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What The Heck Are We Doing In Syria

Secretary of State Tillerson gave a speech at the Hoover Institute, Stanford University this past Wednesday.   His main goal: “to talk with you about the way forward for the United States in Syria.”

On its surface, nothing Tillerson said is ridiculous or incoherent – compared to say, the routine utterances of his boss.   (Well, mostly. I have my quibbles, that could grow into rants given enough space.)

Just below the surface though, it quite clearly ignores the lived experience of the 21st century American foreign policy efforts. (Doubly remarkable considering the presence of a former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State who was present and responsible for that lived experience)  Plus, it is seemingly at odds with the foreign policy inclinations suggested by an “America First” posture – either the 20th or 21st century versions of that worldview.  Oh, by the way, there’s absolutely no Congressional authority – you know, the people that are supposed to be in the war-declaring business – for the efforts Tillerson lays out.  (I am not a lawyer, so I don’t want to go as far as saying there’s no legal basis for those efforts.  But I can read the text of the the primary authorization (PDF), as well as the other one, and draw my own conclusions)

Allow me to repeat myself.  Tillerson is (basically) right in the case he lays out.  Assad is a bad dude. His dad was a bad dude. The Syrian government is an illiberal regime that has almost always been hostile to the interests of the government of the United States of America.   (I say ‘almost’ because there was a period of about 10 minutes in the early 90s where the Syrian government was on the US side when Saddam was feeling too froggy.) Things are bad for many people in Syria, and the many that have fled the conflict.  Thousands, tens of thousands, have died.  Weapons of mass destruction have been used.

Yet, the US now has an announced military presence in Syria; the current US government indicates that it is going to stay there indefinitely.  All of this has happened without any vote by Congress, or even a public debate.

I guess one good thing is that it is at least being decided at the cabinet level now.  A bit over a month ago, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve said on Twitter, “This exchange is evidence that Daesh still poses a threat to the people of Syria.”  This is no doubt true, but it’s not the job of an Army colonel and the general he reports to, on their own, identify threats to the people of Syria and deploy US Forces to remedy that situation.

(Operation Inherent Resolve is the follow on for Operation Iraqi Freedom that kicked off when the US government decided to go into Iraq again, to counter Daesh forces – also, without any Congressional votes or public debate.)

So, the bottom line is – let’s have this debate.  Yes, I am clearly on the side of ‘no to the authorization of military force in the Levant’,  but I am more interested in getting the correct political and legal framework behind any and all military interventions.  But, especially on this one, where there are fiftyelevenmillion sides in this conflict, and ‘allies’ and ‘enemies’ are fluid.


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Ken was in the US Navy for 20 years, and has been on the internet for 25 years. Recently discovered that he is a cat person. Formerly a political libertarian weirdo, but not completely formerly.

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117 thoughts on “What The Heck Are We Doing In Syria

  1. as here are the quibbles/rants on certain items in Tillerson’s speech:

    allowing hospitals to reopen, restoring water and electricity services, and getting boys and girls back in school.

    Um, we haven’t even done this in Puerto Rico yet.

    In Syria, however, unlike in Iraq, we do not have a national government partner for stabilization efforts, so we must work with others.

    Ah, now I see. We don’t have a national government partner in Puerto Rico, either.

    Ungoverned spaces, especially in conflict zones, are breeding grounds for ISIS and other terrorist organizations.

    This is the central premise of US foreign policy in this century, but no one has convinced me that its actually true.

    We must be clear: “Stabilization” is not a synonym for open-ended nation-building or a synonym for reconstruction

    Then why are we involved in ‘restoring water and electricity services’? Why is USAID there?

    The United States, the EU, and regional partners will not provide international reconstruction assistance to any area under control of the Assad regime

    Wait, I thought we’re not doing ‘reconstruction’ at all? We’re doing ‘stabilization’, right?

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    • This is the central premise of US foreign policy in this century, but no one has convinced me that its actually true.

      On the one hand, I am pretty convinced it’s true, but on the other hand, if that is the central premise of US foreign policy, I wonder why US foreign policy in this century has done so much to maintain or expand “conflict zones” and “ungoverned spaces”.

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    • Um, we haven’t even done this in Puerto Rico yet.

      I’m suddenly reminded of the amazing movie ‘The Mouse Who Roared’, about a tiny European nation that declared war on the US with the intent of losing and having the US rebuild their entire economy. (They accidentally won the war, but that’s not the point.)

      Puerto Rico, it is clear what you have to do: Violent secessionists need to seize control of the government and start planning terrorists attacks within mainland US. Blow up some bridges or something. The US will respond by invading you. (Please do not remind them that you are part of the US already, and, hey, there was a conspiracy for a while that the US government was going to invade Texas, and this isn’t _more_ stupid.)

      Oh, there might be some bombings, but will it be worse than a hurricane? Probably not.

      Then surrender and greet the US as liberators when they show up to build schools and whatnot.

      …actually, come to think of it, the US would probably invade Costa Rica, because it kinda sounds the same, and Cuba, because they really really want to do that, instead. Nevermind.

