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.

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.

Is it War, or does it Matter?

A week ago, President Obama told us that he did not need Congressional approval to bomb Syria. Then after seeing the International Coalition dissolve, he proclaimed he would get backing from Congress. Now Sen Kerry states (Interview from the HUFF Post):

“Constitutionally, every president, Republican and Democrat alike, has always reserved to the presidency, to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the right to make a decision with respect to American security,” Kerry said during an interview in his State Department reception room on Thursday.

“Bill Clinton went to Kosovo over the objections of many people and saved lives and managed to make peace because he did something that was critical at the time. Many presidents have done that. Reagan did it. Bush did it. A lot of presidents have made a decision that they have to protect the nation.”

So do they need Congress? I don’t know. Apparently they want a scapegoat if it goes south.. Otherwise , (tic) well, you better vote for it Congress, or the President might do it anyway..

Are we going so that we can save the people and provide peace like Kerry states in his interview or are we going to uphold the “international laws” against chemical weapons that Syria has never signed? Oh yeah, and without UN backing or any sort of NATO or Coalition force. Somehow we will also do it with limited strikes that will “punish” Assad but somehow not destabilize the security of the weapons. (or destroy them for that matter) Never mind our tired military since 9/11, limited stockpile of tomahawk missiles (well over a $1 million a piece), sequestration, and a Congress that never passes a military fiscal budget before a fiscal year starts.

Even larger in the debate, doesn’t military action without international sanctions violate “international law” ?

Do we need to declare “war” with Congress? Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post asked in her editorial this morning:

What would we call it if another country fired missiles our way? ….

I know what the Syrians will think of it.

Will this “non-war” punishment make a difference to Assad? I doubt it. Would it have made a difference to Qaddafi? Oh yeah, it didn’t matter there either. He would fight to the death like Saddam. Will this change the momentum on the battlefield? Perhaps 3 days of strikes could. But who will take charge? Who has the best weapons and is the most brutal? I let you answer that.

Worried about the weapons falling into the wrong hands or AQ elements taking charge of the weakened state of the Syrian government.. ? (From the Huff post interview)

But if we “degrade” the structure for controlling those weapons, how do we keep them from getting into the wrong hands without some kind of on-the-ground involvement?
Let me give you the reverse question. If we don’t send this message to Assad that this should not be used, and if we don’t strengthen the opposition over a period of time through the support that the world is giving to them, and the United States backs off of sending this message, there is a much greater likelihood that those weapons will fall into the hands of the bad guys and a much greater likelihood that you will have a lot more of them, because those are the people who are going to get the support to remove Assad.

But the specific question is, if you degrade the delivery systems, how do you keep those materials from getting into the wrong hands?
By being very thoughtful in your selection of what you do, so that you do not undo his ability to be able to maintain and guard the actual stockpiles. Stockpiles are spread out in various parts of the country. And we know where they are. And the United States is obviously going to be very careful not to do something that makes matters worse.

So to summarize his answers, Sen Kerry believes the chemical weapons are more likely to fall in to the wrong hands if we don’t strike. Don’t worry, he’s not going to strike anything that affects the chemical weapons or their security. As he says, he’s talked this all through. Really? Thats our assurance? You’ve talked it through? Sorry, I’ve seen post strike Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and you think it will be alright? Did those work out as planned? Uh, no.

In the end I feel like I’m on a roller coaster from the White House. A year ago chemical weapons are a red line. A year later 100k Syrians are dead with perhaps a million refugees and we don’t say anything until Syria’s second chemical attack.

“We must attack within 48 hours”

“We can’t wait on the UN inspectors report”

“We have a large Coalition with us”

“I don’t need Congress to authorize this immediate threat”

“I will seek Congress’ authorization” (for this immediate threat but not until next week, oops 2+ weeks)

“But I don’t need their authorization”

“We will punish them militarily” (but not destroy the weapons themselves)

(To get some Republicans onboard) “We will change the momentum of the battlefield”

“If they hand over their chemical weapons we won’t attack”

Don’t worry about Syria’s response, AQ, rebuilding Syria or affiliated extremists.. “We’ve talked this all through”

My question is, what is next in the plan?

