Rand Paul: A Brief History of Misbegotten U.S. Intervention in the Arab World. Including the Next One in Syria.


Daily Beast

Update: Those "good" Syrian rebels Sen. McCain met with? They're apparently kidnappers of Lebanese Shi'ite pilgrims.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) takes to the web pages of to caution against facile arming of Syrian rebels. Snippets:

The situation in Syria is certainly dire. At least 70,000 people have died, and al Qaeda is making confirmed inroads into the country. No one wants to see Syria become a bastion of extremism. But like other American interventions in the past, U.S. involvement could actually help the extremists.

Paul gives a quick tour of recent interventions in Iraq and Libya. He notes that the U.S.—under Republicans and Democrats alike—have often reneged on promises and created more problems than they solved. For instance, in 2009, various senators pushed for reconciliation with Qaddafi and Obama himself agreed. Then:

By 2011, President Obama was arming Libyan rebels and ordering airstrikes to overthrow Gadhafi. Some of the president's most vocal supporters were the same Republicans who traveled to Libya two years before to help Libya's strongman acquire military equipment. Sen. McCain said of the Libyan rebels: "I have met with these brave fighters, and they are not al Qaeda. … To the contrary: They are Libyan patriots who want to liberate their nation. We should help them do it."

We did help them, something I opposed on the Senate floor as an unconstitutional overreach by the executive branch. We now have reason to believe that the Libyan rebels did contain elements of al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists.

Whole thing here. 

Read it as Sen. John McCain regains his maverickiness by saying our weapons will only help "the right people" and The Syrian Transition Support Act wends its way through Congress. But don't worry, because we will only helping good people overseas, and lord knows we've really neglected the Middle East over the past couple of days.

In February, Paul gave a major foreign policy speech at the Heritage Foundation. "Containment and Radical Islam" laid out a vision for engagement that was neither stupidly isolationist nor stupidly militaristic. Which is to say, it doesn't serve what's become the U.S. status quo over the past many decades. But to paraphrase Gandhi talking about Western civilization, wouldn't a realistic, humble foreign policy be a good idea?

NEXT: Austrian Econ Geek (and Wrestler!) Glenn "Kane" Jacobs Speaks Out on Possible Senate Bid

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  1. But guys, Ghassan Hitto is just a mild-mannered telecom exec from Dallas who wants to help the Muslim Brotherhood help the Syrian people! He speaks English and watches TMZ, for Muhammed’s sake!

  2. Yesterday, John wrote about how much of the really nasty violence accompanying Islamic terrorism is being promoted by Wahhabist clerics – the priests of the Saudi state religion.

    Absent decades of U.S. aid, and military support, the Saudi monarchy would have long collapsed and the clerics would be fighting for control of the peninsula rather than spreading their poison outwards.

    The U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East consists of giving its cultural enemies money to keep them as ‘allies’, while turning a blind eye to the betrayals these ‘allies’ commit.

    1. Yup. We let the Saudi monarchy convince us they were indispensable. Meanwhile, they were letting their radicals export their ideology to keep it from going after them.

      1. They are indispensible; they have a knife at the throat of the U.S. economy: they insist on payment in dollars for OPEC oil.

        The moment people around the world can satisfy their desire for oil in currencies other than the dollar, it’s game over for the U.S.

        Yet another short term disaster we can thank Nixon/LBJ/JFK for.

        1. South Texas, North Dakota, and Canada are doing a lot to reduce dependence on OPEC.

          Now if only the administration would allow LNG export, Russia’s influence in Europe could be crushed.

          1. It’s not dependence on OPEC that matters…

            It’s the global demand for USD. That demand is significantly the product of a desire to buy oil by foreigners who wouldn’t touch USD’s otherwise.

            1. This sounds way too Alex Jonesy.

              1. No, fear of the dollar losing its reserve currency status is pretty widespread among the non-tinfoil-hat set, too. It’s a legitimate fear. The more the Fed monkeys around with quantitative easing, the more other countries are going to work to find ways around the dollar.

        2. The moment people around the world can satisfy their desire for oil in currencies other than the dollar, it’s game over for the U.S

          Yep, that’s the keystone to the US Empire.

          The real question is what would happen to the house of Saud if they tried to back out of their role.

          My guess is they wouldn’t be long for this world.

    2. the Saudi monarchy would have long collapsed and the clerics would be fighting for control

      In other words, another Iran.

    3. Qutbism is also a major pro-jihad factor. It is a less clerical and more religio-intellectual movement that explicitly hates the west for its freedoms.

      1. No it isn’t. Has any Johadist cited Qutb as an inspiration?

  3. One the biggest reasons why we always fuck up these interventions is that we have a military and foreign policy establishment that thinks that the only people who know anything about an area are people from that area who wear suits and act just like them. For example, anyone on the ground in Iraq in March of 2003 figured out in about a day that all of civil society and government was collapsing with Saddam and any idea that we could just go to Baghdad, cut off the head, put in some new top men, and go home was fantasy. But the top men at DOD and State actually thought this. Why? Because they were not talking to actual Iraqis. They were talking to guys in suits who were exiles and had various agendas or hadn’t been in the country in 20 years. But hey they looked and acted like top men so they must know the score.