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    • Wait, I thought we’re not doing ‘reconstruction’ at all? We’re doing ‘stabilization’, right?

      No no no. Tillerson said that ‘stabilization’ does not mean ‘reconstruction’. Technically speaking, he never said that we aren’t doing both.

      Likewise, he also didn’t say we weren’t doing open-ended nation-building. He just said the word ‘stabilization’ was not a synonym for ‘open-ended nation-building’.

      Checking the dictionary, he appears correct.

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  2. “Yet, the US now has an announced military presence in Syria; the current US government indicates that it is going to stay there indefinitely.”

    If we have a permanent role in parts of the country, we are pretty bad at actually exerting any influence there. Our “ally” in Turkey just attacked our “allies” the Kurds in a move that should terrify everyone.

    And here I was told that Trump would be the leader other countries would respect and not challenge. So much for all that.

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  3. We shouldn’t be in Syria at all. We shouldn’t have been in Libya either. It’s a waste of time and money and people. We shouldn’t have been messing around with Ukraine either.

    No “legal framework” is necessary, the President can do what he wants–no one in Congress will stand up to him. Not when Obama was pissing around in Libya or Syria, not now.

    We now have a military presence in Syria. Ah, dude, like we’ve had one for years–just like in Africa where those “advisory” got KIA. We have, officially, troops in like 90% of all the countries on the globe. No doubt that’s higher in the “unofficial” category.

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  4. Stabilization involves restoring water and probably electricity, along with crushing ISIS, so that an area’s residents can remain in the area instead of being forced into a refugee stream.

    We’re working in Syria because so many areas there aren’t under Syrian government control, and ISIS and other terrorist groups move to fill the vacuums. It is perhaps what proper stabilization efforts might have looked like in Germany in 1918-1919 when various competing remnants of the German military were involved in various socialist revolutions. African experience teaches us that the only leaders who rise under conditions of chaos and brutal ethnic/religious/tribal conflicts are leaders who are good at causing and exploiting chaos and brutal ethnic/religious/tribal conflicts.

    And now we’re in a proxy war with Turkey via our Kurdish allies. I have no idea why Turkey is still in NATO, considering that they’re siding with the Russians against Europe.

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    • I have no idea why Turkey is still in NATO, considering that they’re siding with the Russians against Europe.

      I thought at first you were asking why they hadn’t left. Which has an easy answer: Being in NATO and siding with Russia means Turkey, in theory, has no enemies.

      But I guess you were asking why NATO hadn’t kicked them out. Does anyone actually know why that is? Is that even possible? What are the parameters for someone getting kicked out of NATO?

      I presume, being a defense alliance, you can be kicked out for shooting at anyone else on your supposed side. But, as you said, Turkey is using proxy fighters.

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  5. To the right of this article is a column of various things, comments and twitter and such, one of those being “Donate Now – Syria is devastated. That is why we are in Syria. To much ink and tears.

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  6. I suggest a Mouse That Roared strategy.

    Poor areas of America should declare war on the government, then immediately enter talks to stabilize our restive populations and keep radical elements at bay,with the following list of demands:

    1. Provide clean drinking water to Flint, Michigan;
    2. Construction of hospitals, schools, and clinics to impoverished backwards regions where the peasants are economically anxious;
    3. Immediate forgiveness of student loans;
    4. Pallet loads of shrinkwrapped 100 dollar bills, dropped from C-130s flying over restive areas of urban centers.

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      • Actually, I am thinking of the 1960s riots, the 1992 Los Angeles Riots and others, which resulted in a few things similar to the above:

        1. A short spike in government funding for the distressed areas so as to pacify the restive people; Government housing, jobs programs, parks and beautification programs.

        2. A longer term destruction of the bond which the rest of the people had with these areas; The attitude and view of white America towards the nation’s cities soured from the 1950s sunny optimisim about city life into the 1970’s view of cities being hellish dystopias.
        This in turn fueled a malign neglect and disinvestment, a self-reinforcing cycle of declining value, increased crime and police becoming foreign occupation forces.

        In other words, what we are seeing in Afghanistan is the same arc which we saw in American cities.
        All those palletloads of shrinkwrapped dollar bills have long been spent, the schools and clinics dwindling and withering, but the foreign occupiers are still there, still killing and terrorizing the population with arbitrary brutality.
        The Taliban controls almost as much of Afghanistan today as it did before 2001.

        I don’t share your pessimism about America’s future, but maybe its because I live in the bluest part of the bluest city in the bluest state. My experience of city life is more like I Love Lucy than The Warriors.

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      • @chip-daniels

        I think you two are severely overestimating the radicalness of the American population. I believe that Americans are more liberal than our politicians imagine. However, they are not radicals who believe in seizing the means of production and instituting a proletariat utopia. Erik Loomis is way to my left on many issues (and I’m probably to the left of many Americans) but he will frequently say what worker’s want is better wages and nice living conditions. They don’t want to seize the means of production because controlling the means of production is a serious time commitment and responsibility.

