SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Quagmire Pattern

Ten Years into the Iraq War, the U.S. Repeats in Syria

The Quagmire Pattern always seems to play out the same way.

There’s a civil war in some country deemed by the CIA to be Of Strategic Importance (i.e., energy reserves, proximity to energy reserves, or potential pipeline route to carry energy reserves).

During this initial stage, a secular socialist dictatorship fights Muslim insurgents who want to create an Islamist theocracy. To build public support – or at least apathetic tolerance – the conflict is cast to and by the media as a struggle between tyrannical torturers and freedom-loving underdogs.

The U.S. must get involved!

If not us, who?

Alternative answers to this question – the European Union, the African Union, the United Nations, or nobody at all – what about self-determination? – are shrugged off. It is as if no one has said a word.

The Pentagon selects a rebel faction to support, typically the most radical (because they’re the most fanatical fighters), and sends them money and weapons and trainers.

It works. The regime falls. Yay!

Civil war ensues. Not so yay.

The craziest religious zealots are poised to prevail in this second stage. Because they’re militant and well-trained (by the U.S.). Suffering from buyers’/backers’ remorse, American policymakers have a change of heart. Pivoting 180 degrees, the U.S. now decides to back the most moderate faction (because they’re the most reasonable/most pro-business) among the former opposition.

Then the quagmire begins.

The trouble for Washington is, the radicals are still fanatical – and the best fighters. Minus outside intervention, they will win. So the U.S. pours in more help to their new moderate allies. More weapons. Bigger weapons. More money. Air support. Trainers. Ground troops. Whatever it takes to win an “honorable peace.” And install a moderate regime before withdrawing.

If they can withdraw.

The moderates, you see, never enjoyed the support of most of their country’s people. They didn’t earn their stripes in the war against the former regime. Because of U.S. help, they never had to up their game militarily. So they’re weak. Putting them in power isn’t enough. If the U.S. leaves, they collapse.

Boy, is the U.S. in a pickle now.

Americans troops are getting offed by a determined radical insurgency. The harder the Americans try to crush the nuts, the stronger and bigger they get (because excessive force by invaders radicalizes moderate – but patriotic – fence sitters). Moreover, their puppet allies are a pain in the ass. Far from being grateful, the stooges resent the fact that the U.S. armed their enemies during the original uprising against the fallen dictatorship. The puppet-puppetmaster relationship is inherently one characterized by mistrust.

Starting with the Carter and Reagan Administrations’ arming of the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the 1980s and continuing today with the ineffectual and ornery Hamid Karzai, the Quagmire Pattern is how the U.S. intervention unfolded in Afghanistan.

However, the American electorate isn’t told this. They are repeatedly told that abandonment – as opposed to isolationism – is the problem. “The decisive factor in terms of the rise of the Taliban and al-Qaida was the fact that the United States and most of the international community simply walked away and left it to Pakistan and to other more extremist elements to determine Afghanistan’s future in the ’90s,” claims James Dobbins, former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo in a standard retell of the Abandonment Narrative.

The logical implication, of course, is that the U.S. – er, the “international community” – shouldn’t have left Afghanistan in the early 1990s. We ought to have remained indefinitely. The problem with this argument is that we have been over there for 12 straight years, and have little to show for our efforts. (It also ignores history. The U.S. was involved in the 1996-2001 Afghan civil war. It helped both sides: weapons to the Northern Alliance, tens of millions of dollars to the Taliban.)

The Abandonment Narrative is total bullshit – but it has the force of media propagandizers behind it.

The Quagmire Pattern has played out in Afghanistan. And in Iraq. Again in Libya, where a weak central government propped up by the Obama Administration is sitting on its hands as Islamist militias engage in genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Now the Quagmire Pattern is unfolding again, this time in Syria. When the uprising against the secular socialist government of Bashar al-Assad began two years ago, the U.S. rushed in with money, trainers and indirect arms sales. Jihadis received most of the bang-bang goodies. Now people like Dobbins are arguing in favor of weapons transfers from Pentagon arms depots to the Syrian opposition. And President Obama is considering using sketchy allegations that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons – here we go again with the WMDs – as a pretext for invading Syria with ground troops.

