Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Too weak, too strong in Syria


Republicans are doing a lot of saber-rattling and posturing on what to do about ISIS. Even some Democrats are criticizing President Obama for his Syria/ISIS policy. 

Tom Friedman in the NY Times sees what the president sees when he looks at the issue: 

To sustainably defeat bad ISIS Sunnis you need good non-ISIS Sunnis to create an island of decency in their place. And right now, alas, finding and strengthening good non-ISIS Sunnis is the second priority of all the neighbors. Turkey cares more about defeating Kurds; Saudi Arabia and its Arab Gulf allies care more about defeating Iran and its proxies in Iraq, Yemen and Syria; Qatar cares more about promoting the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and annoying Saudi Arabia; Iran cares more about protecting Shiites in Iraq and Syria than creating a space for decent Sunnis to thrive; and many of the non-ISIS Sunni activists in Syria and Iraq are still Islamists — and they’re not going away. How do you weave a decent carpet from these threads?

Who exactly are the Good Guys the US was supposed to support? Almost all of the opposition to Assad in Syria is Islamist of one kind or another; the so-called moderates are thin on the ground.

Patrick Cockburn has spent a lot of time in the Middle East. Writing in the London Review of Books, he sees something similar (Too Weak, Too Strong):

In reality, neither the [Syrian]government nor its opponents are likely to collapse: all sides have many supporters who will fight to the death. It is a genuine civil war: a couple of years ago in Baghdad an Iraqi politician told me that ‘the problem in Iraq is that all parties are both too strong and too weak: too strong to be defeated, but too weak to win.’ The same applies today in Syria. Even if one combatant suffers a temporary defeat, its foreign supporters will prop it up: the ailing non-IS part of the Syrian opposition was rescued by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey in 2014 and this year Assad is being saved by Russia, Iran and Hizbullah. All have too much to lose: Russia needs success in Syria after twenty years of retreat, while the Shia states dare not allow a Sunni triumph.

Rob's comment:

Politico recently solicited advice on Syria from some military experts. Note that none of them has anything really new to recommend. They either say the president should do more of what he's already doing or somehow organize others into a ground force to supplement existing air power. The assumption by everyone: the US should not itself provide a lot of ground troops to eliminate ISIS.

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