Bring On Operation Whack-a-Mole

Another Summer has come and gone – it’s time for the annual Fall festival of fantasy, when Americans gear up for another season of national chest-beating.  The more innocuous among us will satisfy the primal urge with football, perhaps binge viewing of a favorite television series, and/or the usual back to school clacque-tivities into which their spawn are channeled.

But as the leaves turn and the sap runs (for office), the power brokers (i.e. “one-percenters” and political operatives) are meanwhile teeing up and shaping the game in anticipation of the usual “October surprise” – buying up teams and players, crafting scripts, and marketing their fall lines for mass consumption by the muddled classes.   And the stakes are high.

Not long ago I was reminded just how high, catching a recap of last month’s news cycle. The crises ranged from Ferguson, MO, where the execution of a teenager by trigger happy police caused riots, to the plight of three westerners who lost their lives at the hands of our newest mortal enemy, ISIS, or ISIL, the Islamic State, Caliphate, whatever they’re labeling it this week. (Incidentally, remember how Bush Sr. always called his Iraqi nemesis SADdam, vs. SadDAM?   Do leaders employ this passive-aggressive insult mechanism when angling to diminish a foe they’re simultaneously elevating to Hitlerhood?)

Pondering the guns of August I discerned that they shared a common thread, or rather lack thereof.  In Ferguson, the state overreacted, employing excessive force which actually made things much worse. This heightened our awareness of the overweening militarization of society and lack of understanding of the tragedy’s dynamics; the authorities employed no strategy in crisis management, only brute force. Not long afterwards our head of state took to the airwaves between golf games to essentially advise that, with regard to ISIS, “we have no strategy’’, either.

Of course, Obama conveniently failed to mention that this foe – despite being “the worst we’ve ever faced”, per the usual backup Greek chorus – is another Frankenstein we created.  It’s déjà phew all over again!

It is maddening to recall that ISIS is comprised, in part, of the “Sons of Iraq” whom we trained, paid and armed just a few years ago.  They are derivatives of the same Sunni Saddamites we aided in the Iran-Iraq war.  And the Afghan freedom fighters we succored against the Soviets, who later morphed into al Qaeda? Yes, all ancestors of ISIS – our very own progeny.  Now they’ve found a new clan homeland, straddling both Iraq and Syria.

Incredibly, just a year ago (an eon in the N.S.A. memory banks) we were debating the wisdom of supporting these miscreants, formerly known as moderate Syrian rebels fighting demon du jour, Bashir Assad.  Vexed by the feud promoted by our other wayward child, Israel, we were also trapped in an ongoing debate as to whether we should preemptively attack Iran to thwart its (nonexistent) nuclear ambitions.  Between the red lines and red states, it was not a happy time for Obama.

Then the clouds parted… when Vlad the Curtailer stepped in to save Barak’s bacon, crafting a brilliant package deal to extract us from the Middle eastern morass our miscalculations had fomented.

But as the sangfroid princes quickly learned, no good deed goes unpunished.  Putin’s pretty  plan  infuriated the PNACkers1 and bushwhackers who, having had their end of summer bash abruptly cancelled, now REALLY hankered for some red meat on the barbie.  So they turned on him with ferocity, raining on his Olympic parade, upsetting his applecart in Ukraine, possibly re-kindling the Cold War.  Since then it’s been a maelstrom of menace aimed at not only Russia & Co., but at all putative enemies, and those of our friends, and well, now it gets a bit confusing…

Let’s backtrack once more.  Our recent forays into nation building, regime change and influence peddling have been less than successful; some might even call them abject failures.  Perhaps this is because we lack the long view, pursuing only short-term objectives fixed around our tactical military prowess.

We’re inescapably mired in Afghanistan despite having vanquished OBL. We helped overthrow governments in Libya and Egypt, which backfired spectacularly. We still kibitz with the Saudis, who secretly fund ISIS, along with Qatar and several other ME “allies”. By some accounts we continue helping our NATO pals, the Turks, keep Kurdish separatists at bay – despite also supporting the Kurds in their ISIS resistance.  Then there’s Iraq… poor Iraq… a quarter century (!!) of our meddling and still no rest for the weary.  It’s so confounding!

Now with latest bogeyman ISIS, Syria is back in the crosshairs, and its borders are no impediment to our intervention. Didn’t somebody mention that we’ve got to “…protect our American interests”, wherever they are… that we make the rules, and by God, we can change them – or just declare they don’t apply to us in the first place?  Because the world is our oyster… Isn’t that what it means to be exceptional?

Amid this turmoil, our teed-off President reveals unmitigated hubris and ironic lack of self awareness in declaring, “We will continue to support a moderate opposition inside of Syria in part because we have to give people inside of Syria a choice other than ISIL or Assad…”

Oh goody – let’s give them a choice!  But, but… would removing Assad make things better, or worse, in this beleaguered quadrant of earth? More importantly, can we trust our partners in crime not to turn on us after we “assist” them… the way the “moderate” Sunni Iraqis did, after we stopped bribing them?  Haven’t we learned from our past mistakes?

So in a foolish spectacle of, “do as I say, not as I do”, we are now sanctioning the Russians for supporting their ethnic kinsmen in Ukraine, who resisted our clandestine support of the coup which ousted their President.

