Monday, April 02, 2018

In Syria, both the USA and Russia Can Win

As the end game – whatever that might wind of looking like – in Syria is getting closer, we are seeing a lot of tonal disconnect between what the world is, and what some people think it should be. Clear thinking is being side-stepped for The Narrative;all things that are not in aligned to The Narrative must be warped to fit in it.

The source of much of the disconnect involves Russia. Russia, that wonderfully peculiar nation, once again finds itself being used by others in our crass and petty domestic politics, warping our international perspective and preventing clear understanding of what is in play.

Even our best and brightest are caught up in an unnecessary lack of  consensus and are strewing about a theme of a nation's natsec community embarrassingly lacking seriousness and continuity.

I don't think Russia is that good, I just think we've become too petty. 

We’ve gone from the early Obama’s administration’s “Bush43 was unnecessarily rough on you Russia, we need a “reset” (nee overload) of our relationship…” to the mid-Obama collusion, “Tell Vladimir I will have more flexibility after the election” and "the 1980s called" silliness to the post 2016 “Ermergherd, Russia!” squid ink that is clouding everyone’s thinking in the beltway. Trump's Russia policy? The O2 is being soaked up in a failed probe and a pouting establishment to the point that serious people can't get airtime.

We've turned a standard issue Russian INFO OPS campaign that they play during all democratic elections in my lifetime, in to something way out of proportion to what it actually is. As if we are actively trying to help the Russians, we've empowered their mischievousness way beyond their wildest exceptions ... mostly for petty domestic politics.

Sadly, our click-bait focused media isn't looking for serious people to come on and talk like adults. Instead we get the tin-foil types, partisanship-uber-alles types, and the unhinged.

There is a group of people out there who do get it.  Thankfully this fever isn’t impacting the professionals from all sides of the political aisle who kept an eye on Eternal Russia for decades. 

This group did not join the natsec cats chasing the latest fad's laser pointer while spewing buzzwords … but they are hard to find in the chaos. Our national dialog about Russia is clouded by the click-bait and cats, and it is not a benign clouding. It is birthing bad and dangerous ideas.

Not an extreme case, but you can see the clouding in the response you can find to the Army University Press's Military Review, article by Michael Kofman and Matthew Rojansky. 

The authors have done good work here, but for some reason smart people think that if Russia gets a win, that is somehow bad for the USA. The authors are not really making that case, but some are taking it that way. 

You can get a vibe in the article of an ill-comfort with Russia possibly getting a win - but not that bad. It is enough for others to start to focus on that.

Russia getting a "W" in Syria is not necessarily a bad thing for the USA.  

No, not really. Look at all the possible outcomes of the Syrian Civil War. Rack and stack them. We actually are not in that bad of a spot in a sea of bad spots. In such a bloody civil war, our intervention has not cost us much blood, nor in relative terms, treasure. Russia has her own goals, we have ours. As long as we deconflict, we should be OK.

Back to the article. Read it all, but here's what caught my eye;
While it is far from assured that any settlement acceptable to the principle domestic and international players can be struck, for now the main outcome of this war is that President Bashar al-Assad will stay, but the Syria that existed before the war is gone.

The natural question is whether Russia has, in fact, won a victory. The answer to that question depends first on what Moscow intended to achieve—in other words, how did and does Russia define victory in Syria, what are its continuing interests there, and have those interests been secured or advanced?
In sum, Russia appears to have won at least a partial victory in Syria, and done so with impressive efficiency, flexibility, and coordination between military and political action. On the one hand, Russia’s embrace of the Assad regime and its Iranian allies, its relative indifference to civilian casualties, and its blanket hostility to antiregime opposition groups are fundamentally at odds with widely held U.S. views on Syria. On the other hand, Russia’s “lean” strategy, adaptable tactics, and coordination of military and diplomatic initiatives offer important lessons for the conduct of any military intervention in as complex and volatile an environment as the Middle East. More than a decade and a half into the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, with ongoing fighting in Libya and Yemen, and countless other tinderboxes that could ignite wider regional conflict threatening U.S. interests, Washington should pay close attention to the Russian intervention and how Moscow achieved its objectives in Syria.
There is no reason why Russia can't call a "win" in Syria and at the same time the USA can't call a "win" in Syria. We had mostly different goals. As long as we respect each other's goals and don't get sucked in to undermining each other, we should be good to go.

The Operational Center of Gravity for ISIS was their capital. We along with our allies (mostly Kurd) have taken that. 

ISIS's Strategic Center of Gravity is the religious foundation of their existence. Only the Muslim world will be able to take care of that - but taking care of this major operation is a critical step in that direction, and about all we can directly do.

As we've outlined here for years, there is only one significant interest the USA has in Syria; the elimination of the Islamic State's caliphate and the extermination of as many of their fighters we find on the battlefield. We are almost there. Russia's goals overlap some of ours. Others we really shouldn't care about.

Syria has never been in our sphere of influence. It actually has been in the Russian (nee Soviet) sphere of influence if anyone's (honorable mention to France & Turkey). 

Syria has never been a friend. With the exception of fighting along side of us during DESERT STORM, they have been a problem best managed to the side. Who does or does not run that mixed up chunk of land is of secondary importance to us.

We have almost completely achieved what we need to achieve in Syria. As they provided the balance of the ground forces for us to achieve our goals, we need to make sure that whatever post-war settlement is made, the Kurds are respected. We have to do that or we may have trouble getting allies in the future. After killing a few hundred Russian mercenaries last month, I think we've made our point for Russia to stay on her side of the sandbox. 

The Turks, as is there nature, have complicated things recently. The French, to their great credit, have moved to block our mutual NATO ally to the NW, while we should help enforce the Kurd’s frontier to the center and south as we clean up what remains of Islamic State territory. From there, it is up to the warring parties to work out the post-war details. Lines are starting to stabilize. That is one of the requirements for parties to come to the table.

Where can it go wrong? So many places, but the worst thing we can do is to feel that we can't call a win unless Russia has to call a loss, or the other way around.

Nothing in Syria is worth a wider war. It makes no strategic sense, and the American people have no appetite for it.

If you simply cannot see the nuance required to get a "good enough" in Syria, stop studying the Cold War and start watching Game of Thrones.

NB: If you have not already, click the "Syria" tab and review PLAN SALAMANDER and PLAN SALAMANDER Rev.(1).

Hat tip Tom Ricks.

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