You may remember the great hue and cry during the Bush Administration – mostly from people who now support President Obama – over the terrible, horrible, no-good practice of “extraordinary rendition.” In a nutshell, this involved handing over suspected terrorists (and people with information useful to catching terrorists) to foreign governments that lack our scruples about torture and other forms of coercion in extracting information (in practice, often governments that had a far better claim to them than we did). Like so many things floridly condemned by Obama and his supporters, this practice has continued under President Obama in only cosmetically varied guises, but without much protest from Bush critics who were really only motivated to elect a Democrat. Indeed, Obama’s professed restrictions on U.S. interrogation and detention policy only increase his incentive to outsource the dirty work.
But in a larger sense, the philosophy of rendition – using unscrupulous allies to do things we dare not do ourselves – may explain the Obama Administration’s foreign policy in ways that go far beyond interrogation and detention policy. That’s what I take away from this essay by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams. Adams is no foreign policy expert, as he admits, and his outside-the-box political observations are off the wall as often as they are shrewdly perceptive. But he offers as a thought experiment a hypothesis about Obama’s Syria-and-Iran policy that is consistent not only with those advanced by some serious thinkers on the foreign policy right, but that carries to its logical conclusion most of the arguments offered by Obama’s defenders on the left. If Obama is deliberately (rather than unintentionally, through blundering incompetence, cowardice or indifference) pursuing the strategy Adams describes, then he is truly expanding the concept behind rendition to a vastly larger stage – albeit with what are likely to be inept results.
Adams theorizes that Obama’s various steps in the region – retreating from Iraq, failing to meaningfully intervene in Syria until it was too late, loosening restrictions on Iran, and offering only impotent rhetorical opposition to Russian involvement in the region as an ally of Iran and the Assad regime in Syria in accordance with an Iranian-developed coalition battle plan – could conceivably be explained as a master plan to hand off the fight against ISIS to ruthless despots with no moral qualms about bombing civilian human shields into the Stone Age:
The Master Wizard filter says President Obama has a winning plan for eradicating ISIS at the lowest cost for Americans. America’s frenemies have now encircled ISIS, and the American media with their freedom of the press will not be there to watch what happens next.
ISIS is reportedly planting landmines around captured cities to keep the civilian population from escaping. They expected the United States to avoid bombing population centers.
They were right.
But they they did not expect the United States to turn over the fight to Russia and Iran.
ISIS is done.
Unfortunately, so is the civilian population in ISIS-held territory. But living under ISIS probably isn’t much of a life either. And I have heard no one suggest a more humane solution.
The Master Wizard filter says President Obama either created this perfect situation or recognized the opportunity and encouraged it.
As Adams notes, this is all speculation, but it’s about the only speculation that presents an alternative to the idea that Obama has no idea at all what he’s doing. Thus far, as this NY Times map shows, it hasn’t panned out that way – Russia is bombing areas under non-ISIS rebel control far from the ISIS-controlled areas:
Which suggests that, whatever Obama’s theory is, it isn’t even close to working, and a lot of innocent people will be killed for no purpose at all except to extend Russian influence at the expense of American objectives. But if you accept the apologias of his defenders and assume he’s doing something like what Adams suggests, and if you retain some hope that this will eventually morph into a fight between the Russia-Syria-Iran axis against ISIS redolent of the Eastern Front in World War II (with the same ghastly results for the civilian population), then maybe some apologies are owed to President Bush, because Obama is handing over vastly larger civilian populations to be annihilated by notoriously brutal foreign regimes in the name of keeping America’s hands apparently clean of atrocities we intend to wink-and-nudge encourage.