Blogs: Paul Pillar

We Have Met the Source of Questionable Strategy and He Is Us

Paul Pillar

Another recurring pattern in the American public philosophy that is not unique to the issue of terrorism but has been been especially apparent with it is that, simply put, any problem has a feasible solution, and that it is within the power of the United States to achieve that solution. If a serious problem persists, according to this view, then it is only because incumbent U.S. policy-makers have lacked the will or the smarts to find and implement the right solution. This mindset will be the basic source of disappointment with any expectation of “destroying” a terrorist group rather than just degrading or containing it.

The same mindset also keeps knocking up against reality in Syria, where there have been no good solutions, for the United States any more than for others to implement. Here is where we hear another recurring “if only”argument from opponents of the administration, to the effect that if only more aid had been given earlier to “moderate” oppositionists, extremists such as ISIS would not have become as much of a problem as they have. This search for, and focus on, the elusive moderates has been such a salient issue for so long that it is a safe bet that it has been one of the most exhaustively studied topics for the administration, well before this week's presidential speech. Among the realities that any such study would have uncovered are that what passes for a moderate Syrian opposition has always been badly divided and lacking in internal support, that the dynamics of civil warfare inherently favor the less inhibited—by definition, less moderate—elements, that it is almost impossible to provide material aid to such elements without some of that aid making its way (as it already has) into the hands of the very forces such as ISIS that we want to counter, and that there is no way of squaring the circle of beating back ISIS without effectively aiding the Syrian regime that we also supposedly would like to be defeated.

But in a larger anti-ISIS arena in which good solutions also may be hard to come by, and in which the popular and political American resistance to reintroducing U.S. combat troops is still a major factor, we keep coming back by default to this business of trying to aid “moderate” Syrian rebels. Congressional pusillanimity plays a significant role here: members of neither party want to vote before midterm elections on an authorization to use U.S. military forces, but supporting anything about aiding the proverbial moderates in Syria is a no-U.S.-boots-on-the-ground way for members to show their anti-ISIS enthusiasm. Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, commented that “since there has been bipartisan support for arming the moderate opposition,” maybe the administration gave it a prominent place in its anti-ISIS package “because they thought this is the one piece that they could get a lot of congressional buy-in on without doing a lot of selling” He's probably right.

Yep, there is a lot in that package that deserves questioning and criticism. In searching for the reasons why, most Americans ought to look first not at the man in the White House but instead in the mirror. 

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The Latest Cost of Islamophobia

Paul Pillar

Another recurring pattern in the American public philosophy that is not unique to the issue of terrorism but has been been especially apparent with it is that, simply put, any problem has a feasible solution, and that it is within the power of the United States to achieve that solution. If a serious problem persists, according to this view, then it is only because incumbent U.S. policy-makers have lacked the will or the smarts to find and implement the right solution. This mindset will be the basic source of disappointment with any expectation of “destroying” a terrorist group rather than just degrading or containing it.

The same mindset also keeps knocking up against reality in Syria, where there have been no good solutions, for the United States any more than for others to implement. Here is where we hear another recurring “if only”argument from opponents of the administration, to the effect that if only more aid had been given earlier to “moderate” oppositionists, extremists such as ISIS would not have become as much of a problem as they have. This search for, and focus on, the elusive moderates has been such a salient issue for so long that it is a safe bet that it has been one of the most exhaustively studied topics for the administration, well before this week's presidential speech. Among the realities that any such study would have uncovered are that what passes for a moderate Syrian opposition has always been badly divided and lacking in internal support, that the dynamics of civil warfare inherently favor the less inhibited—by definition, less moderate—elements, that it is almost impossible to provide material aid to such elements without some of that aid making its way (as it already has) into the hands of the very forces such as ISIS that we want to counter, and that there is no way of squaring the circle of beating back ISIS without effectively aiding the Syrian regime that we also supposedly would like to be defeated.

But in a larger anti-ISIS arena in which good solutions also may be hard to come by, and in which the popular and political American resistance to reintroducing U.S. combat troops is still a major factor, we keep coming back by default to this business of trying to aid “moderate” Syrian rebels. Congressional pusillanimity plays a significant role here: members of neither party want to vote before midterm elections on an authorization to use U.S. military forces, but supporting anything about aiding the proverbial moderates in Syria is a no-U.S.-boots-on-the-ground way for members to show their anti-ISIS enthusiasm. Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, commented that “since there has been bipartisan support for arming the moderate opposition,” maybe the administration gave it a prominent place in its anti-ISIS package “because they thought this is the one piece that they could get a lot of congressional buy-in on without doing a lot of selling” He's probably right.

Yep, there is a lot in that package that deserves questioning and criticism. In searching for the reasons why, most Americans ought to look first not at the man in the White House but instead in the mirror. 

