If anyone is wondering why there were no new posts for the past week or so. The answer is simple. There is no change in the overall foreign policy situation. Our current actions around the world are basically on the autopilot.
The situation in Afghanistan remains the same. We are slowly withdrawing forces from the country. Unfortunately not all forces will be gone by the end of the year. This combined with the continued material support for the Afghan government, allows that same government to continue its corrupt existence. There are no reforms that I can see. Which unfortunately only further undermines our stated strategy there of a stable Afghan government, whatever tactical successes we achieve. I foresee no major change in the situation there, except possible acceleration of Taliban takeover of the rural Pushtu areas.
Iraq remains the same mess. The Iraqi army on which we wasted billions of dollars, remains incapable of even basic combat operations. The Shia and Kurdish militias (I know I’m mixing religion and ethnicity together) remain capable of protecting the areas under their control. While at the same time the Sunni groups remain in control of the Sunni territory. It is highly unlikely the government in Baghdad will be able to regain control of these areas without major concessions, which are also unlikely. After all, most of the Iraqi oil is located in the Shia and Kurdish areas. What do the Sunnis have to offer to Iraq? Nothing. Therefore the de facto partition will remain, the only question is when that partition becomes fact that everyone accepts. Wherever the outcome of the tactical events on the periphery of the Sunni controlled zone, the events on the ground will ensure that the respective militias remain in control of their areas.
Our strategy in the Middle East remains lacking. We continue to provide support to forces fighting ISIL while we still do nothing to address the sources of ISIL support in Turkey, the Gulf, and Saudi Arabia. Given the fact that there are no US troops on the ground involved in fighting, the US public doesn’t really care. That all can change however if one of the Apaches at Baghdad International gets shot down as the Iraqi Mi-35 was a few days ago. Likelihood of that happening is extremely low, but it is still possible.
In Asia, the comeback of the latest Kim to public life is definitely interesting, but not strategically significant. Mr Kim’s reappearance in the public eye as depicted by the North Korean propaganda appears to indicate he is still in control. Which will depend on how quickly Kim is able to replace the old guard with people loyal to him. If that happens in a sequence of events where the old guard resistance is destroyed before they can organize, then in the long run Mr. Kim’s hold on power will only be stronger than before. Lets not forget that in the totalitarian society, purges produce the same effects that elections produce in democracy, that is they bring new blood to power. Whatever way it plays out it will be interesting to see. Given Kim’s youth it is surprising that he still remains in power in a society that expects difference to older people from the young.
What I’m watching now is the US-Iranian nuclear deal deadline which is coming up at the end of next months. If successful it could be one of those truly important strategic decision that could alter the face of the Middle East. However there are forces both in US and Iran which are against any change in relations between the two countries. It remains to be seen which side will be more successful.
An interesting and at the same time disappointing article from Max Boot in the Foreign Affairs today titled Lessons From a Decade of War: More Small Wars. The interesting part was that despite its major flaw of strategy incompetence Mr Boot does have some good tactical recommendations and lessons learned for counter-insurgency fighting. However the lack of even basic understanding on the part of Mr Boot of what is a achievable strategy, is the reason why so many of our recent police action wars have been a failure.
What Mr Boot does not seem to understand is that the strategy we choose whether in Iraq or Afghanistan has to be tailored to the conditions on the ground. Unfortunately he repeats the well worn out and unsubstantiated beliefs that if only we would have stayed longer in Iraq and if we stay forever in Afghanistan the people there would be building themselves free and democratic societies. Nothing is further from the truth.
Mr Boot does not seem to understand that in Iraq the Sunnis will not reconcile themselves to be ruled by Shias. The only thing our long term presence in Iraq would do is to keep the country together against the wishes of its different ethnic and religious groups. The surge of US troops in 2007 was not successful because of the added 30,000 men, that has been done before in 2005 with no effect. The success came because the Sunni tribes were getting ethnically cleansed by the Shia militias while at the same time the insurgent leadership was decimated by the US special forces. Therefore they saw the only way to survive was to align themselves with the US, not because they were against Al-Qaeda but because they were losing the Iraqi civil war. The end result of the surge was not peace, but an unresolved armistice between Sunnis and Shias that collapsed at the beginning of 2014. The so called hearts and minds would have been nothing but a monumental failure without the Sunni tribes alliance with US. The fundamental misunderstanding of these results by people such as Mr Boot is also what also drove the failed surge in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan the surge was applied without any long term strategic answer of how the corrupt and incompetent Afghan government would rule over the Taliban free areas. The government in a box concept was even more laughable. All politics is local as Mr Boot seems to not to understand. You can’t rule people in a free society that we claimed to be building in Afghanistan by establishing a government they did not choose. The only way the surge in Afghanistan could have succeed is if actually took over governing in a colonial fashion, which of course would not and should not happen.
