort of sense.
Trump enterprises? A US naval base near Odessa (a-la Gitmo) would make more sense I think. But that’s still geopolitical…
“I don’t know, what’s the mechanics of your quid pro quo? TOWs are expensive, but they’re paid from the Pentagon budget – and that’s free money. And who’s getting paid by Kiev? It would have to be some private companies, for this to make some sort of sense. “</em
Probably. Like with the coal – it's not sold to the Ukraine, but to two companies, owned by (wait for it!) Rinat Akhmetov and Petro Poroshenko, to be re-sold to the Ukraine for bigger gesheft. Is it really hard to imagine that some used ex-mothballed NATO hardware would be sold to this or that (oligarch owned, of course) military industry factory with the explicit purpose to (pretend to) fix them into a proper fighting shape and then re-sell them to the Ministry of Defense of the Ukraine? It's even better, because it does not violate too much the letter of the promise not to supply the state of the Ukraine with lethal weapons.
Only oligarchs in the Ukraine are the state, either directly or via corruption and embezzlement. They decide how to spend those IMF money. Plus, there is always an indirect way of payment – to tweak some anti-monopoly agency or to shut down anti-corruption investigation, which would allow Western enterprises to buy property in the Ukraine for peanuts. The recent announcement of Royzman’s cabinet promised to “liquidate” 1225 state enterprises. Note – only a third of them would be simply closed down, other will find new owners.
I don’t know for sure which scheme they gonna use, but what I don’t doubt at all is that there ought to be one.
I watched Andrey Yermolayev this morning (he’s a smooth-talking maidown-liberal), and he said that the oligarchical model is in the past now. One oligarch has won, and he rules – and the rest of them lost, they are gone from the national scene, for all intents and purposes. Or, rather, it’s one big oligarch on top, and many local mini-oligarchs in the regions…
“I watched Andrey Yermolayev this morning (he’s a smooth-talking maidown-liberal), and he said that the oligarchical model is in the past now. “
This whole thing strikes me as wishful thinking. In the regions oligarchs still rule their petty fiefdoms magnates-like, whikc allows them to convert local economic power into (inter)state power and influence, because they still own MSM and strategic business enterprises. Yeah, Poroshenko and his retinue kinda-sorta control Kiev, because he has yarlig from the West. The thing is – new elections are coming and his rating is abysmal. All promises and “conquests” of the Maidan either failed to materialize or they took forms of something not resenply bright and colourful future as presented before the maidowns in 2013-14.
If Poroshenko would be indeed the sole ruling oligarch in the country, it would mean the ascend of the totalitarian fascism in its classic edition. But (so far) it is not the case – Poroshenko still can’t rein in both the political parties critical of him and local elites, whic derive their livelyhood from the oligarchs other than him. The whole mechanism of the rule didn’t change just because the oligarchs now have from time to time scream “SUGS!”.
I don’t think it matters at all. Forget the ratings, if the puppeteer wants him to stay, he’ll stay, even if he’s got no pulse. Remember Yeltsin, 1996?
I think he used ‘authoritarian’. The word ‘totalitarian’ doesn’t really mean anything; it’s just the way to equate the Soviet system with Nazism, not applicable here.
Apparently, Porokh pretty much controls the national media now (wasn’t Vesti attacked recently?). Yermolayev himself appears to belong to Levochkin, and I think I sense some desperation there. Where are all the titans of the recent past, of just a couple of years ago – the Akhmetovs, the Kolomoyskyis? Nowhere to be seen, eh?
Yeltsin’s re-election in 1996 was a perfect storm of circumstances which can’t be recreated elsewhere or in the future. On the one hand, the Westies had only one (1) figurehead to receive the yarlig from them and do as they tell him, when currently in the Ukraine there is a proverbial queue of the hopefuls who can qualify and who have no qualms to do literally anything to ascend to the purple. The chief alternative to Yeltsin in 1996 was overhyped dreaded “red-brown alliance” of Zyuganov and various nationalists (to think that Zhirinovsky made Americans crap bricks back then is hilarious in the hindsight). In the Ukraine nowadays all “legitimate” political forces embrace rabid nationalism to a varying degree, and the “red” sector is annihilated completely. The elections of 1996 in Russia thus were presented as the titanic struggle of the “New vs Old” and the people were bludgeoned into hating everything Soviet, and, thus, supporting the “democrat” Yeltsin by default, no matter their real political leanings. In the Ukraine there is no such dichotomy, despite propaganda’s best efforts. People are resigned to be ruled over by an oligarchy and they don’t care who will be the figurehead, meaning that political programs are basically useless. They will vote for the least disgusting candidate.
The example of post-Saakashvili’s Georgia shows that, yes, the USA indeed rids itself of used condoms. It’s the matter of the balance between the political costs and benefits, i.e. the proverbial Washington’s obkom must decide for itself, in what capacity the current holder of yarlig will serve them best – either as the still useful pawn (given lack of alternatives or unexpected success) or as a scapegoat. It will all depend on what will happened in the coming year and a half, but even now I see nothing good falling suddenly into the Ukrainian lap. For one – Russia plans to bypass the Ukraine completely in its natural gas transfers by 2019. But I also don’t know what kind of power (if any) Trump will have over the State Department by 2019, and he won’t be the same “friend” as was Obama and Biden for them.
