Monday, October 12, 2015

The "Moderate" Counterfeit: Syria and the U.S.

I have noticed an interesting parallel: The use of the term "moderate" in glaringly different contexts but for the same basic purpose, to mock up support where there really isn't any to speak of. Call it the "moderate" counterfeit.

In the first context, the World War in Syria, the term "moderate" anchors the main fiction of U.S. foreign policy there, that Syria is convulsed by a civil war in which a bloodthirsty dictator, Bashar al-Assad, propped up by authoritarian allies in Iran and Russia, slaughters a "moderate" civil opposition who is looking to a benevolent Uncle Sam for support. That is the cover story. What is really going on is that Syria is being invaded by foreign jihadist mercenaries, bankrolled by the Arab states of the Persian Gulf.

Despite spending half a billion dollars to form a "moderate" fighting force to combat ISIS in northern Syria, the Pentagon came up empty. You would think that this would spur a Congressional investigation or two and possible some heads would roll. But actually nothing of the sort will happen; in fact, the Pentagon is looking for a $100-million increase in the program in next year's budget. According to this morning's "Foreign Policy - Situation Report" by Paul McLeary and Adam Rawnsley,
Missiles for all my friends. Not all train and equip programs are created equal. While the effort by U.S. Special Forces to train a Syrian force of about 5,000 “moderate” fighters by the end of this year has flamed out, the Washington Post takes a look at the other, more successful U.S. train and equip program in Syria -- the CIA's supply of TOW missiles to rebels.
The missiles have been so successful on the battlefield that the rebels have taken to calling it the “Assad Tamer.” The program has been going on for several years, and during the recent Russian-backed offensive by Syrian forces, rebels have been posting videos of the missiles taking out Syrian tanks and armored vehicles. While a significant capability, the Raytheon-made missiles -- coming mostly from the 13,000 purchased by the Saudi government in 2013 -- have so far been unable to significantly change the situation on the ground, as Syrian forces continue to push rebels out of their positions in Idlib, Hama, and Latakia provinces.
Not dead, just less oversight! The Pentagon’s scuttled training program may be gone, but the effort lives on. Despite insisting for months that every single Syrian fighter needed to be vetted by U.S. forces before being issued weapons, White House and Pentagon officials on Friday said that actually, the opposite is true. On a call with reporters, Christine Wormuth, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for policy, said only the leaders of various trusted rebel groups will be vetted, and they’ll be trusted to pass out U.S.-supplied weapons and supplies to their troops as they see fit. “We have been working with these groups for months,” she said, and the United States will now “build on that and work with groups on the ground who are already fighting ISIL and provide them some equipment.” She wouldn’t comment on the kinds of equipment specifically, other than to say it will not include “higher-end” weapons like anti-tank rockets and ground-to-air missiles.
The original program may be dead, but like all good Pentagon initiatives, the funding stream lives on. The Pentagon has asked for $600 million to fund it in the 2016 budget, and Capitol Hill appears willing to go along, despite Republican and Democratic lawmakers having recently called the training effort “a joke,” a “total failure,” and “a bigger disaster than I could have ever imagined.”
Hard to believe. But there it is. The fiction of a vibrant "moderate" opposition and the necessity of a well-funded program in the Pentagon to support it is too important for something as disposable as the truth.

Another context where "moderate" is used to anchor an Oz-like fictitious social construct is in the 2016 presidential race. "Moderates" are the wellspring of the "mainstream" candidacies of Jeb Bush and Hillary. ("Moderates" written without the quote marks -- apparently the fiction of moderates on the battlefield in Syria can be designated in quotation as an Obama administration contrivance, but moderates in the U.S. electorate much be vouchsafed as legitimate; hence, no quote marks.)

To get a sense of how the term "moderate" is used in the context of the 2016 presidential primary contest, let us turn to the Gray Lady's principal electoral tea-leaves reader, Nate Cohn ("Why Marco Rubio’s Chances Are Rising"):
A lot has changed since April, when Marco Rubio announced his presidential bid. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin was the top candidate of mainstream conservative activists and donors. Jeb Bush seemed like a fund-raising juggernaut with natural appeal to the party’s moderate voters, who play an underrated role in the Republican primary process. Mr. Rubio, a broadly appealing candidate but the top choice of few, looked boxed out.

Today, Mr. Rubio isn’t blocked. Instead, he has a big opening. 
Mr. Walker dropped out of the race, and Mr. Bush does not look nearly as strong as it seemed he might. Mr. Bush hasn’t won many endorsements, he isn’t faring well in the polls, and his impressive fund-raising reflects a narrow base of strong support from wealthy super PAC donors, not wide support by party elites.
As Cohn lines out, Bush's oasis of mass moderate support turned out to be a mirage. This doesn't stop Cohn from pressing on to claim an opportunity for the ridiculous Rubio to tap the same "oasis" of "moderate" support.

The same can be said for Cohn's recent think-piece ("Joe Biden: No Money, Weak Polls, but Still Clinton’s Toughest Rival") where he buttresses Hillary's front-runner status, with, yes, you guessed it, her appeal to "moderate" voters:
Among nonwhite voters, [Hillary] leads Mr. Sanders in a one-on-one contest by a huge margin of 71 percent to 16 percent. 
Similarly, she leads among moderate voters by a margin of 63 to 23 points. The race is closer among whites and liberals, but she still takes a slight lead among both groups in a head-to-head contest with Mr. Sanders.
Mr. Sanders said earlier this year that he thought he had a chance to break into Mrs. Clinton’s coalition by winning support from working-class voters. Perhaps he can. But his opponent is a candidate with universal name recognition, tremendous backing from party elites and considerable financial and organizational resources. These factors make her far less vulnerable than other candidates to perceptions of momentum — in which voters who don’t follow the campaign very closely can flock to someone who seems to be gaining.
At the end of the quote, the underlined portion, you get the real definition of "moderate" in the U.S. electoral system -- someone who is basically ignorant and who will vote for the candidate with the greatest name recognition and the largest number of commercials on television.

While in years past -- when there was at least a modicum of hope in the future -- this would be plenty to win an election, now, things are different. Look at Jeb Bush. There are few "moderates" these days.

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