The successes of German and Japanese occupations are also presented in the article without clear highlight of how decimated and destroyed those counties were. The fundamental cultural differences between them and the Middle East are also not shown because that would defeat the whole point of Mr Boot’s article. Which at its core says that a US can conduct successful counter-insurgency and nation building effort on behalf of an incompetent and corrupt local government, which of course is nothing but a fantasy. The simple answer to Mr Boot is that strategically there is no reason for the US to conduct a large scale counter-insurgency campaign overseas. If we couldn’t even do it here at home after the civil war. All these failed strategies create is dependence and costs the US lives and treasure. We very simply don’t have to be involved if we don’t want to, especially as Mr Boot so clearly pointed out as our military and civilian agencies lack the basic cultural and linguistic skill to understand foreign non- western societies.
If anyone wonders the reason why we keep getting involved in protracted foreign conflicts that do not fundamentally threaten our way of life, people like Mr Boot are a contributing factor. They don’t understand how to create an achievable national security strategy that deals realistically with the internal conflicts of foreign nations. And so it never ends. As French Officer Galula wanted to do in his counterinsurgency book and as our generals ask now, is all they need is a few more years and the mission will be accomplished. Of course those few more years inevitably continue to stretch every year further and further into eternity and that’s the reason why thirteen years later in Afghanistan it is still an unmitigated failure. That is also why people like Mr Boot should be ignored in their strategic recommendations.
As far as the situation in the Levant progresses there have been no strategic or tactical events that would signal a major situational change on the ground. ISIL continues to conduct attacks in both Syria and Iraq, while the US led coalition continues to bomb them one truck at a time. While at the same time Iraqi army continues to be incompetent and unable to conduct even the basic operations. Our bombing campaign is certainly killing the enemy and destroying their equipment, but it will not fundamentally change the situation on the ground as our allies on the ground are almost totally worthless. Even with US air power they don’t seem to have the will to fight and win.
So we will continue to poor resources in, without a strategy of how to deal with Sunni extremists in the long term. The fact that Turkey this week bombed some of the Kurds that are fighting ISIL while at the same time refusing to attack ISIL should be the canary in the mine with regards to our strategy there. When our nominal allies don’t consider the group on their border such as ISIL a threat, then why are we there? Until we have a strategy that eliminates the Sunni Arab support for groups like ISIL from fellow Sunni such as Turks and Saudis, nothing we do over there will provide for a long term solution to the Sunni terrorism issue. On a somewhat positive note, Iraq now has both a defense and interior minister. However given the fact that it took this many months for the appointments to happen, clearly shows Iraqis do not consider the current situation urgent.
On an air force related note, it was interesting to see a few article on how ISIL is now flying or training to fly Syrian captured jets, this news once again highlights the difference between ISIL and their opponents. Iraqi Air Force needed a multitude of trainers and billions in US aid year after year just to be barely capable. ISIL on the other hand can apparently figure out how to do so without foreign aid or support, in a few months. Why is that? When we can answer that question and truly understand the dynamics on the ground in the Levant, then we could finally be on the path of forming a real strategy for fighting Sunni Islamic extremism. Or better yet, leave the fighting for the governments there to deal with it and instead concentrate US resources on the true threat of rising China.
What caught my eye this weekend was the amount of attention devoted to the Iraqi request from the Anbar Governor for US troops. Given the fact that we don’t have a long term strategy with regards to Iraq and the Sunni Arab anti-US groups in general, it is really not surprising that the “experts” on TV and in print are giving any credence at all to this request.
Our strategy in Iraq and the Middle East should be based on the fact that the countries in that region should take care of their own problems. They definitely have resources given, how much oil they produce. As it is right now, any time something happens, countries such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia, cry help and then the US wastes billions of dollars helping them solve their problems. If we had a true strategy then the request for US troops would be met with disbelief and derision.