        Americans, by and large, for better and for worse, are aspirational. This has always stymied the left. Much to the dismay of many American lefties, most Americans don’t want less stuff, they like widgets and things*, and are generally more capitalist than not. So they might support universal healthcare but they don’t support Clause IV socialism.

        *One of the things I’ve seen many lefties beg is that they wished people would realize “how little they need.” I have a variety of theories about why this is a sincere lefty wish. Some of it has a good basis. We probably can provide adequate food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare to everyone if people were slightly less materialistic. On the other hand, I also think there is a “Wake-up sheeple” conspiracy aspect to this deploring which makes lefties think that materialist desires are kind of allegory of the cave thing and that we would throw off corporate control if we all became non-materialistic and realized everything was just selling “shit we don’t need.” But people work to consume and have money for fun and recreation.

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          • Do you even realize how disrespectful that clause is?

            You are gonna have to unpack that for the rest of the class, because unless you snarkily shift that into some other context, I see nothing disrespectful in that.

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          • Yeah, I agree with others, in that I think this is cheeky*, but I don’t find it disrepectful, and moreover, it’s not at all wrong.

            Running everything after the Revolution is hard work, which is why it attracts personality types and leadership attributes like Josef Stalin and Pol Pot had.

            At the very least, it’s an impossible enough task that people like Chavez & Maduro will simply run things into the ground, given enough time.

            *disrespectful would have been: ‘workers are too lazy to do the job of controlling the means of production’.

            (not disrepectful though is: ‘workers are too busy to do the job of controlling the means of production’ – something that is also fundamentally correct as an assertion)

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            • @oscar-gordon @chip-daniels

              Fine, I’ll unpack it.

              “requires a serious time commitment and responsibility.”

              If you haven’t heard that *exact* phraseology used as a euphemism for “not something people like you can probably do” because they are “lazy,” or “lacking in work ethic,” or “flighty,” or whatever, against members of your own social class…. heard it to the point where it actually *is* fighting words for you at this point…. you’re probably less working-class than you thought you were. Er, if you did think you were, that is. I certainly have, plenty of times. Approximately infinity of times, mostly because I “pass” as upper middle class, no matter who I grew up riding the bus with, going to Sunday School with, and competing with for shitty agricultural and other menial jobs with before getting into a flash college changed my life. No matter how many weeks we didn’t have anything to eat but soup and crackers when I was a kid. (Sorry mom, I know you aren’t reading this but I still feel bad for saying it, I know it would bug you.) No matter, quite frankly, what significantly smaller percentage my salary is of any of yours. No matter whether part of that is because I’ve chosen to stay in a job where I can support and mentor other working-class teenagers so they get the leg up I did. I pass as upper-middle-class. Sometimes in some circles, I pass as upper class. (It helps to read a lot. They never think working class people might’ve read a lot.)

              So I hear this stuff, all the time. And I’ve heard *that exact phrase* plenty of times, over the last 35 years. “Oh, I wasn’t calling them frivolous.” “Oh, I wasn’t calling them lazy.” “Oh, I wasn’t …” Yes. Sure. Except the “I” in question? Totally was. By my read, Saul was here, too, whether he meant it with humor, or not. He doesn’t have the fishing standing to mock the working class.

              For Saul, it’s part of a pattern of being snarky and dismissive and full of … ignorance … about people who aren’t upper middle-class. Over and over. It’s a thing he does that I’ve censored him, and complained at him, and even point-blank threatened to suspend him – one of the site’s writers! – for, many times.

              Kolohe’s gloss, that he was just being cheeky and indicating the workers were too busy, is quite charming, and that gloss *would* be an accurate statement, and I would love to believe that’s what Saul meant. I like Saul, I think he has a lot to contribute here, and I often agree with him about stuff. I would vastly prefer to believe he doesn’t look down on anybody. But that’s not how he speaks. And it’s a thing I really want him to learn to stop doing, and I’m not going to drop it until he does. I wasn’t kidding when I told Dan D that I was banning him, that he was 90 million miles over the line, AND that I also felt quite a bit of the same class rage he claimed as an excuse for his completely unacceptable behavior.

              And I don’t really want to have an in-depth group conversation every time I warn someone off of being uncivil either. Like, if you’re really worried, yes, please talk to me here, better yet email me or the inquiry editors, whatever. But I wish you all (regardless of perspective or who I am calling out) would extend to me some trust that I really *do* read every comment here, I really *do* have some motivation other than boredom for reacting critically to the tone / phraseology used, and that if you don’t see it, it’s not necessarily your job to critique me for it. It’s good that you tell me you don’t agree, really it is, but it’s not super-good if you treat me like I’m dumb for having that reaction.

              If you don’t understand, and you want to know, you could try saying something like “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what the problem is,” (thank you, , for taking that approach), instead of telling me I’m being snarky or issuing your very own nihil obstat or just explaining stuff to me like I hadn’t considered the basic reasons why communism doesn’t work.

