THINGS CAN ALWAYS GET WORSE!

Earlier this month (Oct 2nd ) Mike Hayden observed that it is usually a losing bet for an intelligence officer to presume a situation “cannot get any worse” –  (https://www.thecipherbrief.com/article/case-american-involvement).  The context for his remarks was current events in Syria and the fight against ISIS.  Since I last engaged with you, things have certainly gone from bad to worse in Syria and certainly not improved with regard to ISIS.

  • Russia has deployed military forces to Syria to support the Assad Regime and is attacking those fighting ISIS who are receiving US military assistance.
  • Iran has become more vocal and open in its support of Assad, not only challenging the U.S. but also Saudi Arabia.
  • The U.S. strategy to build a force of anti-ISIS fighters has been scrapped given that it has produced only five (5) viable fighters over the course of the past year.
  • The Syrian Civil war continues to produce a flow of refugees into central Europe that is straining the ability and tolerance of most countries to absorb and assimilate them. Unchecked, the stream of refugees from Syria will impact European politics and policies in unpredictable ways.
  • Political violence in Turkey is making it increasingly difficult for the President Erdogan to maintain order and govern, which increases the potential for the Turkish military to step in and suspend the constitution to prevent an “Islamic Spring”  if not a “Turkish Islamic Revolution.”Tu

As for how things could get worse from where they are today, two contingencies that I would have thought low probability a few months ago now seem clearly possible.  The first is Hezbollah commencing a campaign of terror against Israel in order to generate support in Egypt and Saudi Arabia for Assad as a “front line leader” for creating a Palestinian State.  The second is an unplanned or planned military confrontation between Russian and U.S. aircraft that results in an undeclared air war over Syria with untold potential for escalation.

Making all this worse is the lack of unity within the U.S. government with regard to national security issues. You know the particulars!

  • Benghazi remains more of a topic for domestic politics where adversaries can’t help but notice we would rather investigate than respond forcefully to the murder of a popular U.S. Ambassador.
  • The display of vitriol and mistrust by the Congressional Branch for the Iranian Nuclear Agreement negotiated by the Executive Branch has surely been felt in Tele Aviv and Tehran.
  • No agreement within the Congress or between the Congress and the White House on matters of national security policy and strategy or on budget priorities
  • The willingness of both political parties to shut down the U.S. government over seemingly trivial issues such as funding for Planned Parenthood or how much of the DoD budget should be allocated to Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)
  • The inability of the majority party in the House of Representatives to agree on a Speaker of the House, making the idea of agreeing on coherent national security policies seem like a bridge too far.

We all understand that the U.S. government is operating right now because Speaker Boehner startled the House of Representatives with his resignation to enable a compromise on passing a last minute Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government for 90 days.  Resigning on principle is obviously not a long term strategy for effective governance through legislation.

With regard to passing an FY 16 budget, I wouldn’t bet on it!  Before the current CR runs out on 11 December both the President, the House of Representatives, and the Senate will get an opportunity to put the “full faith and credit” of the United States at risk with what seems to be an annual debate about raising the debt ceiling.  Then when 11 December rolls around the President has already said he will veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) if it raises budget caps on defense but not domestic programs.  The likely outcome after both sides posture rigorously for their political bases — but can’t risk being blamed for a government shutdown going into an election year — will be a CR for the rest of FY16.  A yearlong CR for FY16 means a continuation of last year’s budget allocations that have funded us to the current state of affairs in the Middle East.

I am not sure how well the Intelligence Community (IC) is doing at providing relevant intelligence to inform strategy and policy development towards Syria and ISIS, but I am certain that the best intelligence possible cannot create strategic clarity and unity of purpose for the Congress or the President.

Einstein described insanity as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.  Yogi Berra told us if you don’t know what you are trying to achieve any policy will get you there.  With regard to dealing with Syria and ISIS, the U.S. has a divided government, no political will, no effective strategy and is budgeting through the rear view mirror so things, of course, can get worse as Mike Hayden is warning. I am pretty sure they will get worse no matter how the IC performs

That’s what I think!   What do you think?

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