Unless I’ve missed something in the news, neither Iraq nor the countries around that area act as if they are truly threatened. In case of Iraq, there has been no mobilization, the economy is not on a war footing, and they still don’t have a defense minister selected. All of which points to the fact that the Iraqis are really not concerned about confronting ISIL. I mean they cry for US troops, but can’t find enough men in the country of 30 million to fight the estimated 30,000 ISIL troops. Really? What a joke. For anyone to seriously consider the proposal to send in more US troops is to perpetuate the Iraqi dependency on the US to solve Iraqi problems. As mentioned in previous posts, ISIL did not have years of US support and yet they still crushed the Iraqi army in June. Until the Iraqi state takes responsibility for their own security, nothing we do will change anything long term.
Now, there might be a time in the future when we could support Iraqi army, but that should only happen if the whole of Iraq is mobilized for war and they still just can’t hold back ISIL. Though, given resources Iraq posse they should be able to destroy ISIL fighters, unless of course we go back in and solve the problem for them. Which would not surprise me given our lack of long term realistic strategy with regards to that region. Leave the problem of 30,000 ISIL fighters for the 30 million Iraqis to solve.
Leon Panetta’s memoirs as summed up by the Economist this week The stings of Leon offer a fascinating insight into the current lack of strategic planning based on the real world in the US foreign policy arena. The two specific issues I would like to highlight is his belief that the United States should have left a residual force in Iraq and bombed Assad after the chemical weapons usage last year.
Mr Panetta’s suggestion that the failure of the Iraqi forces to contain ISIL because the US did not have a presence in Iraq is completely misguided. The reason that ISIL was so successful is because the Iraqi leaders and armed force chose not to fight. Their own actions were directly responsible for the rise of ISIL. To think that the US should have been there to save Iraqis from themselves displays a complete and utter lack of understanding of what is vital to the security of the US. Mr. Panetta’s view would continue to waste US resources and lives for people who do not want to fight for their own country. What he basically advocates is the never ending presence of US force to support people who do not want to support themselves.
His comments also reflect a complete and utter lack of accountability. After all, the final phase of Iraqi force build up took place under his watch. And yet not he, Mr. Gates (previous defense secretary), or a single general officer has been held accountable for the performance of Iraqi army. If someone in civilian life promised and built a company that was supposed to be permanent and yet completely fell apart a few years after that person left, wouldn’t he or she be held accountable? Given the culture in our foreign policy apparatus which perpetuates this lack of accountability, that is doubtful. What people like Panetta insure is that the US will continue to waste resources and live in pursuit of wishful thinking. As we continue to do so in Afghanistan, where we think that a 10,000 strong force is needed for the Afghan army to defend their own country. The Afghans should defend their own country because they believe in it, not because the US wants them to.
The other notion that we should have bombed Assad’s force after chemical weapons use reminds me of Star Wars. Apparently all we had to do was kill Assad (the Emperor) and then the Sunni rebels (Rebel Alliance) would bring peace and prosperity to the country. It would be rainbows and unicorns and everyone would be happy in the world most peaceful democracy. Seriously? If we would have attacked Assad and his regime fell, it would now be an even worse bloodbath. Apparently Mr. Panetta does not understand the make up of Syrian population. If Assad fell last year, we would now be intervening in Syrian to prevent outright slaughter of Christians and Alawites by Sunnis.
As ISIL so clearly demonstrated, the vast majority of Syrian rebels are Wahhabi Sunnis. The only moderates that ever existed were in the mind of Mr. Panetta and people like him who believe in premise of the Star Wars universe that as soon as the bad leader dies, everyone lives happily ever after. One would think the example of Iraq would be clear as to what happens when a ruler is removed by force in a religiously and ethnically divided country. One would hope that people like Panetta and Gates would be held accountable for their fairy tale/fantasy foreign policy.
Unfortunately that is not the case. The only person today that seems to understand and speak truly about what our foreign policy entails is the Vice President Biden. Yet every time he points out that the sky is blue (such as Turkey and UAE support of Sunni fundamentalists) he get blamed and has to apologize and pretend that the sky is green (our allies would never do such thing). Until we look at the world as it is and not as we want it to be we will continue to bomb Sunni Wahhabi groups, while at the same time protecting countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that support those same groups. And so our Star Wars foreign policy continues, as Mr. Panetta clearly shows, in that reality it is happily ever after once the bad guy is dead. No thought at all as to what is going on in the real world and no accountability for failure.