Monday, October 8, 2012

Presidentially-Unfit Mitt Romney’s Loose Talk about Syria

by Nomad


hen it comes to foreign policy, Republican nominee Mitt Romney gives every indication that, as a leader of the nation, he would prove to be a full-scale ("un-mitt-agated"?) diplomatic disaster.
All of the warnings signs are already apparent.

Take this example. In July of this year, The Washington Post reported:
Appearing via video at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual meeting Saturday morning, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) delivered a speech that hinged on social issues but also focused in on what remains the top issue in the presidential election — the economy.
However, that subject seems to have been a little too boring for the members of the Christian Right organization.
And to the third question — “How would Romney strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship?” — Romney had a quip at the ready.
“Basically, I think you could just look at the things the president has done and do the opposite,” he said to laughter.
Nothing striking about that remark; it is pure Romney- an appeal to the sense of Christian Right’s disgust that Obama is actually their president. However, in ad-libbing, the candidate also stated this:
He added that he would “be leading in Syria by encouraging our friends there like the Turks and the Saudis to provide weapons to the insurgents.”
This casual, (some would call it reckless) remark says a lot about the manner in which Romney as president would conduct foreign policy. 

As Nikolai Korchunov, writing an op-ed piece for the New York Times notes:
Those who call to arm the insurgents also seem to believe that the principles of international law and of the United Nations Charter can be replaced by political expediency.
According to the founding principles of the United Nations Charter, the purpose of the United Nations is:
To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;
By furthering the potential for more violence, arming rebels would surely violate this principle. You don’t give a stranger a gun and tell him to “make peace.” Moreover, once insurgents are armed there is no way anybody can guarantee how those weapons may later be used. 
To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
Meaning: it is not the prerogative of one nation - no matter how powerful- to take the initiative in a crisis. Clearly it would lead to international chaos if every nation followed this example. Isn’t black market arms dealing bad enough already? 
Unless Mitt is running for royalty, the same problem for Romney’s Syrian solution exists on a national level. Romney doesn’t seem to realize that the president would have congressional oversight of all covert operations. Its subcommittees would have to be briefed, and their approval would have to be obtained in order to finance a program like this. Selling weapons to sovereign states like Egypt is one thing. It’s perfectly legal. Arming rebel groups, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish. 

Reagan made exactly the same mistake in the Iran-Contra affair, thinking that congressional review was something that hindered his foreign policy objectives. In fact, oversight, as the Reagan administration learned, was the last fail-safe against a disastrous misstep. 

And in any case, as far as the United Nations Charter, in order to disregard those principles it would require a mandate by the Security Council. Frustratingly, that approach, the sensible approach that Obama has tried, has been defeated by both Russia and China time and time again. The effect has been continuing bloodshed, a massive refugee crisis in neighboring countries and the destruction of Syria. 

One could argue that this failure belongs to the United Nations. As soon as the organization of so-called equal states adopted the feature of a security council with its five veto-wielding permanent members- in effect, a higher tier of nations- the possibility of a stalemate was inevitable. 

Outside of a reform of the structure of the United Nations, is arming the rebels really the solution? Maybe. Everybody should have the right- in theory- to defend themselves. And the manner in which the Assad regime has handled this unrest has been a series of war crimes. 

Whatever your opinion, it does require a lot more thought than Romney seems capable of. He is, after all, playing with fire. Romney isn’t just openly calling for the United States to defy the UN charter, he is talking about compelling our allies in the region do so. Those countries have the most to lose if things get out of control. 
Romney seems to shrug off the very real possibility that what has until now remained an internal war in Syria could drag Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United States, and committed NATO members on one side with Russia and Iran and possibly Lebanon and China on the other. 

Apart from all out war, there are other risks to consider. There is also the damage to international law.
We have to remember — breaking single agreements, ignoring basic principles, or abandoning concordant decisions unavoidably leads to destruction of the whole system of international law. Sometimes it is not easy to find mutually acceptable solutions, but honoring our international commitments and following the rule of law is the only way to keep our world stable and secure.
Previous American presidents, particularly Republicans, have never felt overly constrained by international laws or Congressional prohibitions. Bush and Reagan did seem too bothered. 

