Election 2016

Constantly Shifting Alliances in Syrian Civil War Are Orwell on Steroids

The United States, like every other interest involved in Syria, is on every side of the war. But let's talk about horse-race politics!

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So what did we learn from yesterday's impromptu lesson on how little everyone in the United States—from presidential candidates to former Iraqi ambassadors to the planet's "paper of record"—actually knows about the six-year-old Syrian civil war?

Various things, I suppose, but for me the big reveal goes something like this: The commentariat is far more interested in discussing the media fallout of blunders such as Gary Johnson's cringe-inducing "What Is Aleppo?" remark than actually discussing what various candidates plan to do regarding U.S. foreign policy.

Saw a ton of stories and cable segments in the past 24 hours about whether this means lights out for the Libertarian nominee but precious little time devoted to the the actual answer about Syria he gave on Morning Joe. Consistent with his stated positions, Johnson argued that pushing for regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere has destabilized whole regions and basically come a cropper, both for the people stuck in the places we've liberated and Americans here at home. Our role, he said, should be limited to bringing about a diplomatic solution, which means involving Russia, Iran, and other regional players to create a less-lethal status quo. Sounds pretty good to me, to be honest, especially after a dozen-plus-years of essentially complete U.S. failure in the area. But really, why should we actually discuss foreign policy and debate America's military role in the world when we can just go into an endless loop of navel-gazing about horse-race politics?

The insistence on superficial analysis is, I think, rooted in a presentism that infects most journalism and politics, but is particularly visible in cable news. Flash a heartbreaking picture of an ash-covered Syrian orphan and then demand of all viewers, guests, and policymakers: "What are you going to do to fix this or make sure this never happens again?" The last thing anyone seems interested in or capable of is discussing why such images predictably flow from American military actions. Sometimes it's mere days, other times it's years later, and it's always independent of actual intentions of interventions, but there you have it. Rather than hosting substantive conversations and debates about different ways of deploying (or not) American might around the globe, we get something that distracts us from important questions and does nothing to clarify all the troubles in the world—even as it sets up the next cycle of violence and despair.

Here's an excellent video circulating on Facebook that lays out all the ways in which the United States and other groups involved in Syria are teaming up with allies and enemies in ways that make the ever-changing alliances in Orwell's 1984 seem positively straightforward. "Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia." Except of course, when Oceania was supplying arms to rebels who were clients of Eurasia but actually working with Eastasia to destabilize Oceania while promoting a separate, non-allied homeland…

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  1. I’m more interested in how President Trump is gonna wipe out ISIS real quick, I mean, *real* quick.

    1. A single heavy US division with air support could wipe out ISIS in less than a month. What that would get you is another question. It would be very easy to do.

      1. Not quick enough, if you catch my drift.

  2. “Saw a ton of stories and cable segments in the past 24 hours about whether this means lights out for the Libertarian nominee”

    Hell no, this is the most media coverage Johnson’s gotten so far. A lot of people are learning who he is for the first time.

    1. The number of Johnson/Weld yard signs in my neighborhood has gone from 2 to 3 since yesterday morning. Trump is holding steady at 0, there’s still a single Bernie diehard, and the one Hillary sign blew away in the tropical storm last weekend.

      1. I see a fair amount of “Hillary for Prison 2016” signs near me. I have seen a couple of Johnson bumper stickers and we have one Berntard who still keeps his sign out.

        I was surprised how many Trump signs/stickers I see on the pick up trucks the trades guys all drive around here.

      2. It is solid Trump here.

        Half the yards in the state had Trump signs until he went to south La after the flood and passed out food, water and toys to the flood victims while Cankles raised money for her campaign and that fucking skidmark Obumbles couldn’t be bothered to put down his golf clubs. After he did that it is every yard in the state.

    2. The news shows last night were pounding on Johnson’s Aleppo gaffe, with constant replays of the deer-in-the-headlights moment and claiming that this is what libertarianism is because they don’t care about foreign policy. Johnson is done, and has damaged libertarianism in the process.

      1. Johnson is done, and has damaged libertarianism in the process.

        The first statement has always been true, and the second statement is false.

        Libertarianism is a political philosophy. It is the subject of non-stop smearing by those who oppose it. This smear feels damaging because it is so in your face right now.

