Fear of showing weakness is itself a weakness


Why is President Obama arming proxy armies in Syria to fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) and the Assad government, despite warnings from his advisers that such policies have not worked in the past?

I think he is following in the footsteps of American presidents for the past 50 years, who have waged war and sponsored covert operations not to protect the American people and not in all cases to further the interests of U.S.-based corporations, but to avoid the appearance of seeming week.

Take the Vietnam Conflict.  Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson are now known to have had misgivings about military intervention in Vietnam.  What they feared was the effect on American prestige of suffering a defeat, and the effect on their own popularity of having “lost” a country to Communism.

When Richard M. Nixon was became President in 1969, he inherited the Vietnam War, he was not responsible for the hopeless situation, yet he kept on fighting nevertheless.  What was wanted, according to Henry Kissinger, was to save the USA and the Nixon administration from humiliation by having a “decent interval” between the withdrawal of the last American troops and the triumph of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese.

Our country would have been better off if Presidents Kennedy and Johnson had never committed the United States to defending South Vietnam, or if President Nixon had wound up the war quickly.  Our nation would not have been so divided, our military would not have been demoralized and our leaders would not have been preoccupied for the next 40 years with wiping out the humiliation of that defeat.

Or take the 35-year cold war waged by the United States against Iran.  I see no inherent conflict of interest between the governments of Iran and the United States.  In fact, Iran and the USA share common enemies in Al Qaeda and its successor, the Islamic State (ISIS).  But for the United States to reconcile with Iran would seem weak, after the humiliation suffered by the taking of U.S. embassy personnel as hostages by Iranian radicals in 1979.  It is that, more than any public interest or business interest, that prevents the United States from seeking peace with Iran.

When Barack Obama starting his campaign for President in 2007, he said he was not necessarily against war, but only against fighting “stupid wars”.   He does not, unlike Senator John McCain, talk like someone eager for war.

Yet he supported the useless surge of troops in Afghanistan, he supported the unprovoked attack on Libya, and he backs a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine.

Now he wants to intervene in the Syrian civil war not on one side, but against both mail sides, the government and the rebels.

We the American people do not wish to send our loved ones to fight unless we see the necessity.  So the Obama administration looks for substitutes for troops on the ground—flying killer drones, special operations teams and foreign proxies.

Foreigners have no reason to be loyal to the United States, and their aims are not unnecessarily aligned with those of the U.S. government.  But supporting foreign fighters is a way of appearing strong while minimizing the sacrifice of American lives.  Except that the whole world understands the difference between being strong and trying to appear strong.

Acting out of fear of seeming weak is itself an indicator of weakness.  Starting fights you are not prepared to finish is not a sign of strength.  President Nixon once said he was not willing to see the United States be a “pitiful, helpless giant.”   But that is what our country is becoming, as we exhaust our strength in needless war.


Obama Knew Arming Rebels Was Useless, But Did It Anyway by Dan Froomkin for The Intercept.

The CIA says that this trick never works.  So why do we keep doing it? by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire.

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