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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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.

Is Syria Different?

I’ve seen more and more press releases from this weekend on how Syria is different from Iraq, or Libya, that we must act.  Funny coming from Sen Kerry who was against action in Iraq, despite UN Sanctions which we don’t have here, that this time we must act.

How did our last bombing in the region go after its leader Gaddafi was threatening..  From a Sunday article in the London paper the Independent:

Libya has plunged unnoticed into its worst political and economic crisis since the defeat of Qaddafi two years ago.  Government authority is disintegrating in all parts of the country putting in doubt claims by American, British and French politicians that NATO’s military action in Libya in 2011 was an outstanding example of a successful foreign military intervention, which should be repeated in Syria. … Output of Libya’s prized high-quality crude oil has plunged from 1.4 million barrels a day earlier this year to just 160,000 barrels a day now.

Thomas Friedman had a great article discussing this same topic in his Sunday Op-Ed:

I keep reading about how Iraq was the bad war and Libya was the good war and Afghanistan was the necessary war and Bosnia was the moral war and Syria is now another necessary war. Guess what! They are all the same war.

They are all the story of what happens when multisectarian societies, most of them Muslim or Arab, are held together for decades by dictators ruling vertically, from the top down, with iron fists and then have their dictators toppled, either by internal or external forces. And they are all the story of how the people in these countries respond to the fact that with the dictator gone they can only be governed horizontally — by the constituent communities themselves writing their own social contracts for how to live together as equal citizens, without an iron fist from above. And, as I’ve said before, they are all the story of how difficult it is to go from Saddam to Jefferson — from vertical rule to horizontal rule — without falling into Hobbes or Khomeini.

He goes on further discussing the same dangers I have in previous posts about there is no political entity that is ready to take over should Assad be toppled or removed from power.

If we were to decapitate the Syrian regime from the air, the same thing would likely happen there. For any chance of a multi-sectarian democratic outcome in Syria, you need to win two wars on the ground: one against the ruling Assad-Alawite-Iranian-Hezbollah-Shiite alliance; and, once that one is over, you’d have to defeat the Sunni Islamists and pro-Al Qaeda jihadists. Without an army of the center (which no one will provide) to back up the few decent Free Syrian Army units, both will be uphill fights.

The center exists in these countries, but it is weak and unorganized. It’s because these are pluralistic societies — mixtures of tribes and religious sects, namely Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Kurds, Druze and Turkmen — but they lack any sense of citizenship or deep ethic of pluralism. That is, tolerance, cooperation and compromise. They could hold together as long as there was a dictator to “protect” (and divide) everyone from everyone else. But when the dictator goes, and you are a pluralistic society but lack pluralism, you can’t build anything because there is never enough trust for one community to cede power to another — not without an army of the center to protect everyone from everyone…..

…..

Each tribe or sect believes it is in a rule-or-die struggle against the next, and when everyone believes this, it becomes self-fulfilling.

That means Syria and Iraq will both likely devolve into self-governing, largely homogeneous, ethnic and religious units, like Kurdistan. And, if we are lucky, these units will find a modus vivendi, as happened in Lebanon after 14 years of civil war. And then maybe, over time, these smaller units will voluntarily come together into larger, more functional states.

They are tough words, but if we “change the momentum on the battlefield” we need to be prepared to get more involved for quite some time.

Is Syria different on the ground?  No.  It will take enormous effort, money, and blood before Syria would be stable enough following the collapse of their government.  It would take help from the Arab League, NATO, EU, The UN, none of which is stepping up yet.

Is it different for Presidential authority to unilaterally act? Yes.  In fact, despite calls from the President that Congressional approval is not required (coincidentally that he is seeking approval of) the NY Times this morning had this in their article:

…. the proposed strike is unlike anything that has come before — an attack inside the territory of a sovereign country, without its consent, without a self-defense rationale and without the authorization of the United Nations Security Council or even the participation of a multilateral treaty alliance like NATO, and for the purpose of punishing an alleged war crime that has already occurred rather than preventing an imminent disaster.

If you remember the Bush reasoning for Iraq, it was expanding our authority to strike to prevent an imminent attack.  There was also a decade of UN Sanctions not upheld.

Related articles

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/08/opinion/sunday/friedman-same-war-different-country.html?_r=3&

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