Leon Panetta’s new book, “Worthy Fights,” confirms the adage that ignorance and arrogance are the parents of foreign policy hallucinations.
According to the fact-resistant former secretary of defense and CIA director, Iraq and Syria today would be flourishing in peace and stability and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) would have been stillborn if only the United States had intervened more forcefully with military might. That delusion is reminiscent of the scientist who insisted that he would have discovered alchemy if only he had received $100 billion more to subsidize his research.
Mr. Panetta’s amateurish take on Syria is as follows. The United States should have armed allegedly moderate Syrian rebels to fight the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which in some inscrutable way would have blocked the emergence of ISIS. In a variation of the domino theory about Vietnam, Mr. Panetta proclaims: “if we don’t prevent these Sunni extremists from taking over large swaths of territory in the Middle East, it will be only a matter of time before they turn their sights on us.”
Mr. Panetta never identifies or vouches for his putative moderate Syrian rebels. He neglects the historical division of Syrian territory between Sunnis, Alawites, Islmalis, Jews, Druze, Yazidis, and Kurds. All have their discrete parochial loyalties and ambitions. He neglects that when we armed alleged moderates in Iraq, the weapons were captured and used by ISIS. He neglects that no moderates have exercised power in Syria since the beginning of time.
No foreign policy should pivot on a miracle of biblical proportions.
For more than two centuries, the United States and Islam coexisted without military clashes or enmities, (but for two brief wars in North Africa with the Barbary States over piracy and tribute). Modern antagonisms were born of the gratuitous U.S. military involvement in the Middle East not justified by self-defense.
We have a naval base in Bahrain. We have air force bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and sell them weapons worth billions. In Jordan, we train Jordanian troops and Syrian rebels. We regularly use predator drones in Yemen. We have transferred more than $30 billion to Egyptian military dictators in the past decades.
In all of these countries, we are supporting non-democratic governments hostile to the free exercise of religion. In Bahrain, for instance, a minority Sunni government oppresses a Shiite majority. Saudi Arabia does not recognize freedom of religion except for Sunni Muslims of the Hanbali School of Islamic Jurisprudence.
Mr. Panetta has the world dangerously upside down. The way to ensure Sunni extremists in the Middle East do not turn on the United States is to terminate, not to expand, our vast military presence there in support of monarchical or dictatorial regimes; and, to strengthen our defenses at home.
Nothing in Mr. Panetta’s background qualified him to sally forth with his nonsense. He had previously served in Congress for 16 years, as White House chief of staff, and as director of the Office of Management and Budget. The typically cluttered life of officeholders leaves little or no time for thinking or reflection.
Mr. Panetta was not a student of power. He was not a student of Syria or Iraq or Islam. Nothing he has ever said on foreign policy has risen above palaver. He served far above his qualifications at the Defense Department and CIA, as is typical. Ignorance and arrogance are epidemic throughout the foreign policy establishment.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz owlishly testified before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq that, “There is a lot of money there. To assume that we are going to pay for it [Iraq postwar reconstruction] is just wrong.” His mathematical error climbed into the trillions of dollars.
Mr. Wolfowitz also maintained that, “The notion that we are going to earn more enemies by going in and getting rid of what every Arab knows is one of the worst tyrants … is just nonsense.” But the invasion created all enemies and no friends.
Messrs. Panetta and Wolfowitz corroborate that we are going the way of the British Empire in honoring stupendous incompetence. As Gilbert and Sullivan put it in “H.M.S. Pinafore” through Sir Joseph.
Sir Joseph: I grew so rich that I was sent By a pocket borough into Parliament. I always voted at my party’s call, And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.
Chorus: He never thought of thinking for himself at all.
Sir Joseph: I thought so little, they rewarded me By making me the Ruler of the Queen’s Navee!
Chorus: He thought so little, they rewarded he By making him the Ruler of the Queen’s Navee!
Sir Joseph: Now landsmen all, whoever you may be, If you want to rise to the top of the tree, If your soul isn’t fettered to an office stool, Be careful to be guided by this golden rule.
Chorus: Be careful to be guided by this golden rule.
Sir Joseph: Stick close to your desks and never go to sea, And you all may be rulers of the Queen’s Navee!
Chorus: Stick close to your desks and never go to sea, And you all may be rulers of the Queen’s Navee!
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