    In Afghanistan rather than just invading the place, we relied upon the Northern Alliance, which was a minority of the country who wanted to kill the majority Pashtuns. The Pashtuns didn’t like the Taliban either. But they supported them initially because they were the only people willing to enforce order and keep the Northern Alliance from slaughtering the Pashtuns. So what did we do? Used the Norther Alliance to take over the country, didn’t catch Bin Ladin and since we had so few people on the ground, allowed our own allies to slaughter thousands of Pashtuns. And we wonder to this day why the Pashtuns still don’t like us.

    1. I read an Army War College thesis that argued that the Pashtuns, if left alone, would eventually turn on the Taliban, because the Taliban mistreatment of women violated Pashtunwali (the moral/legal code of the Pashtun).

      As a person who vocally argues that the US should end its interventions unilaterally, one could naturally think I beleive that if the U.S. walks away, the Pashtun would eventually kick out the Taliban.

      But it doesn’t work that way; every war, every intervention makes a mark on the cultures involved. In the case of Afghanistan, the Pashtun culture will never be the same, and going forward will likely be far more accommodating of the Taliban’s psychotic variant of Wahhabism.

      1. We had to get Bin Ladin. We could not have just left Afghanistan alone in October of 2001. But looking back on it, Rumsfeld’s strategy was incredibly stupid. It worked if the point was to throw out the Taliban. But that wasn’t the point. The point was to kill or capture the people who did 9-11. And for that it was a horrible strategy. The Afghans were not organized enough to catch a single guy like that. To do that, you needed a real army.

        Meanwhile, in the long term it really failed as a way to get rid of the Taliban. We ended up putting hundreds of thousands of troops in anyway, which was what the original strategy was supposed to prevent. So what exactly did the strategy accomplish beyond letting the Northern Alliance slaughter a few thousand Pashtuns in December of 01.

        People bitch about Iraq. But Iraq is going to turn out okay. Looking back, it was Afghanistan that Bush and Rumsfeld in particular fucked up.

        1. So what exactly did the strategy accomplish

          It left troops free to invade Iraq.

          Looking back, it was Afghanistan that Bush and Rumsfeld in particular fucked up.

          Because Iraq was their real goal.

          If we had never invaded Iraq and concentrated on Afghanistan, we could have booted the Taliban and captured/killed Bin Laden much sooner, and brought the troops home a decade ago.

          1. Iraq was not their real goal. That is a myth. Read the various books that have come out since. Bush said upfront Afghanistan had to be dealt with and didn’t entertain any talk about Iraq in 01.

            What happened was two things. First, the US military and foreign policy establishments were terrified to go into Afghanistan after what happened to the Soviets there. Second, Rumsfeld was a fanatic about the Revolution in Military Affairs. He totally believed that there was no reason to have large ground forces any more and everything could be done with special forces and air power. He was dying to try out his theories and use their success as a justification to get rid of a large Army.

            So you have a job that has to be done, a military and foreign policy establishment that are terrified to do it and a renegade SEC DEF who is fanatically committed to doing it without using an Army and has a plan for doing so.

            Given those dynamics, it is no surprise at all that we did it the way we did. There was no conspiracy about Iraq.

            1. Given those dynamics, it’s amazing things went as well as they did.

        2. I disagree.

          The attempt to permanently keep out the Taliban was the mistake. The paying off of the Northern Alliance and the hunt for Bin Laden was successful as a punitive campaign even with OBL’s escape.

          If the U.S. had left at that point, the Taliban would have crawled back, but Al Queda’s money and battalions of fighters would have looked far less attractive. Hell, the ISL might even have turned OBL over to the U.S. because it was hindering their proxy war with Iran (the Northern Alliance was Iran’s proxy in Afghanistan until the U.S. got involved).

          Afghanistan is hard to conquer, almost impossible to hold, and any attempt by an alien culture like the U.S. was doomed to failure.

          Far better to give the Iranians a boost and then allow the Pakistani Intelligence Service to consume itself regaining that lost territory.

          Even Iraq makes sense in terms of real-politik; the fucked up mess that is modern Iraq if no threat to the Saudi throne, and the major casus belli behind Al Queda’s anti-american war is removed (no U.S. troops on the Saudi peninsula).

          1. The paying off of the Northern Alliance and the hunt for Bin Laden was successful as a punitive campaign even with OBL’s escape.

            It wasn’t though. It let Bin Ladin escape and taught the Pashtuns the wrong lesson. If we had invaded and either divided the country or formed a unity government and gone home, that would have the point that you don’t want us to come back. It also would have kept the Northern Alliance from slaughtering the Pashtuns and caused the Pashtuns to view us as liberators instead of allies with their mortal enemies.

