Opinion » Ted Rall

The Quagmire Pattern

Ten years into the Iraq War, we repeat in Syria


The Quagmire Pattern always seems to play out the same way. There's a civil war in some country deemed by the CIA to be of strategic importance (i.e., energy reserves).

During the initial stage, a secular socialist dictatorship fights Muslim insurgents who want to create an Islamist theocracy. To build support, the conflict is cast to and by the media as a struggle between tyrannical torturers and freedom-loving underdogs.

The Pentagon selects a rebel faction to support, typically the most radical, and sends them money and weapons and trainers. It works. Yay. Civil war ensues. Not so yay.

The craziest religious zealots are poised to prevail in the second stage. Suffering from buyers'/backers' remorse, the United States now decides to back the most moderate faction among the former opposition. Then the quagmire begins.

The trouble is, the radicals are still fanatical. So the United States pours in more help to their new moderate allies--whatever it takes to win an "honorable peace"--and install a moderate regime before withdrawing.

The moderates, you see, never had the support of most of their country's people. They didn't earn their stripes in the war against the former regime. Putting them in power isn't enough. Boy, is the United States in a pickle.

Americans troops are getting offed by a determined radical insurgency. Moreover, their puppet allies are a pain in the ass. The puppet-puppetmaster relationship is inherently one characterized by mistrust.

However, the electorate isn't told this. They are repeatedly told that abandonment is the problem. "The decisive factor in terms of the rise of the Taliban and al-Qaida was the fact that the United States and most of the international community simply walked away and left it to Pakistan and to other more extremist elements to determine Afghanistan's future in the '90s," claims James Dobbins, former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo.

The implication, of course, is that the United States shouldn't have left Afghanistan in the early 1990s. The problem with this argument is that we have been over there for 12 years, and have little to show for our efforts.

The Quagmire Pattern has played out in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, where a weak central government propped up by the Obama administration is sitting on its hands.

The Quagmire Pattern is unfolding again, this time in Syria. When the uprising against the secular socialist government of Bashar al-Assad began two years ago, the United States rushed in with money, trainers and indirect arms sales. Now people like Dobbins are arguing in favor of weapons transfers from Pentagon arms depots to the Syrian opposition.

Dobbins admits that there are "geopolitical risks," yet he still wants to arm the Syrian rebels, who include members of al-Qaida.

There is, he told NPR, "the possibility that the intervention wouldn't work and that it would look like a failure."

So why does he still want to give weapons to people who will probably wind up aiming them at American soldiers?

"I think the consequences of not acting and the risks of not acting are even greater," Dobbins said.

We do what we do because that's what we do. That's how the Quagmire Pattern works.