              I mean, you don’t have to. But it would help. A lot. Especially on days when I spend more time trying to help make the website go than anything else except sleeping.

              You all have so many better things to talk about than whether or not what I’m doing makes sense to you, ennit?

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              • because controlling the means of production is a serious time commitment and responsibility

                I’m gonna push back here, and hard. This means I am going to defend Saul here, which is a trip, considering how often he & I are at loggerheads.

                First off, let’s not compare poverty bonafides, because unlike Saul, I did grow up one missed paycheck away from homelessness or hunger (mom could stretch the hell out of PB&J and various canned goods, because needs must).

                That said, reading that as an offensive statement akin to calling people ‘Lazy’ requires having it placed in context, a very specific context. Because the reality is, controlling the means of production (TMOP) IS a serious commitment of time & responsibility. Not everyone can do it. The vast majority of people can not do it. They lack the education and/or the time. Or they just straight up have other commitments that are more important to them.

                Now, if Saul had been telling a specific person, or group of persons, that they probably couldn’t control TMOP because etc., you’d have a firm foundation for the criticism, but he didn’t. He said they don’t want to, because etc. And that makes sense. This is not about telling them they can’t, it’s stating that they are making a choice about how they want to live. If they wanted to control TMOP, they would, but they don’t, because they have other things they’d rather be doing than trying to control TMOP. They want to raise their kids, or retire soon, or focus on their hobby, or a thousand other things that people want to do with their lives besides run TMOP.

                Your whole criticism is misplaced, it exists in a context that you have manufactured through an incredibly uncharitable read. I strongly urge you to step back and take a deep breath, and re-examine the context of Saul’s comment.

                PS I also suggest you think more about what DensityDuck said the other day, and perhaps dial back the offense-o-meter, because IMHO, it’s been going off a lot lately.

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                • Thank you. I think what Loomis is getting at is his general critique of leftist politics in general and why they often fail. Or at least fail in the American context. Loomis grew up working-class as well. In Loomis’ view and research, workers generally want decent wages and more time. They generally don’t want to become management for the reasons you listed.

                  Radicals who talk about workers seizing control of the means of production often come from the same class that frequently produces people who get MBAs.

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                  • FWIW, I agree with this piece of things. And while I continue to think you should exercise more care in dropping hot-button disrespectful phrases into your comments, I also didn’t need to be disrespectful in how I called your attention to that. I should have just told you I found that phrasing disrespectful, and why, rather than implying you were doing it on purpose. I know you aren’t.

                    I apologize. It’s not an excuse, but I’ve been having a helluva week. Mostly not in the good way.

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                • Then maybe the difference is that you listen to upper-middle-class people talking about the working class less I do, – oh, the mixed joys of working in private academia, among other reasons – because I literally have heard it infinity times (and confronted it sometimes when I heard it, other times, no it wasn’t really safe). I’m not “making up” that that is how it is usually used, by people with basically Saul’s background. “serious time commitment” that “we” upper-middle-class or richer people can make, but choose not to, and that “they” cannot, and not because they are busy working, etc., but because it’s the sort of serious pursuit that is good for “us” but not for “them.” That “they” just aren’t *into*, not because they have no time or energy, or because their lives are already about 10X harder than “ours”, but because they’re just… different. Lesser. Not capable. Those. Exact. Phrases.

                  I didn’t manufacture the context, it exists. Saul’s given me reason to frame his remark in that context through literally years of exactly that pattern, including remarks made this week, this past month, this past year, whatever time frame you want. My original complaint was FAR less blunt and angry than this because I wasn’t feeling all that blunt or angry. I *like* Saul. I like the most recent post he’s written for us even *though* it came from a comment that originally made me wince (the post is better).

                  I just wanted him to look at how he was talking because he always damn drops crap like this into otherwise interesting comments. And if I, in my insulated pleasant more-or-less upper-middle-class existence find it offensive, I can promise y’all that almost any male person where I came up from would see it as a slap in the face. And write him off because of it. (I mean, most people of either gender would ask why I was even bothering with trying to change him, but that’s another thing…)

                  Also, given that you are a fellow site editor, if you have problems with my moderation choices, I would vastly prefer you to address them *with the editorial board* and/or me and/or the rest of them not including me, rather than starting a trend of criticizing me in front of god and everybody. And then insisting on it when I respond that I would really rather you (and others) *not* do that, especially on a week where the site is needing a lot of extra TLC behind the scenes.

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                  • And if I, in my insulated pleasant more-or-less upper-middle-class existence find it offensive, I can promise y’all that almost any male person where I came up from would see it as a slap in the face.

                    But, as best I can tell, you’re the only one who felt there was something offensive there. And I didn’t come from wealth, not in any sense. I was the first member of my family to go to college (well, technically Mom beat me but she started when I was in High School)

                    No one else seems to be reading it the way you are, nor is there any indication that Saul meant it that way.

                    I took it to mean the exact sort of reasons why I have no interest in doing independent contracting, preferring to be a full time employee. I’d probably make more money doing the former, but…it requires a lot of time and effort I don’t feel is well spent.