        But the philosophy hasn’t been harmed, because it exists separately from Gary Johnson.

        Nor is the perception of the philosophy damaged. The people claiming and accepting the claims that it is unrealistic already believed you need a strong top man asserting his will to create society.

        Nothing has really changed.

      2. The news shows last night were pounding on Johnson’s Aleppo gaffe

        Not surprising, they’ve been dying for any excuse to dismiss Johnson as a candidate for a while now. Pretty much ever since they realized he takes as much or more support away from Hillary than he does Trump (THOSE ARE HER VOTES, GOD DAMMIT!) and now they have it.

  3. Of course the same standard (one mistake and you’re totally TOTALLY disqualified) should be applied to all candidates.

    Yes, I know. To dream the impossible dream.

    1. Americans are a tolerant and generous People.

      Give each candidate *three* mistakes.

  4. I went up to people on the street and blurted out, “What would you do about Aleppo?”. “Um, Al Eppo? What’s that?” Just shook my head and walked away. These people disgust me.

  5. If only one blatant lie were enough to get a candidate disqualified.

  6. “The commentariat is far more interested in discussing the media fallout of blunders such as Gary Johnson’s cringe-inducing “What Is Aleppo?” remark than actually discussing what various candidates plan to do regarding U.S. foreign policy.”

    The reason is that no one seems to have the slightest clue what our strategy regarding Syria is, including Dear Leader. Why the hard-on for Assad? If he is deposed who or what will replace him? How will this affect our relationship with Russia and other ME countries? WTF is going on in Iraq? Do we plan to stick our dick in that as well? What is going on in Yemen? Are we just handing the entire ME over to Iran?

    Has Cankles or Obumbles or The Donald given any specifics about their plans? All I get is ‘We have always been at war with Eastasia.’

    I ask these questions over and over and never get an answer. Why do we want to get rid of Assad? Because it went so well in Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lybia when the evil strongmen were cast aside? Why didn’t we assist the Iranians when they attempted to rid themselves of the evil Islamists running roughshod over their country? Obumbles never answered that despite repeatedly being asked.

    Post racial America has turned the ME into the greatest bloody clusterfuck/ horrorshow of all time and everyone is talking about DT’s hair and Cankle’s cough instead of asking the evil dunce who engineered it all.

    1. the evil dunce who engineered it all

      Abu Bakr’s been dead for, like, 1300 years, man.

    2. Why the hard-on for Assad?

      Because, for all of their preening sophistication, these are essentially simple-minded people. They believe that there is a fix for everything, that there is always a solution that is perfectly moral and clean, and that good will inevitably triumph. They recognize that Assad is bad and then just assume that he can easily be replaced with someone who is good and that this will fix everything, but these assumptions are based in pie-in-the-sky fantasy and have no grounding in the reality on the ground or history of the middle east (or the world, for that matter).

  7. And again we return to the “True Libertarian (TM) vs. Human enough to admit shortcomings” battlefield…

    Must be a glorious hill to die on.

    1. I am just waiting around to see if there is any good looting to be had.

      1. I’d rather pull a number 6 on them

          1. Naw, we rape the shit out of them at the Number Six Dance later on!

  8. I think I’m fairly up on world events but I’ll admit that – until this kerfuffle – I couldn’t tell you where Aleppo is. And I’m the sort that reads up on Roman and Greek history,

    The current ME situation – Iraq, Syria, the constant Palenstine/Isreali thing, Iran, etc is such a muddle of murder, bombing, and rebellion that it has just become a blur. I’m sure I’ve heard the mention of Aleppo but it never stuck in my brain as being worth remembering.

    ?\_(?)_/?

    1. Aleppo was part of a news cycle about two years ago. The media is just pissed that a presidential candidate didn’t commit their wisdom to memory.

      1. I follow world dust-ups close enough but was shocked to learn that Aleppo was a bigger city than Damascus.

        1. All I knew about Aleppo is that it is one of the cities I usually had to capture before going after Saladin’s capitol in Civilization.

          And I consider myself a fairly well read person.

          Apparently the people spinning this gaffe think anyone who doesn’t know how to spell the plural of potato or find on a map some shitty city being fought over in the ME or count the number of states in the union or recognize a classified document or avoid sending said documents over an unsecure server is unqualified to be president.