Our leaders have chosen instead to ignore the lessons of the past. The crisis that resulted from the Bay of Pigs invasion, for example, brought the world to be brink of total annihilation. The overthrow of the democratically-elected Iranian Prime Minister in Operation Ajax has created decades of disharmony between Iran and the West.

When providing weapons to one force or faction, you cannot be sure that they will not someday be directed against you. In order to stop the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, certain countries sent arms shipments and trained insurgents. Just a decade later, those “freedom fighters” showed their true face. Some are now the avowed enemies of the very countries that helped empower them. And now the efforts of the entire world community are needed to fight the evil of international terrorism. 
There is, in fact, enough evidence to suggest that the CIA is already engaging in just such a program, although it is strongly denied by everybody in authority. If true, Romney was not advocating anything other than what President Obama is probably already doing. 
However, that Romney would discuss what could be a ongoing covert operation - one that could prove to be politically damaging to our allies, if confirmed- demonstrates how irresponsible Romney is when it comes to leadership in the international arena. 

The discussion of covert arms shipments through third parties (our “friends”) is not matter for public consumption, regardless of how many political points it might bring a politician. That kind of discretion is simply common-sense.  Loose talk like this could clearly endanger lives.

For reasons (apparently not obvious to Mitt Romney), the details about any illicit arms shipments to insurgents are necessarily vague. 
Foreign officials, including those in the U.S. and Britain, publicly say assistance to the Syrian opposition is limited to humanitarian and educational programs.

Jonathan Eyal, an analyst at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said details are slowly emerging about international weapons' trails to the rebels.

"Very few countries admit to having a direct role although the veil of silence is slowly being lifted," he said. "The channels are Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the lead, with the Turkish government and the American government once-removed."

The covert nature of the trade - and the presence of Syrian government troops close to the border - limits the flow of weapons to rifles, pistols, and possibly a few rocket-propelled grenades, says former CIA intelligence analyst Bob Ayers.
There is another problem. Who exactly are the people we are arming? Remember the Mujahedin that Reagan armed in Afghanistan? One of those “freedom fighters” would later turn out to be Osama Bin Laden. 
Ayers says a big problem is that foreign powers don't know exactly who they're giving the weapons to.

"We don't really have a unified opposition to [Syrian President] Assad," he said. "And there's no way that you can deal with them as if they are a unified entity. They're fragmented, they are small groups, there's no centralized control although we'd like to see it and we behave like there is. There isn't."
For good reason, none of the sources cited in the VOA article are official and none of them are applying for the office of presidency. A covert operation, especially one without a UN mandate, necessarily requires the cloak of plausible deniability. By telling the good Christian voters all about his plans as president, he forfeited his option to deny involvement in the future. 

As unfortunate as it might be, pragmatic realpolitik often requires a leader to make some difficult decisions and this is certainly the case in Syria. These programs are not without their risks- either short or long term- and they must be considered very carefully. They cannot be entered into lightly because the consequences can be unexpected. When covert operations become public knowledge, there is usually significant worldwide embarrassment and can lead to the irretrievable damage to relations with our allies.  

For example, if such illicit arming of rebels should become common knowledge and the program fail, the relations between Turkey and Syria could be permanently damaged. Additionally, when the news reaches the local population, it could also cause internal dissention. (That’s more true in Turkey where democratic principles are fragile than in Saudi Arabia where public dissent is essentially non-existent.) 

The CIA describes a covert operation this way:
Generally speaking, covert actions are activities that the CIA might undertake in other countries to accomplish a US foreign policy objective without the hand of the US government becoming known or apparent to the outside world.
Pretty basic stuff, isn’t it? What Romney has failed to realize is that there is a big difference between what a leader of a nation ought to discuss openly and what must neither be denied or confirmed for the sake of providing cover to ongoing covert operations, and especially those involving allies. 

Or as Mitt Romney puts it “our friends.”