                    The same reason I’ve never felt the urge to open my own business. It just doesn’t appeal to me. The headaches don’t seem worth the rewards.

                    Lots of people disagree, and do work as independent contractors, own car dealerships or restaurants, etc. But then, lots of people see it my way too.

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                    • I’ve banned – or chased off from commenting, or made it really clear they shouldn’t nitpick other commenter’s comments when faced with such statements, by expecting them to meet our bourgeois standards of politeness – plenty of the people who might feel there was something offensive there. Like, as recently as *this week*.

                      To be as blunt as I can be.

                      And, again, this has nothing to do with whether I think workers mostly would prefer to be venture capitalists. (I think a lot of them WOULD prefer to be entrepreneurs although that is a slightly separate question.) I had no problem with anything else Saul said. I mostly agree with what Saul said.

                      That phrase, though, is literally a phrase that Brahmin types use to justify all sorts of selfish, awful, stereotypical 1 percent behavior, literally a phrase I’ve heard over and over in those contexts, and it is disrespectful to the rest of us. I didn’t read Saul up and down for using it, I specifically *asked him* whether he didn’t see that. I was waiting for him to answer me and otherwise I was going to leave it alone. I did feel trolled by it, which is why I brought it up again when he started complaining that Jaybird was trolling.

                      Obviously he didn’t, obviously most of you don’t, fine. I’m not going to respond further to people arguing about it since many of you obviously feel that me objecting was way out of line. But I would still appreciate it if me trying to interact with people I feel are being objectionable, whether small scale or large, didn’t almost always result in a pile-on about how I’m not being fair and/or I’m not being hard enough on said person.

                      I think that’s a reasonable thing to want, albeit probably not a reasonable thing to expect.

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                      • That phrase, though, is literally a phrase that Brahmin types use to justify all sorts of selfish, awful, stereotypical 1 percent behavior

                        This kind of slipped by me on the first read, and I’d like to swing back to it (particularly ‘Brahmin types’) because I think this is material to the issue.

                        IIRC, the argument would go something like this:

                        The working class doesn’t want to control TMOP because they are the working class by nature. Their nature is such that they are not in possession of the necessary personality/character traits that would allow them to ascend to leadership positions within an organization.

                        In short, they are working class because they are cattle. Capable, thinking cattle, but a class of people who need to be led, and are thus incapable of true leadership.

                        If I have that right, it’s still a question of ability versus agency, as the Brahmin ideal grants the working class no agency with regard to whether or not they would want to lead and organization. And as such, I still think you are giving Saul an incredibly uncharitable read.

                        Maybe I’m wrong, and Saul has somewhere on these pages expressed opinions more in line with Brahmists, but TTBOMK, Saul is a good liberal, and doesn’t buy into such predestination tripe.

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                        • Let. Us. Stop. Litigating. This. In. Public.

                          If nothing else, you’re asking / pushing me to be *far* more critical of and hostile to Saul (whom, again, I value), simply by the lengthy nature of this conversation, than I had any intention of being. You’re turning a grumpy moderator-nudge into a lengthy public argument.

                          And on the second half, this is the second day in a row I’ve spent more time on website stuff than anything other than sleeping and work. (Hey, at least I spent more time on work than on website stuff today!) If you don’t have time to take it up behind the scenes, don’t take it up with me here. I already said I was done.

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                  • I spent 5 years running the computer labs at the UW business school, I’ve heard all manner of ignorant crap from that class of academics. But that is besides the point.

                    The fact that Saul can be an offensively upper middle class elitist at times is also besides the point. Trust me, I feel that as much as you do (it’s one of the reasons we are at loggerheads so often).

                    But wrong is still wrong. Your complaint was regarding the ability of the working class, Saul’s comment was clearly phrased to be regarding the agency of the working class. These are two different things. And I can guarantee you if I posted that phrasing to my FB wall and asked the numerous working class folks from home about it, the number who would take offense would be zero, because none of them want the hassle of actually managing large businesses. And the few that do want to, already are.

                    This also has nothing to do with your moderation tasks. You publicly jumped on Saul, I publicly pushed back because I felt the push back was warranted. That said, my PS was out of line. My apologies. If I have time in the next few days, I will bring this up behind the scenes.

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                • I just want to push back on the push back slightly, and state for the record that moderation is literally a thankless task, and people in general should give the broadest deference to & minimum questioning of those who wish to do that task. (Esp w/o financial renumeration, as I believe to be the case)

                  One could even say that moderating an internet forum is a serious time commitment and resposibilty that almost no one actually wants to do. (But everyone has an opinion on how other people should do it)

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                  • This is absolutely right — no one on the editorial board is compensated for their work, comment moderation is actively unpleasant, and anything done with regard to comment moderation (including doing nothing) earns criticism. Which is why when y’all play nice we appreciate it so very very much. (Which, mostly, is what happens.)

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                  • Thank you .