At a recent press conference O-blama obliquely asserted that “… Russia is responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine. The violence is encouraged by Russia. The separatists are trained by Russia. They are armed by Russia. They are funded by Russia”.2

So we imperiously condemn the Russians for doing EXACTLY what we are doing, in several parts of the world.  After they bailed us out last year, this is the thanks they get?

As for ISIS, do we really expect Sunni “moderates” to fight them, which would put them on the side of their regional arch enemies, the Shi’ites?

We can’t tell the good guys from the bad, since they (and we) change hats every other day.

My Lord, we and our closest allies spy on each other routinely.  There’s no loyalty anymore, nothing sacrosanct in this topsy-turvy, herky-jerky veil of tears.  It’s even rumored that Mossad was (is?) helping ISIS, how’s that for through the looking glass?

Excuse my French, but just what the hell kind of foreign policy are we projecting on the Middle East, and for that matter, the world, these days?

Obama’s campaign needs a facelift (if not an endoscopy), and a theme, one taking into account all possible contingencies, allowing maximum employment of both dithering and power projection.  Time to call in the spin-masters!  Having ruled out, “It’s the Obamany, stupid”, I therefore humbly suggest we christen it, “Operation Whack-a-Mole”. This brand name serves many purposes, capturing our national zeitgeist with panache while handily imparting to the resident Hasbarites3 a grand marketing scheme.  First, consider the catchy acronym (WAM), important for military players.  Next, it slyly references the commander in chief’s penchant for golfing while Rome burns, then racing from one fire to another before extinguishing the first.  And it boldly demonstrates that having NO strategy, in a sense, includes ALL strategies – like mixing plaids and stripes is a fashion statement!

Of course, like comfort food, we’ll keep some old standbys on the WAM menu; e.g., providing the IDF weapons with which to bash Gaza and whack down a few more olive groves.

Best of all, it allows both neocons and neoliberals a seat at the coalition table, all sharing the same smorgasbord of strategic options (for indeed, one man’s R2P is another man’s pre-emptive strike!)  And it sounds so gangsta – isn’t that what mobsters do, they whack their enemies?

Back in the real world, a friend succinctly summarized our best options for dealing with this multi-front crisis, opining that:

Confronting ISIS currently means working in good faith with Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey to first contain and then defeat the Islamic State. There is no other way to do it. If it means that Washington has to hold its nose while dealing with Damascus and Tehran, then so be it as the potential danger coming from a metastasizing ISIS is more serious than that represented by either Iran or Syria, neither of which actually threatens the US.4

The question is, will anyone in Washington heed this sage advice, and craft an ISIS strategy incorporating it?  Doubtful… the fiddlers involved in such decisions would rather lurch from one reactive mode to another, weeping and wailing, whacking and railing to distract from their ignorance of the fundamental problem in Pogo-land.

Whatever the consequences, resident shills on both sides can be counted on to urge that we MUST bomb NOW – our enemies are actually beheading people (rather than blasting them to bits with hellfire missiles), why, that’s positively barbaric and can’t be tolerated!

After all, our whacks, however deadly, are in the name of spreading democracy and protecting people, and thus qualitatively differ from their whacks… er, don’t they…?

We simply cannot see ourselves realistically, with the warmonger meme so ubiquitous that we’re immune to it.  Case in point: we don’t “torture” captives, we merely perform “enhanced interrogation”.  And we don’t start “wars of aggression”, we just engage in farcical doublespeak, revealing an upside down, morally bankrupt, decaying shadow of our once great civilization.

Enough rehash, here’s my take on the coming season – we’ve seen it all before and yet, like lunatics, we expect a different finale.   But if whack jobs McCain, Graham and crew have their way, at least we’ll go down in a blaze of glory!

Operation Whack-a-mole can be all things to all people, if we just get the strategery right!  But crafting it will take a village… of idiots, that is, including cherry-pickers, oily and powdered substances, bad eggs, dried fruits, nuts and lots of hot air to in which to cook up the fetid phantasmagoria, otherwise known as strategy, which emanates from Washington, D.C.

As we embark on this voyage to Warcraft Wonderland, riddle me this – is the red Queen ever vindicated?  I think not.

When the men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you’ve had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving slow
Go ask Alice…I think she’ll know

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight’s talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said:
Feed your head… 5

Before our deep dive down the mole hole, consider the madness of it all. And remember, a whack by any other name, kills the same.

  1. PNAC stands for the Project for a New American Century, inspired Dick Cheney and others. []
  2. Transcript:  President obama’s August 28 remarks on Ukraine, Syria and the economy, Washington Post []
  3. Hasbara is loosely translated as “propaganda”. []
  4. Philip Giraldi, The ISIS Scam, More War Please! September 2, 2014 []
  5. From White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane, composed by Grace Slick, © 1967. []
Lorraine Barlett is a retired U.S. Army JAG officer whose last assignment was with the Office of Military Commissions. She advocates on behalf of Guantanamo detainees, on human rights issues relating to cyber and drone warfare, and against the militarism pervading civil society. As an attorney she also serves disabled veterans and the homeless, and fights predatory lending practices. Read other articles by Lorraine.