It’s easy to see why there’s so much August Silly Season excitement over Hillary Clinton’s Jeffrey Goldberg interview. Clinton’s new strategy of running against her own State Department, her convenient rediscovery of her long-missing yiddishe kop, and her criticism of President Obama’s unbelievably silly foreign policy mantra are all magnificent examples of the kind of logical arabesques and reality-bending dipsy-doodles that are hallmarks of the Clintons’ truth-distorting powers.
But there hasn’t been a lot of attention on the total inanity of Clinton’s if-I-weren’t-stuck-in-this-chair regrets about how she didn’t move Foggy Bottom to promote a kinder, gentler Islamic State back when it was just the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria:
It is striking, however, that you have more than 170,000 people dead in Syria. You have the vacuum that has been created by the relentless assault by Assad on his own population, an assault that has bred these extremist groups, the most well-known of which, ISIS—or ISIL—is now literally expanding its territory inside Syria and inside Iraq…
I know that the failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.
They were often armed in an indiscriminate way by other forces and we had no skin in the game that really enabled us to prevent this indiscriminate arming.
If you want to know why your grandchildren will still be fighting over Iraq, you have your answer right there: Today’s solution is the same as yesterday’s solution, and it’s being pushed by the same geniuses who created the problem. And tomorrow, they’ll have the same solution once again.
It’s clear that America lacked the resolve to intervene on behalf of the Sunni rebels in Syria. (The massive popular opposition to the Syrian intervention is always attributed to “war-weariness” rather than to the possibility that it was just a bad idea.) It’s also clear — as those same rebels have begun cutting off heads and burying people alive in Iraq — that intervening against Bashar Assad’s brutal dictatorship was an idea so dumb only John McCain and Hillary Clinton could have thought it was smart.
Clinton and McCain, along with many Obama detractors today, will argue, as Clinton does above, that the “secularists” and “everything in the middle” were the people who needed our help, not the Islamists. But is there any reason to believe anybody in the Clinton State Department knew the difference? They certainly don’t seem to have been able to tell friend from foe among the anti-Qaddafi resistance in Libya. During eight years of full commitment in Iraq, the United States was so unable to distinguish the nuances among Iraqi factions that we’re now stuck with an Iraqi leader who refuses to leave office even with total opposition from his own government and our government. We can’t even prevent one of our good pals in Afghanistan from killing an American general. But somehow the same people who ran those operations were supposed to know which Syrian Sunni fighters were sufficiently moderate to deserve lethal American assistance?
Clinton, in her unstoppable juggernaut of error, will insist that of course, once you have “skin in the game” you’ll be able to leverage your allies in the direction you want. Has this ever worked? Did FDR and Churchill get Stalin to moderate his leadership of the USSR in ways that history has failed to notice? Did America’s intimate involvement with the anti-communist Islamists in Afghanistan during the 1980s help the moderates in that vibrant and modern democracy? In ten years of massive military commitment and multiple coups, the United States couldn’t even get a South Vietnamese government that had the outward appearance of decency (or, as it turned out, any ability to defend itself). Closer to the region in question: The United States allied with Bashar Assad’s father openly during the 1991 Iraq war and to a lesser extent with Bashar himself after 9/11. Are we just failing to appreciate the amiable side of the Assads that emerged thanks to that cooperative experience with America?
It’s a universal law of diplomacy that allies are not friends. There are any number of quotes to this effect. The idea that you can micromanage outcomes in wartime by setting a sterling moral example, or by empowering one slightly better faction rather than another one, or just by building friendships in a chaotic coalition of Sunni Muslims, is straightup insanity.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Since being consistently wrong is a prerequisite to becoming a quotable expert on the Middle East, here’s a quote from T.E. Lawrence, who was more wrong than anybody and wrong earlier than almost everybody: “The foreigner and Christian is not a popular person in Arabia. However friendly and informal the treatment of yourself may be, remember always that your foundations are very sandy ones.”