Monday, October 12, 2015

Russia does ... exactly what you would do

Let the pictures tell the story.

Here were the Russian actions from last week:

It looks like Russia is roughly following COA-Salamander. Shouldn’t be shocking, as that was my “Red-Most Likely” COA.

Russia is cleaning up its lines in the western part of Syria in order to enable the Assad government to be a going concern. That fact that most of their actions were against non-Islamic State (IS) targets is simply solid military practice. Not unlike starting your offensive against the Romanian units first, then circle in to the tougher Germans.

I know there is a bunch of worry-beads clinking over this, but really people – get a map and read some military history. This isn’t Russia’s first trip to this area, and they know their history and their national interests.

I would hope that no one is too worried about the non-IS forces they are hitting. They are, on balance, other radical Sunni Islamic fundamentalists. Those people are not our medium-term or long-term friends any more the IS is. The fact we may or may not be supporting al-Qaeda affiliates is our mistake. No reason to compound it.

Syria has never been our friend, but if we stayed out of their airspace, they have not been a direct threat either. Iran is a different matter, as is Russia. So, what we have in Syria today is a gaggle of entities, none of which are our friends, fighting each other.

We are in this spot because we let a window close a few years ago to have a non-Islamic fundamentalist uprising against Assad. Something tells me that even if we had done things differently earlier, in a Popular Front political action, the Islamic fundamentalists – who would have been part of that anti-Assad movement – would have co-opted and taken over the opposition even if it started with a balance of non-sectarian quasi-secular leaders. In that case, we would have just wound up where we are now – though possibly with a smaller IS, but again – this is all speculation.

We need to accept Syria as it is now. Russia is being a good ally to Assad, and trying to pull his fat from the fire. If they succeed, then eventually they will run out of non-IS opposition. If they are smart, they will come to a political accommodation with the Kurds and use that to further inject turmoil in to Turkey.

If they do that, when they run out of non-IS opposition they will put the West in corner. You can support Russia and Assad, or support IS. That or you can just stay on the sidelines.

With this administration and an election year coming up – the sidelines is where the smart money is. It may also be where the smart realists are too.

One final note, as Bryan has asked, what about the stillborn idea of the moment, the “No Fly Zone.”

This is quite simple. Now that the Russians are actively flying in Syria in support of Assad, a NFZ means that the US would, from bases in Turkey, the Middle East, and possibly from CVN offshore, prevent via aircraft and SAMs non-allied air from operating over a sovereign nation. What are we going to do if the Russians refuse to play our game by our rules, shoot them down? Does anyone really think we would get that ROE?

Really? Let’s assume that the Obama Administration would even do this, is Syria worth the risk of getting in to a shooting match with Russia? If Americans shoot down Russian aircraft with carrier based aircraft, would the Russians be justified in sinking that carrier?

If we shoot down a Russian aircraft, why can’t the Russians do the same to our aircraft with their SAMs? Don’t the Russians get a vote?

Of course they do – and we don’t know what vote they will make. Is the risk worth it? For what?

The Islamist non-IS Syrian opposition are not worth the bones of one son or daughter from Nebraska. There may have been a time for a NFZ in Syria that had an acceptable risk/reward ratio ... maybe … but that was years ago.

If as some worry Russia shapes the battlefield to the point of a binary “us or them” choice between Assad or IS, there is still a third option. We can do nothing … but that isn’t really a choice. There is another path.

Kind of like this representation of our strikes last week.

As I outlined last week – we need to take a cold, realists, view of things. Then enemy here is not Assad. The enemy here is the Islamic State. Let the Assad/Russian/Iranian proxies work on them from the west, and we can pound them from the air in the east and in to Iraq. Let the Kurds be the northern wall. Cut off IS isolated areas and kill them in place. Push them in to Iraq, then kill them there. Squeeze them in to just an insurgency that the locals can deal with.

There are plenty of options, but to emphasize – none of our options in Syria should involve a risk of us intentionally killing Russians.
UPDATE: Like I said last year - if you want to understand Syria, watch Game of Thrones.

If you don't have time for that - this little video from the BBC should help.

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