Michael Morell, former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, appeared on the “Charlie Rose Show” recently with a Morell Plan to end Syria’s civil war.
He owlishly explained the solution as “a transition of power from [President] Assad to a … transitional government that represents all of the Syrian people. That is only going to happen if Assad wants it to happen, if Russia wants it to happen, if Iran wants it to happen.” The former deputy director said the Morrell Plan is urgent because, “[t]he Syrian civil war has to end, and the reason it has to end is because It is feeding extremism in Iraq and Syria.”
If Mr. Morell is the best the CIA has to offer, the agency should be replaced with a subscription to The New York Times at a savings of approximately $15 billion annually. Deputy to Jeane Kirkpatrick, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Chuck Lichenstein, once told me that he learned more about what he needed to know by reading The New York Times than by reading the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimates.
The Morell Plan exemplifies the sophomoric nature of the CIA’s prescriptions which caused Lichenstein’s despair. The plan is clueless about what a transitional government representing all the Syrian people would look like and how it would be selected. Will the Syrian people be represented along religious, tribal, ethnic, geographic, or other lines? Will representatives be elected on a one-person, one-vote principle, and will the millions of Syrian refugees be permitted to vote? Will the executive be plural or singular? Will there be an interim constitution to govern the transitional government? How long will the transition government serve and what comes after the transition? Why does Mr. Morell believe a Syrian transitional government will end the civil war when transitional governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Libya did nothing to end civil wars in their respective countries? What is the likelihood that a transitional government representing the antagonistic interests of Sunnis, Alawites, Christians, and Kurds will agree on anything when the civil war has pushed the level of intramural distrust to its high water mark? Their canyon-like divisions find expression in the multitude of armed on the civil war battlefield, including the Al Nusra Front, the Syrian Free Army, YPG, Islamic State, the Syrian Armed Forces, and Hezbollah.
To borrow from Gertrude Stein, there is no there there in the Morell Plan. It will mean whatever the rival stakeholders want it to mean. Even if Russia, Assad, and Iran agreed to the plan, every issue relevant to ending the civil war would remain in play. Mr. Morell, nevertheless, exhorts the United States to employ military force and risk the lives of American soldiers to advance his chimerical solution. Isn’t one brave Army Captain Humayun Khan dying for nothing in Iraq more than enough?
Mr. Morell absurdly insists that the United States must remain militarily engaged in Syria because its civil war is feeding extremism in Iraq and Syria. He forgets that extremism in the region was fueled by Syria’s oppressive government and hostility towards its neighbors long before the civil war erupted. Extremism was rampant in Syria and Iraq before Islamic State was born. That international terrorist organization is the child not only of civil wars, but of dictatorial governments which earmark the Arab world, including Egypt under President el-Sisi and Saudi Arabia under King Salman. If national security requires the United States to extinguish the forces of extremism wherever they exist by military means, as Mr. Morell insinuates, we will be at war throughout the Middle East and North Africa till the end of time.
Mr. Morell’s conviction that the United States is capable of snuffing out extremism in foreign lands is delusional. Hundreds of our brave marines slaughtered in Lebanon in 1983 were there to quell extremism. We sought to end civil war and extremism in Sudan by midwifing an independent South Sudan. Our baby immediately convulsed with its own civil war. It is fostering the extremism we intended it to extinguish. Mr. Morell tellingly omits any examples where his type of plan for defeating has extremism succeeded.
The CIA cannot afford any more ciphers like him. If it is to continue, its biblical motto, “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” must be replaced with the prayer of Francis of Assisi: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things that I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”