“Syria” is a country in distress. A “syndrome” is a bunch of symptoms pointing to a particular social condition, a disease or disorder that is debilitating and most often fatal. “Nation building”, the other words in the title, is a failed attempt to rebuild a once stable country that you and you and your meddling buddies have just laid waste to. We keep getting the countries, the cause and the cure all wrong.
Two recent nation building efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are ongoing without an end in sight. Nonetheless, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis just announced that “US diplomats and contractors … [will] … return to the war-torn Middle East country [Syria] as the focus turns to reconstruction and security.” It appears that the United States, still suffering from a “nation building syndrome” is about to launch another effort that is sure to fail.
Mattis said that “[w]hat we will be doing is shifting from what I call an offensive, shifting from an offensive terrain-seizing approach to a stabilizing [effort] … you’ll see more diplomats on the ground.” In order to nation build “[t]here is international money that has got to be administered, so it actually does something, it doesn’t go into the wrong people’s pockets”. Another cycle of using colonial solutions on a sullen, rebellious conquered population.
I confess to a profound dislike of Jim Mattis. Any asshole who proudly sports a Rifle Expert Badge [4th Award] and a Pistol Expert Badge [2nd Award] among the multi colored chest candy on his dress uniform – I note none for valor – does not deserve much respect. His service in Afghanistan earned him a “nickname and call sign, ‘CHAOS’, an acronym for the ‘Colonel Has an Outstanding Solution’”, definitively a put down by the very troops he led. As to his efficacy as military commander, I note that American troops are still mired in that mess of a would-be country still under reconstruction.
I further resent that he, a retired Marine Corps General, a career military man, now occupies a post that should be manned by a civilian. He achieved that post with false intellectual camouflage – a poseur wearing battle fatigues with a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations in hand preening for numerous photo opps for journalists and the gullible public. His supporters are forever boasting of his personal library of 7,000 “important” books at his command.
Mattis was studying Marcus Aurelius’ musings on of the use of brute military power in a pre-industrial revolution world when he should have been reading Graham Greene’s novels, his “entertainments”: The Confidential Agent, Our Man in Havana, The Human Factor, The Third Man, The Comedians, The Honorary Consul, studies in “the workings and intrigues of international politics” in today’s theatres of war, dictatorships, revolutions and social upheaval.
Before committing more troops, diplomats and money in Syria I urge Mattis to read The Quiet American, Graham Greene’s prescient allegory of failed nation building. Published in 1958, well before the start of America’s military adventure in Viet Nam, it details the futility of a colonial power’s efforts to alter the course of history in French Indochina 1951-1954. Greene was there as a war reporter for The Times and Le Figaro with a ringside seat to urban terror, civil war, political infighting, corruption, the monumental siege and defeat of the Battle for Dien Bien Phu, as well as the now forgotten insignificant skirmishes in the middle of nowhere.
Unlike Mattis’ one note military grooming, Graham Greene’s education was multi-disciplined – he was recruited to work undercover for MI6, the British spy agency and was posted to Sierra Leone and Africa’s West Coast during the Second World War. He was friends with and worked with Kim Philby, another secret agent who proved to be a Soviet spy. He played a small role in Fidel Castro’s revolution and overthrow of the Batista regime. He knew first-hand of Papa Doc’s reign of terror in Haiti as well as political assassinations and innocent civilian deaths in Saigon, French Indochina now Ho Chi Minh City, Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
The novel has unforgettable characters a great plot, a plot good enough for two major motion pictures. It is, however, Graham Greene’s platform, his megaphone to accurately predict the outcome of foreign intervention, the French defeat and retreat, and the ultimate outcome of America’s Vietnam War adventure and the arc of America’s foreign policy in Southeast Asia from the late 1950’s to the present.
Should Mattis read and take to heart the teachings of The Quiet American he would lobby the Trump administration to heed to its non-intervention campaign promises. He would confirm that Indochine/Vietnam intervention by France and the United States [1946-1976] ended in chaos and defeat, followed by 20 years of international quarantine and isolation. Left to their own devices, the Vietnamese initiated economic and political reforms and fully rejoined the international community and world economy. “Since 2000, Vietnam’s economic growth rate has been among the highest in the world, and, in 201, it had the highest Global Growth Generators Index among 11 major economies.”
Applying the Vietnam cure to the Syria mess Mattis should order a hands-off, non-intervention policy urging Russia, Iran, the Kurds, the Saudis, and for that matter anyone else, to back off and let the locals sort things out, no matter how messy the sausage making process proves to be. If you follow Mattis’ just announced cure you are courting another Afghanistan, a man and money eating, never ending nightmare.
Deyan Ranko Brashich is a contributor writing from New York. He is the author of Letters from America, Contrary Views and Dispatches. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com