Pages

Realism Versus Political Correctness in Opposing ISIS

Paul Pillar

Another recurring pattern in the American public philosophy that is not unique to the issue of terrorism but has been been especially apparent with it is that, simply put, any problem has a feasible solution, and that it is within the power of the United States to achieve that solution. If a serious problem persists, according to this view, then it is only because incumbent U.S. policy-makers have lacked the will or the smarts to find and implement the right solution. This mindset will be the basic source of disappointment with any expectation of “destroying” a terrorist group rather than just degrading or containing it.

The same mindset also keeps knocking up against reality in Syria, where there have been no good solutions, for the United States any more than for others to implement. Here is where we hear another recurring “if only”argument from opponents of the administration, to the effect that if only more aid had been given earlier to “moderate” oppositionists, extremists such as ISIS would not have become as much of a problem as they have. This search for, and focus on, the elusive moderates has been such a salient issue for so long that it is a safe bet that it has been one of the most exhaustively studied topics for the administration, well before this week's presidential speech. Among the realities that any such study would have uncovered are that what passes for a moderate Syrian opposition has always been badly divided and lacking in internal support, that the dynamics of civil warfare inherently favor the less inhibited—by definition, less moderate—elements, that it is almost impossible to provide material aid to such elements without some of that aid making its way (as it already has) into the hands of the very forces such as ISIS that we want to counter, and that there is no way of squaring the circle of beating back ISIS without effectively aiding the Syrian regime that we also supposedly would like to be defeated.

But in a larger anti-ISIS arena in which good solutions also may be hard to come by, and in which the popular and political American resistance to reintroducing U.S. combat troops is still a major factor, we keep coming back by default to this business of trying to aid “moderate” Syrian rebels. Congressional pusillanimity plays a significant role here: members of neither party want to vote before midterm elections on an authorization to use U.S. military forces, but supporting anything about aiding the proverbial moderates in Syria is a no-U.S.-boots-on-the-ground way for members to show their anti-ISIS enthusiasm. Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, commented that “since there has been bipartisan support for arming the moderate opposition,” maybe the administration gave it a prominent place in its anti-ISIS package “because they thought this is the one piece that they could get a lot of congressional buy-in on without doing a lot of selling” He's probably right.

Yep, there is a lot in that package that deserves questioning and criticism. In searching for the reasons why, most Americans ought to look first not at the man in the White House but instead in the mirror. 

Pages

Obama's Burden and Rhetorical Asymmetry

Paul Pillar

Another recurring pattern in the American public philosophy that is not unique to the issue of terrorism but has been been especially apparent with it is that, simply put, any problem has a feasible solution, and that it is within the power of the United States to achieve that solution. If a serious problem persists, according to this view, then it is only because incumbent U.S. policy-makers have lacked the will or the smarts to find and implement the right solution. This mindset will be the basic source of disappointment with any expectation of “destroying” a terrorist group rather than just degrading or containing it.

The same mindset also keeps knocking up against reality in Syria, where there have been no good solutions, for the United States any more than for others to implement. Here is where we hear another recurring “if only”argument from opponents of the administration, to the effect that if only more aid had been given earlier to “moderate” oppositionists, extremists such as ISIS would not have become as much of a problem as they have. This search for, and focus on, the elusive moderates has been such a salient issue for so long that it is a safe bet that it has been one of the most exhaustively studied topics for the administration, well before this week's presidential speech. Among the realities that any such study would have uncovered are that what passes for a moderate Syrian opposition has always been badly divided and lacking in internal support, that the dynamics of civil warfare inherently favor the less inhibited—by definition, less moderate—elements, that it is almost impossible to provide material aid to such elements without some of that aid making its way (as it already has) into the hands of the very forces such as ISIS that we want to counter, and that there is no way of squaring the circle of beating back ISIS without effectively aiding the Syrian regime that we also supposedly would like to be defeated.

But in a larger anti-ISIS arena in which good solutions also may be hard to come by, and in which the popular and political American resistance to reintroducing U.S. combat troops is still a major factor, we keep coming back by default to this business of trying to aid “moderate” Syrian rebels. Congressional pusillanimity plays a significant role here: members of neither party want to vote before midterm elections on an authorization to use U.S. military forces, but supporting anything about aiding the proverbial moderates in Syria is a no-U.S.-boots-on-the-ground way for members to show their anti-ISIS enthusiasm. Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, commented that “since there has been bipartisan support for arming the moderate opposition,” maybe the administration gave it a prominent place in its anti-ISIS package “because they thought this is the one piece that they could get a lot of congressional buy-in on without doing a lot of selling” He's probably right.

Yep, there is a lot in that package that deserves questioning and criticism. In searching for the reasons why, most Americans ought to look first not at the man in the White House but instead in the mirror. 

Pages

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