This Time its Different (Syria)

We are being told this time it is different. “No boots on the ground” “Syria is not Iraq” That this time we will get it right.  This confuses me as I look back the last 6 years of our Middle East foreign policy.

Let’s look back to Iraq during the surge of troops there.  After successful outreach to the Sunni tribes and an extra 100k in troops (US), President Obama was determined to reduce the surge quickly and ultimately reduce total forces in Iraq.  The  Centcom CDR was typically overruled as the drawdown was placed on a time schedule instead of Iraq Army capabilities.  VPBiden and the President disagreed/saying the Iraq forces were ready as they ceremoniously turned over province after province to the Iraqis.  We were told that the military CDRs were in “agreement”.  It was painfully obvious to me this was very misleading as I knew from talking to troops that the Ir
aq Army was not ready even with brand new US equipment and years of training.  My biggest fear was what was going to happen to these Sunni militia groups once they no longer had a common enemy or. Were no longer being ” paid” by the US? …..

Then we jump to the Presidents press briefing yesterday.  “We underestimated the ISIL force” Apparently they have been watched in Syria for some time as they had safe haven in ungoverned Northern Syria.  While we were ignoring Iraq so we could surge and drawdown in Afghanistan, former Sunni and Saddam Hussein military members built up training and funding in Syria.  Despite the pleading of the moderate rebels in Syria asking for help against extremists there, we handed them MREs and non combatant supplies.  It wasn’t until the Iraqi Kurds were on the run and ISIL approached Bagdhad that we affirmed our mistake in not helping Iraq early enough.  Then it took beheadings of the press in Syria to say we need to get involved there..no mind the thousands of Syrians ISIL has killed before the journalists.

I have to admit the US helped set this scenario along.  We withdrew from Iraq too quickly and too early.  President Maliki did play a major sectarian role thought as he certainly was no friend of the Sunnis – to which I’m sure his Iranian (Shia) advisors were happy with.  As we were out you could feel the US was “done” with Iraq as we concentrated in getting out if AFG.  I think similar thinking kept us from helping the Syrians against Assad or the ISIL rebels. President Obama had to get dragged in by the beheadings ( or chemical weapons until the Putin save)

Now we are bombing Syria, which I support, but it reminds me of North Vietnam.  We attacked ISIL reluctantly in Iraq and dragged our feet for a month in Syria.  This gave time for ISIL to prepare, move, and get ready while we talked about it in the press. When questioned about civilian casualties, the White House said don’t worry, the White House is strictly controlling targets in Syria. What?  This makes attacks time late from intelligence and severely limits the Military commanders on flexibility for targets of opportunity. 

This morning was a press interview with and ISIS member that stated they knew the attacks in Syria were coming and that most escaped into the population.  This could be propaganda, but I suspect somewhat true.  Our own conference talked about the “nodes” or infrastructure we attacked, not the key leaders…

We are touting that we are training a rebel force in Syria, although it is alleged that could take a year or so and may only number 5000.  But its OK (tic), we are not sending boots on the ground.

Here’s where I am concerned.  We don’t seem to have a coordinated (cross country) strategy to defeat ISIL.  First we protected Iraqi civilians, then Syrian, then attacked ISIL in Iraq, now finally ISIL nodes in Syria.  We are helping the Kurds slowly in Iraq, but not really Kurds in Syria.  What about ISIL in Turkey? Kurds in Turkey? ..As you see it gets more complicated with government policies and minority groups on motivation to help.  Most importantly, how is this whole effort not aiding Pres Assad of Syria, who we say still must go.  He’s not going anywhere.

Now the Iranians say they will help if we lift sanctions against their country.. Although only implied as that they won’t talk to us about ISIL until we do.  Hopefully we won’t fall for that trick as they have not complied by reducing enriched nuclear material.

If we are going after this group why did we wait so long? Why are we going after them piecemeal? Why do the Commanders need to seek white house approval limiting strikes and making them time late on intelligence? Why does it seem that the only thing that has worked is boots in the ground? … Or no action at all?

For even more insight check out Anthony Cordesman… http://csis.org/publication/real-center-gravity-war-against-islamic-state

Real Center of Gravity for ISIS

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Negotiating With Terrorists, We’ve Already Lost

image

A 2008 Presidential candidate quote stated President Bush

didn’t use the full force of American power to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden, al-Queda, the Taliban, and all of the terrorists responsible for 9/11. Hmmm.

Another quote by Defense Secretary Chuck Bagel during his Senate confirmations..

We didn’t negotiate with terrorists

This past Monday White House Press Secretary would not call the Taliban a terrorist organization, but only

an enemy combatant

.