          Unless they are a Democrat, in which case — meh.

    2. “The current ME situation – Iraq, Syria, the constant Palenstine/Isreali thing, Iran, etc is such a muddle of murder, bombing, and rebellion that it has just become a blur.”

      I think this was done by design. Unfortunately for the designers their chosen successors to the old order are so wildly incompetent that they shit the bed.

      Most presidents are too narcissistic to understand that they don’t get to choose their legacy. It always turns out to be something they didn’t expect.

  9. The people who think this proves Johnson is unqualified to be president are people who were never going to vote for him in the first place. Anyone who is news-savvy enough to know/care about Aleppo has already decided who will get their vote. It’s the folks who don’t pay much attention to the news who are still undecided, and for them getting his name in the headlines will likely do more good than harm (or won’t make an impact at all, which is the most likely outcome).

    On a positive note, Quinnipiac is showing Johnson at 15% in NC, even though he doesn’t seem to be advertising here at all. I’m sure not having Stein on the ballot helps, but that’s still a pretty big jump from the 10% he’d maxed in previous polls. I don’t have any delusions that he could actually win here (far too many party faithfuls), but it could be a big boost for the state LP.

  10. Various things, I suppose, but for me the big reveal goes something like this: The commentariat is far more interested in discussing the media fallout of blunders such as Gary Johnson’s cringe-inducing “What Is Aleppo?” remark than actually discussing what various candidates plan to do regarding U.S. foreign policy.

    Nick, I have been intimately involved in “U.S. foreign policy” the past 15 years, and I am quite aware of the positions the people running for office hold. What room for discussion is to be had between – MOAR OF THE SAME and MIND OUR OWN BUSINESS? You going to get a lot of debate here?

    I am bit peeved at you for what appears to be a cheap shot – but I will forgo any gratuitous insults or such.

    1. I think Nick meant the commentariat as in the larger news/ media commentariat, not the H&R commentriat. At least that’s how I read it.

      At first I thought he was talking about us as well, but then the rest of the post was all about how the media at large is tripping over themselves to talk about Johnson’s big “gaffe” and not about the actual ideas he presented once he got his act together.

      1. Fair point. I hope you are right.

  11. The commentariat is far more interested in discussing the media fallout of blunders such as Gary Johnson’s cringe-inducing “What Is Aleppo?” remark than actually discussing what various candidates plan to do regarding U.S. foreign policy.

    Hillary said there would not be any ground troops in Iraq or Syria, even though there are already ground troops in Iraq and Syria. Trump is a moron.

    My point: no candidate has an actual plan.

  12. I overheard someone on TV yesterday saying something like, “if you were considering voting third-party, think again – listen to how Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson answered a simple question about Syria.”

    I thought, “isn’t the question whether Johnson is worse or better than the other candidates? If his remark shows him to be dumber than Hillary or Trump, then *make that case!* If you can’t make that case, if in fact Hillary and Trump say dumber stuff on a routine basis, then why would Johnson’s error make potential third-party supporters come crawling back to the duopoly?

    Contemplating this question, I came up with an hypothesis:

    I think the MSM themes are coming clear in this Aleppo thing:

    (a) Go Hillary!

    (b) Go Hillary!

    (c) A 3rd-party candidate, in order for his ideas to be taken seriously, has to work *much* harder than the regular candidates. If a regular candidate screws up, it doesn’t challenge their legitimacy as a candidate (at least not if they’re a Democrat). “Oh, that scamp, well, I’m sure he/she will be better informed once he/she becomes President!” But 3rd party candidates already are subject to doubts of their legitimacy, and these Serious Doubts can only be overcome if they *excel* the regular guys. “You have to work twice as hard to do half as good.”

    1. For a daily news cycle that has ignored Gary this season, they sure all jumped on his GAG.
      So it turns out that they haven’t been ignoring him, but instead watching very closely and waiting for the right soundbite.
      He talks about Syria almost daily, but the media has their clip to prove that he’s clueless about foreign policy.

      1. it turns out that they haven’t been ignoring him, but instead watching very closely and waiting for the right soundbite.

        This X 1,000,000.

  13. It was a shitty question to start with. If I want to know a candidate’s policy on the Syrian civil war, I’ll ask “what’s your policy on the Syrian civil war?” not “what are you going to do about Aleppo?”