                    And yes, if anyone is wondering, no remuneration offered nor required to anyone who edits, writes, moderates, etc., for this website. (Sometimes thanks given, suprisingly enough, for moderation. This is not required, and it would be more stressful than not if it became common, but it’s nonetheless always appreciated on the rare occasions it happens; it’s very rare that people are thanked for even the most amazing job of moderation, which mine is certainly not.)

                    And I agree with Burt that for the most part everyone *is* remarkably thoughtful and kind with each other, which *is* greatly appreciated.

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                  • I’d also like to chime in and note that while I still don’t really get the offense in this circumstance I am aware of keenly aware of the sisyphussian and thankless nature of moderating and appreciate Maribou’s efforts.

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                • Leaving Saul out of it, the people who control the means of production are not the ones who are in management, per se.

                  They’re the ones who own significant stock in companies and/or sit on the boards of directors (this usually but not always includes CEOs). And, I suppose, in this regulatory age, certain politicians and high level civil servants. To some lesser degree, anyone whose financial security is mostly based on holding stock in companies (whether public or private).

                  Only a few of those people are “in management” in the traditional sense of the word.

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        • Just to be clear, the revolution/insurrection I’m predicting would almost certainly not be a leftist one. I’m guessing if and when that sort of thing happens, it’ll be as part of the dying gasp of the white majority, presumably as large portions of the population are ejected from the economy by the ramping up of mass automation.

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          • It’s also worth remembering how truly violent American history was, and how much has been sanitized to conceal white rage.

            Not just lynching, but the wholesale ethnic cleansing of nonwhite people and sometimes entire towns like Rosewood and Tulsa.

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            • It’s also worth remembering how truly violent American history was, and how much has been sanitized to conceal white rage.

              That’s a very interesting sentence, interesting framing. I agree. (I think Americans’ love-affair with violence is part of our cultural DNA.)

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              • Yep, me too.

                Sometimes when one of my friends (lovingly) makes fun of Canada’s propensity for working things out instead of just forcing decisions, I point out that a large part of our population is descended from people who kept leaving violence until they got to Canada, and didn’t have to. (“loyalists” aka people who didn’t want to fight the American Revolution being most certainly one of those groups.)

                Not that Canada doesn’t have its own sordid past and current issues with racism, esp. towards First Nations people, but overall our arc is toward avoiding violence in a way that I am constantly reminded is not the case in the US.

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        • @zac-black
          Yeah, I pretty much agree with both comments.
          FWIW, I don’t believe very many people hold coherent political ideologies the way we political types do.

          That is, no one really holds some abstract idea called “capitalism” dear. People like being able to buy and sell stuff, and also have the government step in when things get unpleasant, but step back when things are nice.

          This isn’t hypocrisy really; Its just a continuation of the historical norms where society had a hodge podge of open markets, monopolies, cartels and guilds. The rules were situational and conditional, changing constantly.

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  7. Whenever we look at what we *OUGHT* to do, the stuff we put on the scale is always “the best case scenario that assumes that everything works out perfect and we didn’t make any bad cultural assumptions”.

    It seems to me that it would be better off for everybody involved if we put “what happened the last 20 times we tried this?” on the scale.

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    • It really seems that there are a ton of incentives for members of the national security establishment to advocate for doing something, and very few for them to advocate for doing nothing. From there it’s almost night-follows-day that you get a lot of assumptions that interventions are judged on the basis of best case outcomes vs. the worst case if we do nothing.

      And there’s another round of that going on as we speak with people making the case for “limited strikes” against North Korea.

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    • Yea, my thinking is sort of along these lines…

      “What are we trying to do?”
      “How likely is it that we are going to be able to accomplish it?”
      “No… really… how likely is it that we are going to be able to accomplish it?”

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  8. One of the troubles with having such a massive global footprint is that it creates so large a target for enemies.

    In all these conflict areas, what will happen when one of our planes is shot down, or a troop convoy attacked, and our newsfeeds are filled with videos of young American men or women being beheaded?

    We already know the answer, I’m afraid.

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  9. I generally do not consider myself an isolationist and think that isolationism contains strong conoations of xenophobia and it is frankly impossible for the United States to be an isolationist country in a global world if we want to maintain or wealth and influence.

    That being said, military intervention is a bad idea in Syria.

    My preferred response to this kind of situations (impossible civil wars) is just a large grant of asylum to refugees and true humanitarian aid (helping run clean and safe centers for refugees). But this is seemingly impossible too.

    Leaders in both parties became addicted to the idea that the best way for America to help against tyrant abroad is through force and this is a horrible idea but one that is not shakeable from our politics.

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  10. What a mess. Here’s a couple thoughts/questions.

    1. Even as Trump made noises about the US not doing regime change and nation building anymore and focusing exclusively on terrorism, Tillerson has been hinting at regime change in Syria since early in the admin. My memory is that the first reference to deposing Assad (he didn’t say “deposing”) was only 6 weeks or so into the admin., so this doesn’t strike me as unexpected, at least coming from him.

