Anarchy in Washington: Is Anybody in Charge?

Pentagon chief contradicts Obama on ground troops – Obama contradicts him back

by , September 19, 2014

The President pledges "no combat troops" in Iraq.

The head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, says he may recommend combat ground troops in the battle against ISIS.

The President, in a speech, reiterates "no ground troops," and "no combat troops."

While Hillary Clinton, Obama’s presumptive heir, waits in the wings as her scheme to arm the Syrian rebels is implemented and the fuse is lit on the Levantine tinderbox. It isn’t a very long fuse….

So what is going on with the US government, and especially over at the Pentagon? Are they directly challenging the President – who is then acting to quickly quash them? Sure looks like it.

Amid reports of a titanic battle within the Obama administration, the conflicting messages being put out there by various wings of the national security establishment remind us of the Empire’s sheer size and the scale of the bureaucracy: it is large enough to constitute what are, in effect, competing governments – a condition statists of every variety always told us was unworkable.

In short, when it comes to the making of American foreign policy what we have in Washington is what appears to be the functional definition of anarchy! And the libertarians haven’t even taken over yet.

The mess that is the Obama plan for defeating ISIS perfectly illustrates the central dictum of what I call "libertarian realism" – a theory of international relations that attributes foreign policy decision-making to primarily domestic political pressures, i.e. to the chief motivation of politicians everywhere, which is to maintain and expand their own power and their own term in office. The result is that US policy – or, indeed, the foreign policy of any nation – has little to do with facts on the ground, or how to utilize them to serve legitimate national interests. Instead, it’s all about how to appease the various domestic pressure groups with a stake in the matter.

This is why war propaganda is such a vital component of modern warfare, arguably the most important weapon in any country’s arsenal. That’s because the real target is domestic public opinion, with the targeted cities of the enemy only a secondary consideration.

Left with the Iraqi mess he inherited from the Bush administration, President Obama had few viable options. Constrained by his own campaign promises and public opposition to any further fighting in Iraq, he is nevertheless confronted with the blowback – and his "plan" reflects the only possible means to deal with it within the theoretical framework of libertarian realism. The public opposes troops on the ground – and so the President sticks that in his "plan." The political elites want to aid the Syrian rebels, so he sticks that in there, too. A general who knows better tells the country the truth: it will take ground troops to accomplish the mission. Yet the mission being accomplished is beside the point – because the real mission is winning the hearts and minds of the American people. That’s the battlefield this President – and every President – must fight on.

The Sunni-Shia civil war we encouraged throughout the region for our own purposes has now given birth to the monstrous ISIS, the Frankenstein creature that crawled out of the chaos we created. Like those scary mutations depicted in post-nuclear war movies, all scales and fangs, ISIS gibbers and glories in its monstrousness, doing for the War Party what Bill Kristol and his fellow neocons could never have pulled off by their own efforts. All it took was a few Youtube videos and the social media savvy of the ISIS public relations department.

Funny how that worked out, eh?

I apologize for the uncharacteristically short column, but I’m going on one of my rare speaking engagements, which I’ll tell you about when I get back. I used to do a lot more speaking but the sheer hassle of traveling by air these days is simply too much for me to take at my age, and so I’ve done a lot less in recent years. This one, however, is going to be interesting, and you’ll be hearing more about this on Monday.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

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