Besides, Poroshenko shouldn’t sweat too much about his potential fate should he loose the mantle – the US takes care of their own. I mean, look at this bloody murtad Nuri al-Maliki! He was Iraq’s PM for 8 years from 2006 to 2014, and he spent this time to raise the corruption and nepotism up to the stratosphere (totally supported by the West!), enriching himself, his immediate family and chose Shia potentates at the expense of the Sunnis. The end result was that otherwise ordinary Iraqis who differ from the rest of the populace only in theological matters did welcome the coming of ISIS and supported it wholeheartedly. His punishment? Why, he was only demoted to the title of the vice-PM. Now, after laying all the groundwork for the ISIS to happen in the first place, he flies from one country to another, shakes hands and calls for greater support of Iraq in its fight against the terrorists. If this piece of shit gets that for all his screw ups, why should Poroshenko worry and cling so desperately to power?
I’ve just started reading a book called “Beating Goliath: Why Insurgencies Win” by Jeffrey Record. While admitting that insurgent victories are the exception, he examines eleven cases where they did win and argues that external assistance is the factor most closely tied to that success (not the only one of course, and often not the most important one either). One of those examples is the 1979-89 Afghan War though, as you say, the epilogue wasn’t very favourable. So while the CIA may have a very poor track record with this method, it shouldn’t be dismissed.
And weirdly enough, the illustration of mujahideen used to illustrate the New York Times article from 2014 you linked to is also the cover illustration of Record’s book! (published in 2009)
That raises an interesting question. If external support can help insurgencies win, why doesn’t it when the support comes from the Americans? Are they particularly incompetent? Do they have a knack of picking the wrong side?
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Perhaps it is the fact that the US (& the West in general) assumes that a government with what the West considers to be authoritarian elements must necessarily govern without popular support and is not the “natural” state. This would lead the US to underestimate the durability of the regime it wishes to overthrow. The fact that any given current regime is the current regime implies something about its ability to take and retain power. Another possibility is that, even if success of the insurgency is unlikely, imposing costs/chaos on an enemy may be considered preferable to doing nothing.
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“If external support can help insurgencies win, why doesn’t it when the support comes from the Americans?”
Not only them. Entire Entente supported the Whites during the Civil War in Russia. Before that Germany and Austro-Hungary supported some of the Whites and nascent nationalist movements.
USA is hammer; everywhere else is nail.
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think the dominant factor in defeating an insurgency, one which most people refuse to understand when viewed from the perspective of an outside power, is the strength of the government and the fighting power of government forces. The most foreign powers can do is supplement government troops and provide improvements, but only in a context where the will to fight has been comprehensively demonstrated by the government. Otherwise, as with the Americans in Vietnam or the Russians in Afghanistan. The government side no matter how powerful its backer, is doomed to go down in defeat.
Consider that Burma should have collapsed back in 1949/1950, but it did not because of the fighting power of the Tatmadaw. The Indonesians, if they had received orders to that effect, would have continued fighting in East Timor and did not consider themselves defeated. The Syrian government has shown that, to paraphrase Martin Van Creveld, the SAA is like a good sturdy mule – not glamourous or elite but dependable.
A question then, answered somewhat elsewhere but not as comprehensively as it should be, is why do US backed government forces, backed by huge sums of money and equipment go down in defeat?
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US-backed government forces with huge sums of money and equipment to hand go down in defeat because (a) they never had popular support to begin with, especially if US interests in the country clash with those of the people and the government of the day had originally been installed with US support in defiance of the popular will; (b) money and equipment do not count for much if government forces are poorly paid, have little loyalty and are likely to defect to the other side; and (c) the US consistently overestimates the level of popularity its puppet government and its forces have among the people because it insists on reading and believing its own propaganda swill.
The groups who oppose the puppet government likewise work among communities and gain their support and loyalty with a mix of ideology that emphasises inclusivity, fraternity, collaboration, help and equality, and good works. They take care to emphasise their differences from the government and its security and military agencies eg they fight for self-defence and kill only if they have to, in contrast to the government. (In the case of Syria, the US-backed “rebel” forces facing the Syrian military are a motley bunch who are as likely to fight each other over minor points of shari’a law as to fight the Assad government, and don’t command public sympathy or loyalty because they lack proper training and discipline.)
It may also be that over the decades, the way in which the US dispenses its largesse to client governments has changed: private organisations with an eye for profit may now be handing out or selling weapons (of dubious origins and quality), the money given out may have conditions attached that didn’t exist before and the training US and allied advisors and trainers provide is based on narrow US-ally experience and does not really take into account what client government forces are likely to face in a civil war.
Exactly. To inflict damage, but also to demonstrate – always, every time it happens – that rebellions/disobedience will be punished. Inevitably. So that those who consider disobedience an option would think hard, and hopefully opt for obedience…
We like to assume states have consistent foreign policies. With the US at the moment, however, I am not too sure. I suspect that the Syria/Ukraine dichotomy reflects the fact that differing factions are struggling for power (remember that Pentagon backed rebels fought CIA backed rebels in Syria) – a problem made worse by the minute-by-minute policy and staff changes within the White House. Also, while the US has allegedly stopped backing AQ in Southern Syria, it still supports the Kurdish SDF up North – who are currently making noises about blocking the Government’s drive on Deir ez-Zor: https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/oil-iraqi-border-crossing-deir-ezzor-important-raqqa-pyd-police-chief/ As a result, I suspect the game is still very much afoot in Syria.