Dobbins admits that there are “geopolitical risks,” including distracting ourselves from America’s other Big Possible Future War, against Iran. Yet he still wants to arm the Syrian rebels, who include members of Al Qaeda.

There is, he told NPR, “the possibility that the intervention wouldn’t work and that it would look like a failure.”

“Possibility”? Such interventions have never worked.

So why does he still want to give weapons to people who will probably wind up aiming them at American soldiers?

“I think the consequences of not acting and the risks of not acting are even greater.”

In other words: we do what we do because that’s what we do.

That’s how the Quagmire Pattern works.

(Ted Rall’s website is His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)


One thought on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Quagmire Pattern

  1. Beginning under President Monroe, the US acted, according to my history books, as a selfless, altruistic police force to maintain the rule of international law in Latin America against the threat of European aggressors. Later, I heard it called neo-Imperialism. Under either term, when US property rights were threatened, the US president was expected to send in the Marines to enforce those inalienable property rights. If a Latin American head of state, whether elected or not, threatened those property rights, he was, for US purposes, a brutal dictator who was violating the law, and the US Marines had to enforce the law, force regime change, and punish that brutal dictator severely. Logistics made that job easy. Europeans could not establish new mercantile colonies in Latin America nor sponsor governments that threatened US property rights in favour of the Europeans. The US could install, as head of state, a very weak leader who knew he had to protect all legitimate US interests, plus many questionable US interests, and do pretty much anything and everything the US told him to do if he wanted to remain head of state. Or, for that matter, alive.

    (In 1898, the US expanded to formal imperialism rather than neo-imperialism on a very limited scale. Kipling cheered while Twain denounced the change; however, the US was never much of an imperial power, but was always mostly neo-Imperial, helping a native of the neo-colony to become the nominally independent head of state, not installing an imperial governor or Viceroy as the Europeans had done in their mercantile colonies.)

    After World War II, the US demanded the dissolution of the European Empires, and tried to neo-colonise the countries formed from those empires. As in Latin America, they selected the weakest possible candidates for heads of state, so they would be compliant. Logistics were against the US outside Latin America, and so the world saw US disaster after US disaster.

    Vietnam kept Ford and Carter from engaging in war, but Reagan sent troops to Lebanon, and had the US Navy protect itself by shooting down an Iranian passenger warplane filled with jihadists that tried unsuccessfully to trick the US ship by flying away from it (clearly planning a suicide attack by backing into the ship), but Reagan wanted an unconditional victory over a major military power, and got it over Grenada.

    Bush, Sr could not be seen as a wimp, so he managed an equally successful victory over Panamá, but people (like Ben Sargent) scoffed.

    Then the logistics became favourable to the US with the fall of the USSR, so Bush, Sr had Albright tell Saddam that the US had no objection if Iraq wished to enforce its historical claim to Kuwait, then was able to defeat the entire Iraqi military and force them out of Kuwait in just 100 hours of ground war. (For which Bush, Sr was unceremoniously booted out of office in the next election.)

    Clinton won an overt war against the military powerhouse Serbia, to international accolades.

    Bush, Jr had the excuse of 9/11 for Afghanistan, the home of Osama, who one of the three principles responsible for 9/11, and Iraq, where Saddam had been the second of the three principles and who was preparing a second, much more devastating attack using WMD. (The absence of any facts supporting the guilt of Saddam and Iraq for 9/11 did not deter Bush, Jr, nor did it deter the majority of American voters from supporting the Iraq War from ’02 until ’06.)

    Bush, Jr wanted much more than the convincing 100 hour victory that did nothing for his father’s political career, and he got it. In 2004, the majority of American voters saw the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as essential, and saw Bush, Jr as a great president for prosecuting them well and for keeping America safe, and he easily won reelection. That aura was completely lost by 2006, but Bush, Jr could not be re-elected, so by then it didn’t matter.

    Obama had to show that, unlike Bush, Jr, he could win a war cheaply, and won the Libyan War without the loss of a single US life (one cannot count the four killed by insurgents after the unconditional victory).

    For some inexplicable reasons, now that the USSR is gone, the US has not employed either covert or overt force to return Cuba and Venezuela to the US neo-colonial sphere. Which, one would have thought, would have taken priority over neo-colonising the Middle East.

    Hence, one must conclude that the baksheesh was better in Asia than in Latin America.