Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Islamic State; Unabated

In times of high levels of rhetoric and low levels of thoughtful discussion, it is always helpful to go to the map.

Maps have a logic and clarity all their own. The struggle is, in the end, about geography: access, possession, and influence.

Words can only tell so much of a story. Take this from TheDailyBeast;
American jets are pounding Syria. But ISIS is taking key terrain—and putting more and more people under its black banners. 
ISIS continues to gain substantial ground in Syria, despite nearly 800 airstrikes in the American-led campaign to break its grip there.

At least one-third of the country’s territory is now under ISIS influence, with recent gains in rural areas that can serve as a conduit to major cities that the so-called Islamic State hopes to eventually claim as part of its caliphate. Meanwhile, the Islamic extremist group does not appear to have suffered any major ground losses since the strikes began. The result is a net ground gain for ISIS, according to information compiled by two groups with on-the-ground sources.
That is a good statement of fact - much better than what you may hear from politicians - but it doesn't quite describe the success the Islamic State has had over the winter months so far.

You will hear a lot of celebrating about Kobani - and any setback for the enemy is good - but that says more about the Kurds than the Islamic State. That is a battle, not the larger sweep of the conflict.

Put that to one side and then look at where the Islamic State has grown just in Syria ... in just five months. Ponder.

Meanwhile in Iraq;
The 82nd Airborne, and more specifically its 3rd Brigade Combat Team, are no strangers to Iraq. 
Since 2003, parts of the brigade have deployed in support of U.S. efforts there on at least three occasions. 
Now, more than three years after the U.S. military presence in Iraq was thought over, about a quarter of the Panther Brigade will return with a new mission to help train Iraqi forces to fight ISIS.

About 1,000 paratroopers from the brigade will deploy this week as part of the Operation Inherent Resolve mission.
In the meantime, we are supporting those who, like the Islamic State, are fighting Assad. I hold no brief for that guy - but he is a small evil; the real game is the Islamic State.

We can worry about Assad later, but for now - he is useful against the Islamic State, the real threat.
“It is time for President Assad [and] the Assad regime to put their people first and to think about the consequences of their actions, which are attracting more and more terrorists to Syria,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Jan. 14.

If the administration has a diplomatic strategy, it centers on cajoling countries that have influence in Syria — Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — to join in a combined effort to end the conflict. The premise is that those countries fear Islamic State and other jihadists enough to put aside their otherwise deep divisions. But that's a long way from happening too.

Until then, the U.S. strategy boils down to attacking Islamic State from the air, hoping a war of attrition somehow weakens Assad's grip on power, and asking Turkey (and perhaps others) to act on the ground where the United States has been unwilling.

“Our problem is that we don't have much leverage,” Ford noted. “We have put very little skin in the game. The Russians and Iranians have put a lot of skin in the game.”

And that offers little ground for optimism. The lesson of our misadventure in Syria may be this: A risk-averse foreign policy can keep you out of ground wars — but it can also keep other goals out of reach too.
In the name of all that is holy, just try to diagram that logic in an arena where the Islamic State has a vote.

Where have you gone Henry Kissinger? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

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