Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Doing Stupid Stuff in Syria

Another day, another Middle East war
Famously, the central organizing principle around President Obama's foreign policy structure is 'Don't Do Stupid Stuff'. This is about the best possible basis for decision making, especially for a country that's been at war for the better part of three decades with nothing to show for it. The only viable basis for war is when a nation is defending its territory or the territory of a key ally, or a truly crucial national interest. The worst basis for war is 'well, those are some really bad guys, and they're doing some really bad stuff'. The second worse basis for war is as a response to some dude with an AK-47 sitting in a bombed out building in the desert halfway around the world threatening on an internet video to attack you. There ARE times when a case can be made for limited intervention for humanitarian reasons, provided you can be fairly certain that intervention won't make things worse. There is no chance that another party delivering ordnance on Syrian targets is going to make things better for anyone except perhaps the regime.

So using US military assets to help the Kurds hold their perimeter south of Erbil was probably worth doing. But a war on ISIS? In Iraq it's pointless - this is a regional sectarian conflict that threatens no American interests - but in Syria it's incoherent to the point of insanity.

And yet, today America unleashed a powerful strike package on at least 50 ISIS targets in the provinces of Raqqa, Deir al-Zor and Hasakah. Initial reports have the strikes carried out by Naval, Marine and Air Force aircraft including F-15s, F-16s, F/A-18s, and Tomahawk T/LAMs with F-22s and EA-6Bs flying top cover. There are even reports that B-2s and B-52s flying from bases in Missouri also delivered ordnance on targets in Syria. It's a big air campaign, and it has the look of one that will be sustained for some time.

So we all agree that ISIS are bad guys, right? So what's wrong with using some air power to hit their leadership, command & control nodes and munitions depots inside their Syrian safe havens? Well, a number of things, actually. First, there's no compelling US interest. It's a civil war halfway around the world. A well known rule of thumb is you never get involved in a civil war unless you are going to support one side or the other. And here we are, supporting the Bashir al-Assad's malignant Baath regime, responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of his own citizens. He's actually the only player in the region that's WORSE than ISIS, and by attacking ISIS we're actually helping him hold on to power in Syria.

In the end, it's going to take a powerful, well-equipped and well-led infantry force to defeat ISIS. American air strikes will, in the meantime, do very little to 'degrade' ISIS and will certainly help them with recruiting. And 'collateral damage' that includes dead Sunnis is NOT going to make them more likely to resist ISIS advances. President Obama is essentially giving in to the political pressure that he 'DO SOMETHING', even if that something is pointless, incoherent and cocunterproductive. It's unfortunate to see how little it took to convince him to do stupid stuff in Syria.