    2. A strange thing about this admin, given Trump’s infatuation with self-promotion, is that even tho ISIS forces have been largely destroyed he’s never once mentioned that as a campaign promise kept or a Trumpian success. He takes credit for stock market gains in his first quarter in office yet won’t take credit for dinging ISIS? Weird.

    3. Nikki Haley and Tillerson seem to align more frequently on policy than Tillerson and Trump even tho Haley and Tillerson often don’t align at all. Who the hell is running the show over there? Seems like no one is.

    4. If no one in the admin is running the show but the objective of the US’ military role in ME have been made clear by Trump, who or what is compelling Tillerson to ramp up a war in Syria? During the campaign I mentioned that Trump would get us into one less war than Hillary implying that Trump would get us into at least one. That’s US presidential protocol anymore. At least one war. Is this that war? Or does Tillerson *actually* have enough power to ram thru an effort Trump specifically said he wouldn’t do? (This seems unlikely to me.)

    5. How does this play in terms of strategery? Is this a signal of a new strategy and set of goals? Is Tillerson trying to treat this as an isolated conflict zone? Is that even possible??? Does it align with Trump’s apparent play to cut Saudi Arabia loose in a broader fight against Iran?

    This makes no sense to me on any level other than perpetuating the MIC. From that pov it makes perfect sense.

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    • A strange thing about this admin, given Trump’s infatuation with self-promotion, is that even tho ISIS forces have been largely destroyed he’s never once mentioned that as a campaign promise kept or a Trumpian success. He takes credit for stock market gains in his first quarter in office yet won’t take credit for dinging ISIS? Weird.

      It probably hasn’t been discussed much on Fox and Friends.

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      • Brag about defeating ISIS once, you’re on the hook for the next Pulse shooting.

        (Not that the Pulse shooting was an ISIS shooting. Sure, the guy *CLAIMED* to be ISIS, but that doesn’t mean that he’s ISIS. Anybody can *CLAIM* to be ISIS. It doesn’t make them ISIS.)

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                • Trump, at cabinet meeting, had Gen. Mattis in the awkward photo op seat next to him today (Flake yesterday, empty chairs last week). Praised him for "knocking the hell out of" ISIS but added: "Of course, I made it possible by what I let you do, right?" Mattis replied, "Yes, sir."— David Nakamura (@DavidNakamura) December 6, 2017

                  Eh… he’s publicly commented plenty… even with his usual bluster. I’m wondering if we haven’t heard much because, its kinda true (much to our surprise)… but then, what does defeating ISIS even mean?

                  One of my core campaign promises to the American people was to defeat ISIS and to counter the spread of hateful ideology. That is why, in the first days of my Administration, I issued orders to give our commanders and troops on the ground the full authorities to achieve this mission. As a result, ISIS strongholds in Mosul and Raqqah have fallen. We have made, alongside our coalition partners, more progress against these evil terrorists in the past several months than in the past several years.

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                  • That’s interesting.

                    Because while my exposure to partisan Right Wing sources is limited, it’s enough that it makes it seem like even they don’t particularly care.

                    One of Scott Alexander’s better-known articles argues that really gets the attention is the stuff that’s disputed, not the stuff that is obviously true or obviously false.

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                    • “while my exposure to partisan Right Wing sources is limited…”

                      But the second link is from whitehouse.gov … oooh I see what you did there.

                      But yeah, I noted a few conservatives talking about the muted responses to this and just re-googled… its definitely been talked about, but not at the usual fevered level.

                      I suspect Alexander is probably on to something and I also blame Trump for not coming up with a good ISIS nickname… like Siss(y)ISIS, or shitburger ISIS or cant-even-afford-their-own-tanks-ISIS or whatever streams out of his brain onto twitter.

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          • It seems like conservatives have been true believers in the “bomb them over there so they don’t invade middle america and take our apple pie” strategy for quite a while. They certainly incessantly freaked about Obama not being bomby enough so it shouldn’t be a surprise we are staying in Syria. This is what they were aching for. They certainly seemed truly terrified of ISIS being around every corner.

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              • Yeah obama was tossed plenty of bombs. No news there. And yet it wasn’t enough. Conservatives wanted more troops and bombs. It should almost be clear that the BSDI narrative is clueless and the R’s ramping up use of force, even over far to high D levels, shouldn’t be a surprise.

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                  • One of the complaints was about how Obama bombed. He would have our planes drop warning leaflets hours in advance so that we wouldn’t risk injuring anybody working for ISIS, who after all could have been contractors. Obama knew what kind of grief the Rebel Alliance got for killing innocent contractors when they blew up the second Death Star while it was still under construction, and he wasn’t going to make the same mistake.

                    Putin finally bombed the heck out of the oil facilities that Obama wanted to leave intact for Syria’s “post-ISIS” future. Of course he also said the fight against ISIS in Syria would be a multi-generational conflict, so no telling when he thought that post-ISIS future was going to be.

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                • The seam Trump exploited to get the nomination was that not everyone on the right is pleased with the standard Republican policy of ‘more troops and more bombs solve all problems’

                  The con that Trump pulled over some of the alt-left was making them think that Trump would be less bomby and less troopy than Clinton.