I think our military, our allies, and Afghanistan may disagree. They went on to belabor the point that we have always negotiated in times of war… ( forgetting our long standing US position of not negotiating with terrorists)

While I am not upset that Sgt Bergdahl is coming home, I am surprised at how it happened and how words are being twisted to make it sound less harmful than it probably is. I will save the debate on if he was a deserter or AWOL as that will soon come to light.  What is interesting is press reports from Dianne Feinstein, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman who says that when the idea was brought up in 2011 as an idea for a trade it was almost unanimously rejected. Hmm again.

What changed? Did the President know more? Did he need a boost in the polls., I would think that would not be his reasoning, did he know more than the military – outlasting his CENTCOM CDRs?

Did President Obama inform the Congress 30 days prior to releasing prisoners from GitMo as required by law? No.

Did the President perhaps consult our Afghanistan or Pakistan allies on releasing 5 Taliban members (4 of which are senior leaders) for their opinion on this proposal? I think not since the Afghan govt seems to be upset.

Did the President look at some of our past Gitmo releases to see if they returned to combat? I don’t know but apparently it was not a deciding factor as many have been seen in Yemen, Afg, Iraq, and Syria among others according to press reports.  A few have ever been taken out by our drones.  Most recently, 3 Gitmo detainees that were returned to Morocco 10 years ago, and despite assurances that they would be monitored,  left Morocco and were the founding members of the AQ rebel group in Syria. Hmm.

Now we are told by the White House that the emir of Qatar has personally guaranteed that these 5 members will be fully monitored and will not be allowed to leave that country for a year. Sounds to me like a good amount of time to recover, raise funds, re-engage AQ via the internet, and return to fighting in AFG or elsewhere in a year.  In fact the news is reporting Gulf sources saying the 5 Taliban members are

with family, can travel anywhere in Qatar for a year, and can go anywhere including Afghanistan after a year.

 

{Update June 6, One of the Taliban Cdrs in Qatar has already vowed to return to AFG and kill Americans there.  http://news.yahoo.com/report-freed-taliban-commander-vows-return-war-against-165007948.html }

So it brings the question

What are we assured of by the emir?

So when these terrorist..err enemy combatants kill US soldiers and or citizens in a year or two, who will tell the families that this trade was worth it? Who will tell the parents of the next US citizen or soldier who is kidnapped by AQ or the Taliban? Who will tell the government of Afghanistan when they return to the Taliban as

heroes?

Coincidentally, these fabulous 5 from Gitmo could be returning to Afghanistan as we pull out almost completely next fall of 2015.  I’m sure they will live peacefully, love the AFG government, and won’t harbor any ill will against the US citizens still there in the embassy or the hundreds of charitable organizations throughout the country.

But I guess that hardship and realization will happen in the next administration after this President is gone from Washington and only those of us who appreciate history will remember.

I wish I knew what changed..

I apologize for any formatting errors. The android WordPress app is not as easy as typing on the computer for WYSIWYG.

Another reason to leave Afghanistan

Another reason to leave Afghanistan

From the AP news wire….

We learn 2 things.

1. We know why they were so adamant to get control of the prison at Bagram… to release their friends.

2. They have no concerns for the safety of our troops. They are releasing prisoners who are a threat to foreign troops and have dragged out the negotiations for our continued presence in AFG.

The US stated we would be completely out of AFG in 2014 without a status of forces agreement by the end of 2013.  I hope we hold ourselves to this threat.  I haven’t heard any update from the White House.

Now non-lethal aide is cut to Syrian Rebels

 

This was always the risk with arming the Syrian rebels. AQ linked rebels could easily take, steal, or acquire any weapons we supply them with. Either way, it’s not looking good for the “moderate” rebels, like elsewhere in the Middle East the well armed often rule in the in governed spaces. Syria is no exception.

Iraq Makes a Plea

Iraq Makes a Plea

Today an Op-Ed in the NY Time by the Prime Minister of Iraq.  This leads his upcoming visit to the White House next week.  Promising more help on AQ and Syria, the Prime Minister is looking for accelerated delivery of F-16s, increased intelligence sharing, and more weapons such at helicopters and night vision equipment.

Syria Update…

So how are those hyped talks with Syria going? After going to the faux brink of “military action”, losing the Brits, and then a last minute approval request from Congress, we initiated negotiations with Syria for removal of their chemical weapons.

I fear the talks are becoming worthless. Although UN teams are in country, both Saudi Arabia and the leading Syrian rebel groups are now boycotting any future talks. Why? Because they both insist that removal of the Assad regime must be a part if the talks, and of course Pres Assad does not agree. I think we can be pretty confident Pres Assad is not worried about US military action.

This had so inflamed our relations with Saudi Arabia that they turned down a nomination to the UN Security Council in disgust of our (and UN) handling if the Syrian issue.

Spokesman for the Dept of State on Syrian issues, Robert Ford, said “there is no military solution for Syria.” While I agree Syria would be a mess for our troops, this just verifies that there really was no threat of military action in Syria, and Assad knew it.

Last minute talks were agreed to by Syria and their Russian allies primarily to boost the Russian influence in the area and preserve the Assad regime.

Now we are not having talks with the leading rebel group nor with one if our former best ally in the region. Once again, Pres Obama has increased the distance between us and our allies and decreased relations in the Middle East.

I fear our Middle East relations will continue to deteriorate along with our prestige and influence on the World stage. It’s a shame that it is self induced.

Talk to Iran?

Trust Iran?

Where has this sudden move by IRAN to admit that nuclear weapons should not be a weapon in their military come from? Is it from the recent showdown in Syria where President Assad was trembling (tic) at the thought of military strikes in Syria…  Uh, no. I don’t believe military options are the key reason. I think two other options are influencing the Khomenei and the new President in Iran.

The first, often criticized, is the cumulative effect sanctions are having on the population in Iran. Despite Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea shrugging theirs off, sanctions are finally making an impact in Iran.

After Ahmadenijad’s reelection in 2009, many in the country thought the “election” was fraudulent and rioting ensued across the country (reminder the Supreme Leader selects the President to be voted upon in Iran-not a real free election) Iran’s oil revenue is down 58% and it has been reported that over 50% of the population is having trouble finding enough money for food. This can be directly correlated to decreased fuel subsidies by the Iranian government spiking gasoline prices and runaway inflation on basic necessities and western products.  Rouhani was elected on the promise that he would improve the economy and situation for the average Iraninan..  Now he has to deliver.

Where could he possible get the money for this? How about cutbacks or reduction in developing nuclear weapons? This is hugely expensive, especially buying equipment on the global black market, subsidizing North Korea, paying off nuclear scientists, and they burying them into mountainsides. They could save billions of dollars and turn that money back to the country or to the oil infrastructure. If Rouhani can get some sanctions reduced in a deal with the US, even more trade and infrastructure can help his cause. More money also means Iran can increase their foreign aid to their friends across the Middle East, Venezuela, and North Korea. (Perhaps future blog on that topic)

What else is enabling this sudden desire to talk to the US? I believe it’s the sudden reemergence of their long friends the Russians. With Putins team stealing the political limelight with a “save” in Syria, I think the Iranians will use the Russian link for their future negotiations with Kerry. I look to see Russian influence either on inspectors, teams, or even coordinators for verification. Perhaps UN teams allowed as well, but don’t look for any Americans anytime soon own those teams.
Russia also plays a key role in any future UNSC Resolutions or helping remove current ones. What else? I’m sure Iran would be happy to receive their often delayed S300 missile system.

Putin will be for elevating his country to a status so they matter again on the World Stage… All without military might. He is seeking equal status with the US in the Middle East and probably fits in with old realpolitik thoughts from the old days…

Do I think all these happy thoughts on Iran possible? Yes, but it’s not as we haven’t heard this tune before, both in Iran and their soul mates in North Korea. (North Korea was reportedly powering up a reactor this last week that they agreed to shut down a decade ago in return for oil shipments there). I am highly skeptical of these public promises and well have to see what Iran agrees to, and more importantly what inspectors find. In the end nothing should change for sanctions until we see some actual events on the ground in Iran.

Either way, I think we have to give these talks a shot, even if it helps Russia in the near term. Military action in Iran is the last thing we need at this point after multiple Wars the last decade and a budget crisis with a tired military.

Karzai not in a hurry… We are.

Karzai not in a hurry… We are.

With 2014 approaching and the drawdown coming, President Karzai seems to be in no hurry to sign a future forces agreement. If he thinks the pressure is on President Obama, he is sadly misreading him. The President can’t wait to announce all combat troops are out of AFG. I bet all of his budget planners wish the same.

Rumor says Karzai wants us to guarantee defense of Afghanistan in case of invasion. Ok, are we signing a training mission or an alliance? We are talking about training forces. If no agreement -we are gone. We should be pulling all our extra gear out now, which I believe we are, and plan forward with the amount of troops we think are likely. If we get to 6 months prior to the next troops deployment order without an agreement, just announce the deadline has passed and we a don’t deploy any more troops there.

Will dragging this out push us to give him “modern weapons?” I don’t think I need to answer that one.

I think he forgets we have to plan for future training missions a year out…and we are a year out. It’s time to plan get out.

No pressure on us either.

A Plea from Putin

From the NYTimes:

A Plea for Caution From Russia
By VLADIMIR V. PUTIN
September 11, 2013 The New York Times
MOSCOW — RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.

Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”

But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.

No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.

The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.

We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.

A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.

I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.

If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

Vladimir V. Putin is the president of Russia.

Syria Accepts Russian Proposal

image Syrian President Assad has accepted the Russian proposal for international control of his chemical weapons.

We shall see if this is accepted into TA UNSC Resolution led by France.

Odd though we are stopped at the brink of attacking by a supposed Kerry gaffe. I guess it’s better to be lucky than right.

 

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