In light of President Trump’s decision to order airstrikes in Syria against Assad forces this past week, I’ve been awaiting some hint of a comprehensive regional strategy for, not only defeating ISIS, but for the gigantic strategic elephant in the room (power vacuums across the region), that assure continuing fertile ground for Islamist nutjobs to reseed and grow for decades to come.
ISIS was Al Qaeda in Iraq. The belief that driving them out of Raqqa holds some sort of magical strategic power eludes me. The belief that ousting Assad opens some magical door to peace in Syria and a grand opportunity for the people of Syria, also eludes me.
The regime change cadre, like General Keane, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham are ecstatic, but these are the same people who place a lot of trust in Elizabeth O’Bagy and the Institute for the Study of War’s analysis with their “Syrian moderates” magic carpet ride.
I was going to await General McMaster’s appearances on the Sunday shows, before commenting, but here’s how I see the pros and cons from Trump’s actions. The pros:
- Pushing back against Putin and Iranian power plays in Syria bolsters U.S. credibility as a world player, not afraid to act. Count that as very positive.
- Grounding Assad’s air assets is also very positive with more U.S. troops on the ground in Syria
- On purely symbolic PR grounds, Trump’s actions showed strength and resolve.
Now the cons:
- Escalating military action without clear, well-defined ends leads to mission creep and can very quickly turn into a complicated strategic Gordian knot (like the one we’ve been choking on for over a decade). We are still coughing up catchphrase strategic hairballs.
- There doesn’t seem to be a comprehensive regional strategy.
- Building a strategy on false beliefs leads to very poor strategic outcomes.
That #3 is where we screw-up most often, by believing things that are not true. Since 2012, there has been a vocal chorus among some US pundits and strategists for regime change in Syria. There has been a belief that a large part of the insurgents in Syria’s civil war are “moderates”. They are all varying shades of Islamists – that is a FACT. And that FACT should cause everyone some pause. Islamist insurgents assure that if they succeed in seizing power in Syria there will be another state run by Islamists. Why the US should be gung-ho for establishing Sharia compliant states, I don’t know. If past is prologue, nothing is simple in that region of the world.
Without all the “Rah, Rah, Go USA” cheerleading… I want to know what the comprehensive strategic ends are and how this dramatic miliary escalation fits into that strategy.
Just an added thought about articulating a strategy… the clearest American message isn’t coming from the White House, the State Department, or the Pentagon. It’s coming from the United States ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley. The rest of the Trump administration should follow her lead on how to craft a clear, principled, unified ” strong American voice” on Russia, Syria and Iran.