                  Even Rush Limbaugh is saying these days that the Iraq War was a deep state plot.

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                  • True. Sadly the group of R’s who want less bombing is a minority. Many of the alt-left were suckers.

                    I did see the stuff from Rush about the Iraq intell being cooked to make a fool out of Bush. Just when you think your gob can’t be any more smacked by the mendacity and the ability of people to twist themselves into pretzels to sell a story there goes Rush. Also an actual sitting senator, Ron Johnson, not some nutball media personality, says there is a secret FBI society out to get Trump.

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                  • There were a few pivotal moments in Trump’s campaign, but criticizing Bush for not keeping us safe on 9/11 and calling the Iraq war the biggest mistake the US has ever made (or whatever) in a GOP primary debate may have been the biggest. Total repudiation of the GOP’s governing mythology.

                    Its stunning how quickly Rush can reverse himself to pander to his audience.

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    • re: 1,3,4 “Assad must go” was already the stated policy of the US government as far back in 2011. I do not know to what extent Tillerson’s view is from his own personal view, from influence among other administration officials (in the (broadly construed) Haley/McMaster camp), or from advice and lobbying from below within the State Department (and there too, either as a genuine policy preference or for continuity for its own sake)

      What’s completely bass ackwards is that the big cheese numero uno enchilada has not weighed in. Tillerson, the CENTCOM commander, a few others within the US government have all made public pronouncements on the ‘future of Syria’, but in any other administration, these policy trial balloons would have been followed by now by a top level announcement, or at least something jointly between SecDef and SecState. Because, as you say, nobody appears to be in charge of the whole thing of running the United States Government.

      What’s possibly worse is that nobody cares enough out here in the audience for the other alternative that happens frequently – a big push back against these trial balloons that causes the head honchos in the goverment to doff their Bad Idea Jeans for something better fitting

      re: 2

      https://twitter.com/KenDeuel/status/946214830045884416

      re 5 – a continuing US presence in Syria to counter Iranian and Russian influence & freedom movement is something the Axis of Orb definitely wants.

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      • Re: 5: I agree with you that SA will approve of a US presence on the ground in the region. But that presence is only beneficial to SA and the broader US goals SA is ostensibly trying to achieve if the US and SA work in tandem for those goals. Which means the US will be, what?, supporting SA in its efforts against Iran? Taking the lead? Is poorly disguised mission creep baked right into the cake?

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        • Yes?

          The US dealing with the KSA has always been a necessary if distasteful thing to keep the spice flowing They definitely had the upper hand in the 70s, but with the Iranian revolution and the USSR high water mark potentially presenting the biggest existential threat to the House of Saud in its history, they started to make nice to the USA again and the relationship was more equal, because both sides couldn’t afford to let it fail.

          What *should* happen now, though, between drill baby drill and the consumption side reduction improvements, what should happen is the US government telling the House of Saud to go pound sand (so to speak).

          But the one visible thing Trump has done, something he seems to be personally interested in, is giving a lot of political cover and direct US goverment support for all the various things the Crown Prince is juggling in the air right now (including ensuring he remains the Crown Prince)

          So it seems to me that the Trump Administration is willing to follow the lead of whatever the Saudi government is currently doing, as long as the commitment can stay within the normal resources allocated to CENTCOM.

          That’s not to say that the various people in the US govt that are saying “the US is staying in Syria” are doing so at the Saudi’s behest. Not at all. The various people in the US govt are saying what they are saying because 1) the mission was to defeat Daesh 2) Now that that’s done (in the places where its done), muscle memory (and official Army doctrine) says “ok, now its time to stay, ensure security, and rebuild”

          (we still have several hundred personnel(PDF) in Kosovo after now nearly 20 years)

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      • What’s possibly worse is that nobody cares enough out here in the audience for the other alternative that happens frequently – a big push back against these trial balloons that causes the head honchos in the goverment to doff their Bad Idea Jeans for something better fitting

        I stand corrected, Senator Cory Booker cares enough to push back the current Syria plan.

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  11. The US is pals with much worse characters than the current Syrian government tho.

    What “we” are doing there is destabilizing the country for the sake of garbage regional strategy having to do with resource access and a desire to screw with countries that won’t knuckle under to such. “We” never should have been there to begin with and “we” should leave immediately and stop doing such things again ever from now on.

    This isn’t about somehow liking Assad or apologizing for anything the Syrian government has done. It’s about the US having ZERO legitimate reason for involvement AT ALL, period.

    As for the Kurds, they never should have trusted the US to begin with. The alternative to the US leaving as it should though will be worse than what comes if “we” insist on staying.

    BTW: the royal “we” conflation of the actions of the US government with any kind of true mass influence, as if the endless war in several countries it wages is connected to a true informed Will of the People (rather than the ruling class making calls way beyond us, only turning to the plebes to serve up the grossest base propaganda possible or smear anyone questioning it at all) is a tragic falsehood the continued existence of which scraps against the inside of my skull & I wish it would die.

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