Over the past week there were a few developments with regards to Iraq, Syria, and our campaign against the Islamic state there. The first event that caught my eye was the surrender of several bases of so called “moderate” Islamic rebels to the Syrian insurgent group aligned with Al-Qaeda. The second was the deployment of 1,500 additional US troop to Iraq as trainers to support the current Iraqi government. Both events are interesting in that they demonstrate that the current US strategy is basically non-existent in terms of furthering the US interests in the region.
With regards to Syria. The surrenders and defections of the “moderate” rebels should serve as a wake up call to the US foreign policy decision makers. Even the fact that the media uses that term is fairly amusing, considering that there is no logical process of actually determining what a moderate Islamist rebel is. I have addressed this conundrum in my previous posts. Regardless, even assuming those Syrian militias could be described as moderate, their defeats showcase the failure of US strategy in Syria. The fact that they surrendered US supplied armaments to Al-Qaeda affiliated insurgent group, only shows that arming the moderate rebels only arms our enemies in turn. The people we support simply do not have the will to fight. President Obama’s instincts were correct with regards to non-involvement in the Shia-Sunni civil war. It is unfortunate that now we are involved on one side in what can only be described as a religious struggle.
The same reports that described the surrenders and defections of “moderate” Sunni rebel, also describes how those rebels feel about the Alawite government of Syria and the US. The slurs used to describe the Shias only further confirm that even if the Sunni Islamists win in Syria we can expect no peaceful co-existence between them and the remainder of the population who have different religious beliefs. They also view of US airstrikes as the extension of Syrian regime efforts as we are attacking the Sunni Islamic State and not hitting the Alawite Assad regime.
This view is of course easy to understand as we appear to involve ourselves on the Shia side in the Syrian civil war. Obviously, that is not what the intent of the air campaign is, but unfortunately once again our foreign policy apparatus could not figure out the second and third order effects of our actions. The rebels in Syrian view everything through the prism of a religious war. Which means that it is highly unlikely we will find motivated and willing Sunnis who will support our objectives in Syria. Therefore the current plan to arm 5.000 Syrian rebels to resolve the Syrian civil war is nothing more than pipe dream. Which hopefully will slowly fade away and disappear. The surrenders of Sunni rebels to Al-Qaeda should also serve as remainder to our foreign policy apparatus that we should not involve ourselves in someone else’s civil war. Which brings us to Iraq.
The announced planned deployment of additional 1,500 US troops to Iraq is a mistake. The fact that the Sunni Islamist can continue to attack despite the US air power, while the Iraqi army can’t with the US help is telling. It very simply means that the Iraqi army continues to be run by the incompetents who are incapable of conducting even basic operations. Providing additional US trainers will not help. You can only help someone who has guts and the will to fight. Which unfortunately our Iraqi allies do not. We should not enable their dependence on us to bail them out in-perpetuity to continue. If we do, we will never leave that country as the Iraqi elites will rely on the US to protect them with our blood and treasure while neglecting their own security. The harsh truth is that the US should stand back and let the Iraqis fight for their own country.
Both the continuing US involvement in Syria and Iraq highlight the fundamental weakness of US strategy. We still do not set realistic and achievable strategic objectives. The objectives we do set do not take into account the conditions on the ground and the local people’s actual views. Lastly we enable other countries to continue to act irresponsibly with regards to their own security by rushing to their aid every time they cry wolf. The US should reassess it’s involvement in both countries and pull back to allow the locals to resolve their conflicts. Just because we have already spent time and effort does not mean we should continue to throw good money after the bad. The lesson which both President Reagan and Clinton learned so well in Lebanon and Somalia.