    It’s like asking him about California’s budget problems by saying “what are you going to do about Sacramento?”

    1. At least Sacramento is the capital of California.

    2. It was a shitty question to start with. If I want to know a candidate’s policy on the Syrian civil war, I’ll ask “what’s your policy on the Syrian civil war?” not “what are you going to do about Aleppo?”

      Which I still maintain was intentional. Barnickle knew, or at least suspected, that he could make Johnson look stupid by throwing out “What are you going to do about Aleppo?” into a discussion that up until that point had fuck all to do with the Syrian civil war or foreign policy in general. Unfortunately for GJ, Barnickle was right.

      Instead of asking “What’s Aleppo?” Johnson should have instead asked “Could you please clarify?” and then maybe thrown it back in Barnickle’s face, “Oh, you’re talking foreign policy now all of a sudden, OK, you randomly changed the subject on me there, now I’m on the same page.” That at least wouldn’t have looked as bad, and maybe would have emphasized to more people, tactfully, that Mike Barnickle is a slimy douche bag who was trying to make Johnson look bad by changing the subject and asking a random nonsensical (in the context of the conversation up to that point) question.

      1. Is there footage out there of GJ talking about Aleppo in the past? That would show that it was just a case of being caught off guard with a question that had nothing to do with the previous questions. I couldn’t find any, but it’s possible.

  14. Johnson should move on to another issue and force the media to cover him.

    I observe that Arizona is fighting the federal government about wolves. Specifically, the feds want to release gray wolves into the wilds of Arizona while the Arizona government, prompted by ranchers worried about predators killing their livestock, said “no.”

    What Johnson needs is a photo op where he goes and shoots himself some wolves, maybe legally, maybe illegally, but in any case the media won’t be able to help itself.

    Their stories will be all “big meanie candidate shoots endangered wolves, Farley Mowat cries.” They can’t help themselves, they *must* publicize stories about cute little animal-wanimals.

    Meanwhile, ranchers in Utah and Arizona will be like, “hey, this guy is all right.”

    This would actually be the best chance to take Utah and Arizona and maybe (if the country is sufficiently divided) putting the election into the House.

    Heck, I’m just brainstorming.

  15. To be fair, if I ask you how you think the Giants are going to do this year and you start off your answer by saying “well, I think that Dan Marino guy is a very good quarterback…..”, yeah, I ain’t listening to the rest of your analysis.

    Of course, if somebody’s snickering at your answer because “everybody knows Peyton Manning is the Giants quarterback, Dan Marino plays for the Chicago Bears” I ain’t listening to them, either.

  16. But really, why should we actually discuss foreign policy and debate America’s military role in the world when we can just go into an endless loop of navel-gazing about horse-race politics?

    Because discussions of foreign policy and military intervention is hard, horse race politics is easy.

    “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” There’s a lot of small minds in the media. They’d rather talk about GJ’s gaffe than actually discuss ideas.

  17. “The commentariat is far more interested in discussing the media fallout of blunders such as Gary Johnson’s cringe-inducing “What Is Aleppo?” remark than actually discussing what various candidates plan to do regarding U.S. foreign policy.”

    Good stuff, coming from a guy who has had nothing substantive whatsoever to say about Obama’s foreign policy over the last eight years because he’s far more interested in attacking republicans.

    Oh right, I almost forgot that Obama is a cool dude, a victim of evil racist America, and bears no responsibility whatsoever for anything bad that has taken place these last eight years.

  18. The video doesn’t even start looking into some of the weirder shit, such as Spanish Hoxhaist Communists in Kurdish territories.

    1. Interesting, Dr-Rob.

  19. Chicago local news mentioned Gary Johnson for the first time I’m aware of last night thanks to AleppoGate.

    It was about a 30 second segment about “Third Party Candidate Problems”, starting with Jill Stein’s graffiti antics for 15 seconds, and then Gary’s “Aleppo Moment” for the other 15 seconds (including a file photo of him from the 1990s having a bad hair day and looking as crazy as possible.)

    I still in the “no such thing as bad publicity” camp on this one.

  20. In this election cycle, the Aleppo gaffe can only help him. He has gotten more media coverage for this than he has for anything else. I would not be surprised to see an increase in the polls from this.

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