Monday, September 19, 2016

The Pacific Pivot; Aspirational

In the summer of 2012—around the time that the Islamic State’s inchoate plans for a caliphate merited a mere footnote in a U.S. congressional report on the year-old Syrian conflict—Robert Satloff argued that a civil war was taking shape in Syria, and that its terrible consequences would extend far beyond Syrians; Americans, too, would soon be acquainted with the horror.

Among the plausible scenarios, he reasoned in the New Republic, were a revived Kurdish insurgency in Turkey and thousands of jihadists “descending on Syria to fight the apostate Alawite regime, transforming this large Eastern Mediterranean country into the global nexus of violent Islamist terrorists.”

“None of this is fantasy,” Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, assured his readers.

Today, they need no convincing. In the three years since Satloff issued his warning, the Syrian Civil War has steadily metastasized as a perceived threat to U.S. national security, nurturing ISIS, bludgeoning Iraq, and radiating refugees in the Middle East and Europe.
President Obama may believe America’s future lies in Asia, but the Middle East endures as the capital of American preoccupation. As Paul Stares, the report’s lead author, writes, “Of the eleven contingencies classified as Tier 1 priorities, all but three are related to events unfolding” in the Mideast. Several stem from the Syrian Civil War.
In one of the better articles published in The Atlantic in awhile, Uri Friedman provides enough to get your week started. 

He summarized the results of a survey of over 500 national security professional conducted by the Council on Foreign Relations.

It starts, as most good things do, with a map - actually three maps - that outline High Priority Threats (red), Medium Priority Threats (orange) and Low Priority Threats (yellow) to the USA;

There are a few items to quibble with, but I won't. This is an exceptionally good entering argument and a solid opinion on which priorities should help drive our strategy - or at least focus our mind. If nothing else, I like it a lot more than the outdated, "The Pentagon's New Map" by Thomas P.M. Barnett.

This is an in-depth article that needs to be read in full, but here are a few points that stood out to me.
Among the scenarios in this high-priority tier of conflict are a mass-casualty attack on the U.S. homeland; a major cyberattack on U.S. critical infrastructure; a crisis with or in North Korea over, say, nuclear-weapons testing or political tumult in Pyongyang; increased fighting between Kurdish groups and Turkish forces, aggravated by the Syrian Civil War; a deterioration in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; political disarray in Libya and Egypt; and Iraq splintering further as a result of ISIS advances and Sunni-Shiite violence.

Another worry appeared for the first time in the survey: “political instability in EU countries stemming from the influx of refugees and migrants, with heightened civil unrest, isolated terrorist attacks, or violence against refugees and migrants.” And this judgment was made before ISIS’s November attacks in Paris; the survey concluded the day of the rampage.
Two contingencies were downgraded from high to medium priorities between this year’s survey and last year’s, even though hostilities in each case are still pronounced: an armed confrontation between China and its neighbors over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and an escalation in fighting between Russian-backed militias and Ukrainian security forces in eastern Ukraine.

A ceasefire in eastern Ukraine “seems to be holding,” Stares noted, “and Russia has a lot on its plate both internally and in terms of its [military] intervention into Syria. Why would they dial up tensions in Ukraine at this moment?” Similarly, “there’s probably a sense that China has made the island grabs that it wants to do, and it is consolidating its position [in the South China Sea]. And given China’s [sluggish] economic situation … and a certain level of high-level agreement between the U.S. and China with the various meetings between [Presidents] Xi and Obama, people are saying, ‘Look, I don’t think the Chinese are really going to rock the boat here this year.’”
The third tier includes three contingencies that haven’t featured in the survey before: political instability in both Saudi Arabia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the growth of Islamist militancy in Russia and particularly the North Caucasus region, spurred in part by Vladimir Putin’s military operations in Syria and the threat of Russian ISIS fighters returning home.
Again, this is good in that it is an opportunity to think, but it comes with a few warnings, cautions, and notes hidden between the lines.

This from CFR. It is harder to get more "conventional wisdom" than CFR - and more often than not in the last couple of decades, the CW has gotten it wrong. It has not seen the next turn very well, especially the big turns. The national security establishment from both left and right have bought us a rolling train wreck of bad ideas from making the Middle East safe for democracy, nation building where no nation exists, to the Arab Spring, to whatever the latest manifestation of the neo-colonial "Responsibility to Protect" delivered by the good idea fairy.

I don't see CW as any great source of predicting the future. It has a more important function, as an intellectual dampener. The CW is a good steading influence on policy makers.

As we discuss here on a regular basis; I don't have the right answer, but neither do you. Only by open, vigorous and honest debate can you get closer to the "truth." You don't really get there, but you can get close. 

That is what the CW is good for. It should, respectfully, get the opening comment - but in order to work others must listen and then counter. If you don't have any better ideas, then there is nothing wrong with saying, "OK, that sounds about right. Let's start there, but be prepared to adjust as required." When CW becomes dogma; that is when you get in to trouble.

I am still ill at east. It all sounds mostly right, but as history teaches us - I just can't help but think; what are they missing?

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