            And even now the Taliban is strong enough to take the country back. And when they do, they will be coming for revenge. They plan to kill everyone who was even remotely associated with the old regime. Chances are when we leave Afghanistan will be another Cambodia. So we are really fucked right now. We can stay and continue to bleed lives and dollars or leave and probably usher in the worst genocide since Rwanda.

          2. The Afghan campaign was a failure primarly because America put force restraint on her troops to make friends with the savages. Should’ve nuked Tora Bora and not relied on the NA or spec ops ninjas.

            1. What if you didn’t get him?

              You would have established that the US will:

              1. Use nuclear weapons

              2. Use nuclear weapons to get one guy

              3. Use nuclear weapons to get one guy and then fail doing so

              Each of those three would have fairly dramatic diplomatic consequences. The collapse of the US’ reputation internationally that followed Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib would have looked like a canonization compared to the shit storm that would have engulfed us in this scenario.

              1. The collapse of the US’ reputation internationally…would have looked like a canonization compared to the shit storm that would have engulfed us in this scenario.

                Or everyone would decide that the U.S. was the psychotic motherfucker you really don’t want to screw around with.

                Probably neither. Nations are much more inclined to operate on their perceived interests than feelings of good or ill will.

            2. All of which is in hindsight even more insane because we got OBL in the end, anyway.

        3. We had to get Bin Ladin.

          We could have done that by putting a large enough price on his head.

          What we really had to do was severely punish the Taliban for giving him harbor and allowing him to launch attacks from territory they controlled.

          The best course would have been a punishing expedition that went in killed a bunch of Taliban, blew the shit out of them and then left.

          1. We could have done that by putting a large enough price on his head.

            We put a huge price on his head and it never amounted to anything. Bin Ladin was well liked. No one wanted to turn him in, even for money, especially when doing so could get you killed.

            The best course would have been a punishing expedition that went in killed a bunch of Taliban, blew the shit out of them and then left.

            We did that. And the result was the Northern Alliance murdering a bunch of Pashtuns and Bin Ladin riding off to Pakistan. Had we gone home in 2001 without Bin Ladin and left Afghanistan to be retaken by the Taliban, it would have been a disaster.

    2. It should have been a bigger red flag that the only peoples to have ever really successfully taken and held Afghanistan were the Mongols.

      I firmly believe you could conquer Afghanistan. But you would have to be willing to be so brutal to the civilian population that it is unthinkable to a modern society like the United States. I’m talking, “Shoot 20 random members of a village because one of your soldiers was killed” kind of stuff.

      1. The same could be said of imperialism in general. From the Romans, to the Mongols, to the Assyrians, to even the English, if the conquerer plans to hold what he has taken, he must demonstrate to the conquered that opposing him will lead to the absolute destruction of the rebels and everything they hold dear.

        1. The approach that the US used against the Indians works even better.

          1. Break their spirits completely and confine them to reservations? Yeah, that can work too.

        2. Well…maybe.

          But Caesar killed every Gaul he could find for ten years, and they never gave up.

          When he turned around and said, “This is getting boring, and I have to go kill Pompey – any of you bitches want to be the first Gallic senators?” he finally won, and Gaul was Roman for 400 years after that.

  4. we keep pretending that arming a bad guy’s opponents somehow means arming the good guy. You would think the lesson of “mubarak must go” which gave us the Brotherhood might have some ask if our help doesn’t simply make the bad even worse.

    1. I knew Mubarak was toast the minute the Egyptian army didn’t immediately crack down on the protestors. They could have snuffed it out pretty quick, but they basically decided he wasn’t worth defending anymore and allowed the protests to build as long as the crowds weren’t directing their anger at the military as well.

      1. Just like the Shah was toast when he no longer had the will to shoot protestors. Contrast those two examples with the Iranian mullahs reaction to the 2010 uprising. Regimes fall when the people with the guns lose the will to use them and not a moment before.

  5. Read it as Sen. John McCain regains his maverickiness by saying our weapons will only help “the right people”…

    The right people will be identified initially as those who won, and then later not so much.

    1. John McCain is the reason I don’t regret voting third party. At first I thought maybe I made a mistake by not supporting team red vs blue. I now know I made the right choice. Thank you for that Senator McCain.

  6. I was trying to convince my friends that we shouldn’t go around getting involved in other country’s conflicts because it often ends up coming back to bite us in the ass without actually making things better for the world in the long run. Their argument basically boiled down to, we have the power to prevent the slaughter of civilians and we have a moral obligation to do it. The last few decades of American foreign intervention didn’t matter as much to them as the 70,000 Syrians dying right now. Try as I might, I couldn’t overcome that.

    1. At least he didn’t take Cytotoxic’s line that he we have the power TO slaughter civilians and the obligation to do it

  7. For you guys talking about Afghanistan, here’s a nifty doc I watched recently.

    It’s in 3 parts and the others are available. The filmmaker probably had an agenda, but it’s still disturbing and leaves little hope for that nation.

    1. Vice does things their own way. Oddly enough, they went into Liberia and interviewed General Butt Naked. That was a crazy documentary.

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