Monday, October 14, 2019

Syria: a Festival of Bad Options

Time to quote myself from 2013 with regards to the Syrian Civil War;
However one comes to, "Syria; not our fight" - I frankly don't care. Besides a little culling of the herd, punitive expedition, and trying to mitigate the nasty-bits of the Syrian government's arsenal moving around - we have no reason to do anything more militarily directly in that nation.

If any nation should invade and occupy Syria, it should be Turkey. If Turkey did, should we support them? Of course - but in about the way we supported the Europeans in Libya. No more, perhaps less. Throw a few drones and TLAM as needed? Sure. Fine with me. Any more? Foolish.

If Syria isn't worth an Anatolian shepherd's son - it sure isn't worth John Smith from Des Moines, Iowa.

There is a cost from backing away from being the World Policeman ... and I'm OK with that.
Then, the Islamic State took root in the chaos of the Syrian Civil War and our less than ideal early withdraw from Iraq during the Obama Administration.

While the Obama Administration was wise to keep out of Syria's civil war, they did not appreciate the threat that ISIS would become.

What was one of their hopes to counter ISIS?


As our former chief diplomat in Syria Robert Ford outlined in 2015 when the Islamic State was large and growing:
“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.
Turkey was not so interested in fighting the Islamic State per se ... but they are interested in what they see as a real threat to their national security - Kurds. Turkey is all about Turkey. Everyone knows that. We seem to misread that on a regular basis, but there it is.

OK, we've reviewed the history here. What about today?

The Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw from the northern part of Syria was announced and executed in an exceptionally clunky method. Plenty of blame there for both the civilian and military sides of the house – but it is defendable for a host of reasons.

First of all, if you don’t understand the connection between the Marxist YPG and PKK, then sit down and be quiet.

Second, if you don’t know the difference between Syrian and Iraqi Kurds or the geography of the area, sit down and be quiet longer.

Third, if you are real excited – the YPG has international brigades. Grab your passport and good luck.

For the adults in the room, you have to look at options.

We have choices, none of which are ideal but guess what? Nothing has been ideal in that part of the world since recorded time.

Look at why we put boots on the ground in Syria to start with. Do you remember what ISIS was doing in their caliphate? Catch up here if you need to.

We needed to remove them from Iraq and chase them down to their last sanctuaries in Syria. We smartly decided to use the method that works well in that area, find the enemy of your enemy and make them your friend. We did that, and together we accomplished the end state we both wanted.

The Islamic State’s Operational Center of Gravity has been defeated; their holding of large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq. Their Strategic Center of Gravity, their religious justification for existing, can only be defeated by the Islamic world. We are, at best, a supporting entity there.

Of course ISIS is also a terrorist organization and in that mode it can continue for decades. A different challenge.

Of course there are prisons full of ISIS detainees in Syria who are either stateless or their nations of origin, like Germany, will not take them back. In that part of the world in similar conflicts, that was not a problem … and you know why. Tertiary issue.

So, what are our options? None are good, but we have options.

1. Garrison N. Syria until the crack of doom and hope that nothing stupid will take place that will lead to a wider conflict with the resident population or worse, Turkey, Russia, or Iran over a part of the world we have no ethnic, economic, historical, or religious reason to have any concern over.

2. Have a small garrison deep in the sovereign territory of a nation whose permission we don’t have to be there until the locals come to an arrangement on their own that we are not a part of, and overnight everyone has become an antibody to our foreign presence forcing a humiliating withdraw through … where exactly? Has no one this century read Xenophon?

3. Make a decision that with the major threat gone, the Islamic State’s Caliphate, that we should go home on our terms and our timetable before we get caught up in some long simmering local conflict that is using the umbrella of our protection to renew traditional grievances.

4. We propose an international peace conference in Geneva where we have the USA, FRA, SRY, RUS, IRN, IRQ and the major Kurdish factions get together to agree to post-conflict terms.

We are doing a version of 3. I don’t think 1 or 2 are smart options. I think option 4 only sounds good in faculty lounges, the permanent FP nomenklatura who see wonderful rent seeking job security here, or on Earth 2 where this might actually work.

Our partners of convenience (YPG) is a partner with a terrorist organization (PKK) that threatens a treaty ally on whose nation we have thousands of military personnel and family members, aircraft, and nuclear weapons stationed on. With the major threat gone, it is only natural that Turkey will adjust their tolerance of a threat to their security – a comparable one we would not suffer long on the Mexican or Canadian border. If you don’t like that calculus, then first you need to get our nukes out of Turkey, then our military personnel, and then Turkey out of NATO. If you do that, then I will entertain arguments why our military should stand against the military of Turkey over a bit of territory that was, for centuries until 100 years ago, Turkish. No promises I will agree with you, but I will entertain arguments.

As a final note, if you wonder about my thoughts across administrations on Syria, please click the tag below. It’s all there. Facts changed over time that make some comments OBE, but I stand by it all.

No comments: