Even if we defeat the Islamic State, we’ll still lose the bigger war

 

 

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Residents of Syria’s Idlib province examine building damaged in air strikes on September 24. The United States and its Arab allies have opened a new front in the battle against Islamic State militants. (Ammar Abdullah/Reuters)

Andrew J. Bacevich, the George McGovern fellow at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, is writing a history of U. S. military involvement in the Greater Middle East.

As America’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants extend into Syria, Iraq War III has seamlessly morphed into Greater Middle East Battlefield XIV. That is, Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980.

Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria. Whew.

With our 14th front barely opened, the Pentagon foresees a campaign likely to last for years. Yet even at this early date, this much already seems clear: Even if we win, we lose. Defeating the Islamic State would only commit the United States more deeply to a decades-old enterprise that has proved costly and counterproductive.

Back in 1980, President Jimmy Carter touched things off when he announced that the United States would use force to prevent the Persian Gulf from falling into the wrong hands. In effect, with the post-Ottoman order created by European imperialists — chiefly the British — after World War I apparently at risk, the United States made a fateful decision: It shouldered responsibility for preventing that order from disintegrating further. Britain’s withdrawal from “east of Suez,” along with the revolution in Iran and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, prompted Washington to insert itself into a region in which it previously avoided serious military involvement.

At the time, oil — not freedom, democracy or human rights — defined the principal American interest, and stability was the goal. Military power offered the means by which the United States hoped to attain that goal. Armed might would keep a lid on things. The pot might simmer, but it wouldn’t boil over.

In practice, however, whether putting boots on the ground or relying on missiles from above, subsequent U.S. efforts to promote stability have tended to produce just the opposite. Part of the problem is that American policymakers have repeatedly given in to the temptation to unleash a bit of near-term chaos, betting that longer-term order will emerge on the other end.

Back in Vietnam, this was known as burning down the village to save it. In the Greater Middle East, it has meant dismantling a country with the aim of erecting something more preferable — “regime change” as a prelude to “nation building.” Unfortunately, the United States has proved considerably more adept at the former than the latter.

Mostly, coercive regime change has produced power vacuums. Iraq offers a glaring example. Although studiously ignored by Washington, post-Gaddafi Libya offers a second. And unless the gods are in an exceptionally generous mood, Afghanistan will probably become a third whenever U.S. and NATO combat troops finally depart.

In place of governing arrangements that Washington judged objectionable, the United States has found itself coping with the absence of any effective governments whatsoever. Instead of curbing bad behavior, spanking induced all sorts of pathologies.

By inadvertently sowing instability, the United States has played directly into the hands of anti-Western radical Islamists intent on supplanting the European-imposed post-Ottoman order with something more to their liking. This is the so-called caliphate that Osama bin Laden yearned to create and that now exists in embryonic form in the portions of Iraq and Syria that Islamic State radicals control.

Want to measure what America’s war for the Middle East has accomplished through its first 13 iterations? The Islamic State has to rank prominently on any list of achievements. If Iraq possessed minimally effective security forces, Islamic State militants wouldn’t have a chance. But the Iraqi army we created won’t fight, in considerable measure because the Iraqi government we created doesn’t govern.

Kurdish fighters defending Kobane warn of a likely massacre by Islamic State insurgents, while Turkey says it will do whatever it can to prevent the Syrian border town from falling. (Reuters)

President Obama did not initiate the long and varied sequence of military actions that has produced this situation. Yet he finds himself caught in a dilemma. To give the Islamic State a free hand is to allow proponents of the caliphate to exploit the instability that U.S. efforts, some involving Obama himself, have fostered. But to make Syria the latest free-fire zone in America’s never-ending Middle East misadventure will almost surely prolong and exacerbate the agonies that country is experiencing, with little ability to predict what consequences will ensue.

Even if U.S. and allied forces succeed in routing this militant group, there is little reason to expect that the results for Syrians will be pretty — or that the prospects of regional harmony will improve. Suppress the symptoms, and the disease simply manifests itself in other ways. There is always another Islamic State waiting in the wings.

Obama’s bet — the same bet made by each of his predecessors, going back to Carter — is that the skillful application of U.S. military might can somehow provide a way out of this dilemma. They were wrong, and so is he.

We may be grateful that Obama has learned from his predecessor that invading and occupying countries in this region of the world just doesn’t work. The lesson he will bequeath to his successor is that drone strikes and commando raids don’t solve the problem, either.

We must hope for victory over the Islamic State. But even if achieved, that victory will not redeem but merely prolong a decades-long military undertaking that was flawed from the outset. When the 14th campaign runs its course, the 15th will no doubt be waiting, perhaps in Jordan or in a return visit to some unfinished battleground such as Libya or Somalia or Yemen.

Yet even as the United States persists in its determination to pacify the Greater Middle East, the final verdict is already in. U.S. military power has never offered an appropriate response to whatever ails the Islamic world. We’ve committed our troops to a fool’s errand.

And worse, the errand is also proving unnecessary. With abundant North American energy reserves now accessible — all that shale oil and fracked gas — we don’t need the Persian Gulf oil that ostensibly made our post-1980 military exertions imperative. For whatever reasons, Washington’s national security elites seem oblivious to the implications these resources have for policy in the Middle East.

No matter how long it lasts, America’s war for the Greater Middle East will end in failure. And when it does, Americans will discover that it was also superfluous.

On the Road in Syria, Struggle All Around

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Syrian families and fighters from a Kurdish militia attended a funeral last month in Qamishli, Syria, for fighters killed more than a year ago.

After Kurdish militias push out ISIS, people are eking out livings in a border area where state services have collapsed. Syrian families and fighters from a Kurdish militia attended a funeral last month in Qamishli, Syria, for fighters killed more than a year ago.

RMEILAN, Syria — After boiling crude oil from the ground near here all day in a metal tank to refine it into diesel, Ali Mohammed braved the fumes to bang the tank’s drain open with a shovel. He stepped back as the dregs oozed into the dirt and burst into flames.

As a column of putrid smoke rose into the sky, he pulled a cigarette from his oil-soaked shirt and explained how the Syrian civil war had turned him into a diesel bootlegger.

He had once worn clean scrubs as a nurse in a state-run hospital, but was fired after rebels took over his village, making all residents suspect, he said. Later, stretched by the war, the government had left the area, leaving its oil up for grabs.

“Before, we saw the wells but we never saw the oil,” Mr. Mohammed said. Now, although its fumes made them sick, the oil helped hundreds of families like his scrape by.

“My wife doesn’t complain about the smell as long as there’s money,” Mr. Mohammed said.

A Kurdish militia fighter rested last week on the eastern banks of the Euphrates River. Islamic State militants fire on Kurdish bases from across the river.
New U.S.-Backed Alliance to Counter ISIS in Syria Falters  NOV. 2, 2015

Displaced Syrians near an abandoned house in the province of Aleppo. Relief workers say they believe at least 50,000 people have been uprooted, mostly north of Homs and in areas around the city of Aleppo.

Violence in Syria Spurs a Huge Surge in Civilian Flight   – OCT. 26, 2015

How Syrians Are Dying  SEPT. 14, 2015

Untangling the Overlapping Conflicts in the Syrian War   OCT. 18, 2015

Such scenes dotted the map during a recent 10-day visit in northeastern Syria, along the Turkish border. Everyone here, it seems, has an angle to work, scrambling to fill the void left by the collapse of the Syrian state.

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South of al-Jawadiyah, crude oil is refined into diesel and other products. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, saw this crossroads as a prime place to expand its so-called caliphate. It was far from the major interests of the Syrian government in Damascus and along good river and road networks to allow the quick movement of fighters and contraband.

But as Kurdish fighters pushed the Islamic State jihadists out, they sought to stamp their vision of a better life onto northern Syria: an autonomous enclave built on the principles — part anarchist, part grass-roots socialist — of a Kurdish militant leader whose face now adorns arm bands and murals across the territory.

Others, like Mr. Mohammed, are just trying to get by: the farmers, herders and smugglers, or those just trying to piece their communities back together after months under the black flag and public punishments of the Islamic State.

The police are gone, and militias have flourished, snarling traffic with checkpoints and covering lampposts with pictures of dead fighters. Shuttered gas stations stand near shacks where fuel is sold in plastic jugs. And abandoned government offices house ad hoc administrations that struggle to keep the lights on.

Kurdish Utopia

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Nine months after coalition airstrikes and Kurdish fighters repelled an invasion by the Islamic State, residents of Kobani struggle with loss, failed services and widespread destruction. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

 

The Kurdish militia that grew to become the dominant power in this part of Syria over the past year — known as the People’s Protection Units — has managed to roll back the Islamic State in many areas, carving out a swath of relative security that the residents call Rojava.

The community leaders here are working to set up a new order based on the philosophies of the separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan, of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., who is serving a life sentence for treason in Turkey.

“Turn your land, your water and your energy into a commune to build a free and democratic life,” reads a common billboard featuring Mr. Ocalan’s mustachioed face. His supporters call him “president” or “uncle.”

Influenced by the American anarchist Murray Bookchin, Mr. Ocalan has called for autonomous rule by local committees unbound by national borders. The project’s proponents say they do not seek to break up Syria but are leading a long-term social revolution that will ensure gender and minority rights.

“The Syrian people can solve the Syrian crisis and find new ways to run the country,” said Hediya Yusif, a co-president of one of the area’s three self-declared cantons.

But much about the new administrations remains aspirational. No foreign power has recognized them, and Turkey looks on them with hostility, fearing that they want to declare an independent state along its border. Many of their workers are volunteers or functionaries still paid by the Syrian government.

The new order’s complexities are glaring in the strongly Kurdish town of Qamishli, where monuments to fallen militia fighters and billboards in red, green and yellow — the flag colors of the People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G. — dominate roundabouts.

“The homeland is belonging, loyalty and sacrifice,” read one sign, showing women farming and holding Kalashnikovs.

One morning, dozens of women waved militia flags on the town’s main road, waiting for the bodies of Kurdish fighters to arrive for burial in a sprawling martyrs’ cemetery.

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The new order’s complexities are glaring in the strongly Kurdish town of Qamishli, where monuments to fallen militia fighters and billboards in red, green and yellow — the flag colors of the People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G. — dominate roundabouts. “The homeland is belonging, loyalty and sacrifice,” read one sign, showing women farming and One morning, dozens of women waved militia flags on the town’s main road, waiting for the bodies of Kurdish fighters to arrive for burial in a sprawling martyrs’ cemetery.

 
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Relatives of Kurdish militia fighters killed more than a year ago in Kobani and being buried in their hometown, Qamishli. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

 

Renas Ghanem stood among them with a photograph of her sister, Silan, who had quit high school to join a Kurdish militia in Iraq and returned to fight the Islamic State in Syria, where she was killed.

Nearby, however, loomed a statue of the former strongman Hafez al-Assad, father of the current Syrian president, in an area of continued Syrian government control only a few blocks long, where the Syrian police, in white shirts and black caps, direct traffic.

Kurdish leaders do not hide their resentment of the Syrian government for its treatment of Kurds. But allowing the government to control the town’s airport keeps it open, they say, and its largely symbolic presence downtown has prevented the government airstrikes that have destroyed rebel areas elsewhere.

“The Y.P.G. could chase the regime out in one hour, but what would come after?” said Ahmed Moussa, a Kurdish journalist. “Barrel bombs and airstrikes.”

The territory’s main link to the outside is two rusty boats that ferry passengers across a river from Iraq and a pontoon bridge for cargo. Trucks leaving Syria on a recent day carried cows and sheep; those entering hauled soft drinks and potato chips.

Despite improved security in some places, unemployment and the threat of renewed fighting have sent many people from this area fleeing by boats to Europe.

“The situation in Rojava can’t keep people here,” said Shivan Ahmed, a butcher’s assistant in the town of Amuda who earns less than $3 a day.

His wife and 7-month-old son had recently left on a boat that sank near Turkey, he said. They were rescued, but 13 of their relatives, mostly women and children, were still missing.

Relatives of Kurdish militia fighters killed more than a year ago in Kobani and being buried in their hometown, Qamishli. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Renas Ghanem stood among them with a photograph of her sister, Silan, who had quit high school to join a Kurdish militia in Iraq and returned to fight the Islamic State in Syria, where she was killed.

Nearby, however, loomed a statue of the former strongman Hafez al-Assad, father of the current Syrian president, in an area of continued Syrian government control only a few blocks long, where the Syrian police, in white shirts and black caps, direct traffic.

Kurdish leaders do not hide their resentment of the Syrian government for its treatment of Kurds. But allowing the government to control the town’s airport keeps it open, they say, and its largely symbolic presence downtown has prevented the government airstrikes that have destroyed rebel areas elsewhere.

“The Y.P.G. could chase the regime out in one hour, but what would come after?” said Ahmed Moussa, a Kurdish journalist. “Barrel bombs and airstrikes.”

The territory’s main link to the outside is two rusty boats that ferry passengers across a river from Iraq and a pontoon bridge for cargo. Trucks leaving Syria on a recent day carried cows and sheep; those entering hauled soft drinks and potato chips.

Despite improved security in some places, unemployment and the threat of renewed fighting have sent many people from this area fleeing by boats to Europe.

“The situation in Rojava can’t keep people here,” said Shivan Ahmed, a butcher’s assistant in the town of Amuda who earns less than $3 a day.

His wife and 7-month-old son had recently left on a boat that sank near Turkey, he said. They were rescued, but 13 of their relatives, mostly women and children, were still missing.

Still, he said, his neighbors keep leaving.

 

Syrian jihadists feud & bomb each other over funds as Russian jets destroy supply lines

RT NEWS

Russian attack jets have hit 51 Islamic State targets in Syria in the past 24 hours, including four command posts, six arms depots, a mortar battery, two underground bunkers, 32 field camps and six outposts.

The strikes took place in the Latakia, Aleppo, Hama and Damascus provinces.

The damage the Russian SU-34 jets caused to the underground bunkers was especially significant, Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said.

Fueling a Russian Su-34 strike fighter before a mission at the Khmeimim airbase in Syria. © Dmitriy Vinogradov

Уничтожение подземного бункера боевиков в провинции ХАМА

https://youtu.be/8yFz9SCB9UU

 

They hit the terrorists’ underground infrastructure in Homs, which had allowed the militants to move undetected and increase their effectiveness in combat.

The well-funded Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) has been hiding whole weapons caches underground, which included explosive devices for carrying out terrorist attacks.

A small missile factory was among the objects destroyed. However, these underground bases and conduits are believed to be widespread across Syria, so more work needs to be done, Konashenkov says.

READ MORE: ‘Weak and short-sighted’ – Russian PM slams White House for failure to sync ISIS bombing campaign

 

A frontline supply junction for transporting fuel, arms and food supply lines was also hit in the Damascus province.

The entire command infrastructure of one of the terrorist groups operating in the Hama province was disrupted by the strikes, sending the militants fleeing from the area, the Defense Ministry added.

According to information from the Russian armed forces, desertions on a massive scale are occurring amongst IS ranks in the north and north-east of the country. In the Raqqa province, IS has started a mobilization of everyone aged 14 and over.

Уничтожение опорhttps:

https://youtu.be/8yFz9SCB9UU

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