Saturday, August 23, 2014

ISIS in Syria - No Good Options

Chillin' in Aleppo
Western nations, the US and the UN have been discussing, debating and arguing intervention in the Syrian civil war for a couple years now. Recently, critics of administration policy including Hillary Clinton have made the claim that an early intervention by US forces would have prevented the rise of ISIS. From a political and tactical standpoint that is utter nonsense, but as it takes a hypothetical position that cannot be refuted it is an effective line of attack against the Obama White House. There was no way that external military intervention could have possibly served to make conditions better, and even if you postulate an invasion and to take Damascus and topple the Assad government, that would not have done anything to end the fighting.

Then came last year's horrific Sarin gas attacks on Ghouta, and President Obama determined he would use American naval and air power to 'punish' al-Assad while also giving the rebels an edge in firepower.  Political considerations caused Obama to toss the decision to Congress, and they determined that the US should not intervene militarily. At the time, I thought that there ought to be a universal consensus against the use of chemical weapons, and that any and every release should carry a heavy cost inflicted by the Western military powers. As it turned out, the Russians negotiated an agreement under which Syria surrendered their chemical weapons stocks. While I am highly suspicious that al-Assad's weapons team held back some supplies and precursors - in the chaos of civil war, effective inspections and documentation are impossible - the general framework of the deal serves at least as effectively as a deterrent to the use of chemical weapons as a few days of air strikes.

So now we have ISIS, and the clamoring that 'WE MUST DO SOMETHING' is louder than ever. But even as we're bombing the Jihadists in support of the Kurds and Iraqi forces, and even as we may at any moment find ourselves flying cover for Iranian armor in Northern Iraq, the demands that the US attack ISIS strongholds in Syria are reaching a crescendo. But one cannot help but wonder what it is these war-thirsty white Americans really want. Bashir al-Assad has murdered over a hundred thousand of his citizens in a desperate, no-holds-barred attempt to hold on to his dynastic power. In support of his regime is the disciplined, battle hardened cadres of Hezbollah. Arrayed against his brutal dictatorship is ISIS, along with al-Nusra, al-Quaeda and a few dozen other smaller rebel groups, from secular democratic types to communists.

Would our military goal be to defeat EVERY faction? Because that's not only not possible, it would indicate a particularly poor operational plan. So rather we would need to choose a faction to support. But if that faction was too weak, then the Assad loyalists or the ISIS jihadists would topple them. So the question of what the west wants to accomplish in Syria, and what the west CAN accomplish in Syria is tantamount. Until it can be answered satisfactorily, the west has no business intervening in the civil war.