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Syria Debate 2.0 and a Prediction of Syria’s Future

Before Mondays meeting with Senator John McCain and Graham both men had stated the administrations call for limited strikes was inadequate. According to the WSJ “said they couldn’t support isolated military strikes without a broader plan to change the dynamic of the civil war.” Apparently the President is considering their request.

I find this interesting as 3 months after the White House authorized the CIA to arm the moderate rebels, according to the WSJ not a single weapon has gone forward due to a fear for the outcome if they succeed… I think they also fear the weapons going in to the wrong hands once in Syria.

So they question I pose as a former planner.. Are we trying to deter and degrade chemical weapons capability or is our strategy going to expand to make a difference in the civil war? I see the latter expanding our continued involvement in Syria despite our fear of the result.

According to the press, Pentagon (CENTCOM actually) planners were told not to offer strike packages that could help drive Assad from power, but the McCain//Graham request to modify our strikes seems to open this line of bombing as an option. Silly me, but if we bomb shouldn’t we be taking out chemical weapons capability by bombs, UAVs or other options? Oh yeah, I forgot, with all of this build up Syria has had plenty if time to hide their weapons and chemicals, further reducing the effectiveness of a military strike now.

So do we now have a grand strategy for transition of power in Syria? Who is in charge of Phase 6 operations…rebuilding, and whose troops and $$ will pay for this? Who is planning for the next step?

If Congress votes for expansion, what is our desired end state? Who would we push to take over? Right now there is no valid political “govt” that could take over despite the attempts of Turkey and Saudi Arabia over the last 2 years. I fear that the best organized and the most brutal AQ groups would fight for total control – as the have the best weapons and monetary backing of the rebel groups.

Let me be honest, I am no fan of Assad, but ffwd a little to if he is taken out – If AQ and some extreme Sunnis take the helm expect a battle between the Sunnis for control, a slaughter of the Alawite minority- like Iraq Sunnis a decade ago- and continued fighting among the minorities and faction such as the Kurds/Sunni/Sh’ia groups.

Sectarian strife would continue and the possible breakup of Syria. The Iraqi Kurds have already said they will come to aid their brothers. I know Qatar and Saudi Arabia will continue to support their friends, and Iran the same. Meanwhile the US will still be looking for the Moderate rebels and wondering how we need to help.

Oh yeah, wasn’t this action supposed to be deter and degrade chemical weapons capability? Wasn’t this supposed to be multilateral operations led by our President who was given a Nobel prize for multilateral diplomacy in 2009?

Above is my prediction for the road ahead on our current course of action. I can only hope that our military planners are providing the same warnings to the Central Command Commander for his discussions with the President.

But as I know from my studies, war is just an extension of politics, and our President seems keen on more involvement. I just hope Congress or he realizes the pull of continued operations once you get involved. I believe Gen Powell was the one who stated about Iraq ” if you broke it, you bought it… ” and we would be looked at to be the transition force.

It would be nice though to know precisely what our strategy and desired end state is going forward and if our military action even supports that strategy OR helps the rebels.

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The Syrian Debate

To attack or not to attack that seems to be the question… It’s a big commitment that could entangle the US for many years as we know from recent events.

I guess my biggest question is what is our strategy in Syria? I know the President came out and said they were going to deter defeat & degrade their chemical weapons ability but how do limited military airstrikes on unrelated fields degrade chemical weapons ability?

Why do we have the sudden urgency to attack from the use of chemical weapons? Assad has killed over hundred thousand Syrians the past two years and we have done nothing and now the US must attack immediately?

In addition with this debate dragging out over several weeks doesn’t the Assad regime have plenty time to hide their chemical weapons and military capabilities. Will we be destroying empty buildings? How will this help in a civil war?

Additionally, like Lebanon or Iraq, this is a sectarian battle that doesn’t need the confusion of American involvement. This can easily drag us into another conflict and we become the scapegoat if it fails. We need a UN or at a minimum NATO backing to make this legitimate.

Equally concerning is the lack of a military coalition of the willing. Now that there’s no coalition of foreign governments it seems like the President has gone back to Congress to get backing and/or shared responsibility. He may reach the same fait as our British allies with Parliament.

If the use of chemical weapons is such a moral outrage, where are the other countries with their military men at risk like ours will be? Who will have to protect US citizens overseas if there is retribution? Why does the US taxpayer foot the bill?

Obama Team has mishandled Syria.

Many thoughts for our Congress to ponder..

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