Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Slippery Toe-hold in Syria

If 18-months ago if you told someone a US Army 4-star would be walking through downtown Raqqa w/o body armor and uncovered, they would have thought you mad.

Here we are.
The calm. When Gen. Joseph Votel emerged from the dank tunnels where ISIS tortured its victims before executing them in the soccer stadium above, he walked somberly back to his convoy of grimy pickup trucks. The leader of U.S. Central Command was struck, he said, by the calm and industriousness of people who have come back to Raqqa to rebuild “some semblance of a normal life.”
What an incredibly undertold story this chapter in the Syrian Civil War is.

I like the following bit from Votel a lot. A lot.
But hours later, after a driving, walking, and aerial tour of the city ISIS once called the capital of its caliphate, and meetings with U.S. and local troops in the surrounding region, Votel grew more passionate, pointed, and frustrated.

“I will point out to you [that] the people on the ground in Northern Syria is the United States. But there are others who should be doing some more here, and need to do more. This is a problem,” he said, firmly tapping his fingers into the desk.

Such as?

“Such as – everybody!”
We are in a strange place in Syria - very strange. No one wants to be here. You hear a lot of warbling in the West about Syria ... but who is doing anything of substance? A few ... but only if the USA is on point, so here we are.

My preference is that we get out as soon as we can, but how do we do that without creating undesirable effects? 
The biggest obstacle to that end concerns questions of international law. The U.S. is here through no invitation from the Assad regime. Military commanders punted all questions about the legality of their operations to administration lawyers. But they recognized it is one reason the Americans feel they’re out here alone. Votel knows it’s a problem.

“Part of the reason why we have difficulty in this part of Syria — in Syria — is that we do not have the support, we do not have a centralized government that can orchestrate this, or can give permission for this. It’s my understanding the United Nations and many of the organizations will not come in here unless they do have the permission of the centralized government, and they don’t have that,” he said. Nor did anyone address Assad’s backers: Russia.

In other words, Raqqa may not get the international aid Votel wants until Assad asks for it, or until Assad has left power via a Geneva peace process few see coming anytime soon, and one the White House has shown few signs of prioritizing.
Some day will come when the USA will not be the indispensable nation; but today is not that day.
USAID Administrator Mark Green accompanied Votel, making him the senior-most civilian in the Trump administration to visit the country. Green said the U.S. recognizes the importance of Syria and pointed to Tillerson’s speech about extending the U.S. presence, but said it should not be open-ended.

“We all recognize there has to be some kind of a political solution. We recognize that. What that all entails, what that looks like is not clear at this point.”

In Baghdad on Sunday, other senior U.S. military officials said they will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the SDF. “At a significant cost, they continue to rid the world of ISIS,” said Maj. Gen. James Jarrard, who leads Special Operations Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve. “What did Secretary Tillerson say the other day? What has Sec. Mattis said? We are going to be with them until we get a political solution in Geneva.”

“We should look at what have they done,” said Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, the commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. “They’re still focused on defeating Daesh. They still are. And they’re doing a tremendous job.”
There is so much more to play out in Syria, but I still feel that as a default, we should back out under favorable conditions. One thing we can't do is to stay so long that we are being forced out.

No good for anyone will come from that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Syria belongs to the Ottomans, meaning the Turk is in charge.
The ongoing re-balance between Turkish/Iranian/Arab interests
is a party the US can step back from. WW1/2/Cold war is over,
all the conflicts frozen since the fall of the Ottomans should
be sorted out by the locals.
America is great again, the US can come home.