Journal Entry #6

LAKE SUNAPEE, N. H.—I wrote twice this week on the Obama administration’s new accord with Turkey, providing landing rights for Americans fighter jets and putting Turkish F-16s in the air alongside the U.S.A.F. craft. These pieces are now posted. So I’ll stay with home truths that extend far beyond the details of this egregious error. Very briefly:

One, we’ve just witnessed the astonishing extent to which American policy I snow conducted not by diplomats but by Pentagon officers and intelligence officials. True, Secretary Kerry who is perfectly visible when first-tier questions are to be addressed: the Iran deal, of course, or the latest (failed) effort to advance Mideast peace talks. What we don’t so easily see is how thoroughly the military and the intelligence institutions determine policy in so many other spheres.

Having covered Asia for many years, it was obvious to me after a time that American policy across the Pacific was in essence military policy—a follow-on from the Second World War in that policy has never effectively returned to civilian control. The Middle East is more complicated, but the new pact with Ankara isn’t very: This is a military deal, structured by a retired Marine general, and serves purely tactical purposes.

The tragedy lies where it always does: in the neglect of other diplomatic and political considerations—a neglect that often produces short-term suffering and violence and invariably produces long-term problems of many varieties. In this case, Americans are heading into the Syrian conflict without knowing quite in support of whom, and are in the process of betraying the Kurds—minorities in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq who have been loyal to the anti-ISIS cause.

Unconscionable. As is the process and the personnel in charge of it. We will never advance well in this new, post-American era until we break this grip and return policy to thoughtful, well-schooled people.

Two, very briefly, we need to look at these events historically, placing them in the conduct of all that preceded it by way of American conduct in the region. It’s then, I think, that the gravity of what’s just happened is to be understood fully.

A couple of days off now, and we visit an old, dear friend on the shores of Lake Sunapee, in central New Hampshire. Splendid. If this were perfume it’d be called Essence of Summer, or Essence of New England Summer. It’s too brief, but as with scent, a little is enough.