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Francois Hollande’s Quest For A United Front Against ISIS May Be Doomed To Fail

Hollande Putin

While Americans celebrated Thanksgiving, French President Francois Hollande, who visited the United States to talk to President Obama on Tuesday continued traveling the world in what seems like an obvious attempt to assemble some kind of grant coalition against ISIS in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and the subsequent threats that have gripped both France and neighboring Belgium.

Hollande’s motives in trying to pull together some kind of credible action against ISIS are quite understandable. Prior to the Paris attacks, his poll numbers were quite low and, even though there next Presidential election isn’t until 2017 there was already talk about challenges from within his own party, from former President Sarkozy who may attempt a comeback, or from the National Front‘s Marine Le Pen, who has been gaining in popularly in no small part because of public nervousness over immigration, Syrian war refugees, and terrorism. With local and regional elections set to take place in France next month, the political risks to Hollande personally, and to his party, from what happened are rather obvious, and so far his strong response to the crisis seems to be playing very well domestically. The New York Times noted yesterday, for example, that the attacks in Paris have both increased public support for action against ISIS in the abstract and led to a response similar to what we saw in the United States after the September 11th attacks when many young Americans were motivated to enlist in the military in the hope that they personally will be part of the effort to strike. So, Hollande’s efforts here are consistent with what the French public wants to see, so he’s likely to continue his efforts. How successful he will be, though, is largely out of his hand

On Wednesday, Hollande met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris, and appeared to get some agreement for increased cooperation from a nation that has mostly been on the sidelines so far:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with French President François Hollande in Paris on Wednesday evening to discuss joint action after the recent attacks in the French capital prompted France to request mutual defense from fellow European Union members.

Mr. Hollande urged Germany to do more to support the fight against Islamic State. “If Germany can go further, that would be a very good signal in the fight against terrorism,” Mr. Hollande said, speaking alongside Ms. Merkel duringthe a meeting.

Ms. Merkel pledged to stand alongside France in its fight against terror, signaling Berlin is willing to step up support. “We must act with determination, because we cannot defeat Daesh with words,” she said.

Germany has so far pledged to raise its military engagement in Mali in a bid to support France in its antiterrorism activities in this west African country.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday Germany will send as many as 650 soldiers to Mali and back France—Mali’s former colonial power—in its fight against Islamic State in there.

So far 200 German soldiers have been deployed in Mali to provide intelligence and logistics to the United Nations-led peacekeeping mission.

On Thursday, Germany announced greater cooperation in the fight against ISIS as well:

BERLIN — Germany will join the military campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria by deploying Tornado reconnaissance jets, refuelling aircraft and a frigate to the region following a direct appeal from close partner France for Berlin to do more.

The decision to commit military personnel and hardware is a shift for Germany, which has resisted such direct involvement in the conflict. It has no plans to join France, the United States and Russia in conducting air strikes in Syria.

“Today the government took difficult but important and necessary decisions,” Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters after meeting with lawmakers. “We are standing with France, which was hit by these inhuman attacks from IS.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel promised the support, which must still be approved by parliament, during talks with French President Francois Hollande in Paris on Wednesday.

Berlin expects to commit between four and six Tornado jets, provide satellite support, refuelling planes and a frigate to help protect the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which the French navy has sent to the eastern Mediterranean to support air strikes in both Syria and Iraq.

Henning Otte, a member of parliament for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who acts as a spokesman for the party on defence matters told Reuters that the government aimed to have a draft of the new mandate ready by Tuesday and seek approval from the Bundestag by the end of the year.

The German announcements came on the same day that British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he would seek authority from Parliament to expand the British air campaign against ISIS into Syria:

London (CNN) British Prime Minister David Cameron has become the latest world leader to call for an escalation in the fight against ISIS, as French President Francois Hollande continues a whirlwind week of diplomacy to build an international coalition against the terror group.

Cameron, who met with the French leader in Paris Monday, made the case in the British Parliament on Thursday for airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, arguing that an expansion of military action is needed to counter “the very direct threat that (ISIS) poses to our country and our way of life.”

Britain needs “to take action now, to help protect us against the terrorism seen on the streets of Paris and elsewhere,” Cameron argued.

His speech is expected to pave the way for a parliamentary vote next week on whether, in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, to expand Britain’s military efforts against the Islamist militants.

The UK has been conducting strikes against ISIS on the Iraqi side of its so-called caliphate, but so far has not extended its action to the group’s stronghold in Syria

Hollande’s most important meeting, though, came Thursday night in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been pursuing his own course in Syria since September. The issue of Russia’s actions in Syria was already complicated, of course, by the fact that they have been acting as much to protect the government of Bashar Assad as they have to attack ISIS, if not more. Added on top of that comes the news about the shooting down of a Russian jet by Turkey and the aftermath that has flowed from that. At least on paper, though, Putin said that Russia was willing to cooperate with the West against ISIS, the only question is what price he demands:

Russian President Vladimir Putin late Thursday said he was ready to coordinate strikes against the Islamic State with the United States and its allies but warned that acts like the Turkish downing of a Russian jet could destroy any chance of collaboration.

After talks with French President François Hollande at the Kremlin, Putin said, “We are ready to cooperate with the coalition which is led by the United States.”

It was the most forthright commitment to a joint effort between Russia and the West since Moscow’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

But it was far from the declaration of a new grand coalition in Syria, potentially under United Nations auspices rather than American leadership, that Putin has proposed. The deep disagreement between Russia and the West over the future of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has not been put aside.

Hollande said France was ready to fight alongside Russia but added, “Of course, Assad cannot play any role in the future of this country.”

Since Russia intervened in Syria two months ago, Moscow and Washington have agreed on measures to “deconflict” their aerial operations there. But as each country pounds its targets in Syria, they have not worked in tandem in any way.

Hollande arrived in Moscow after meeting with President Obama earlier this week. The terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 have led France to step up its operations in Syria and to seek some sort of workable agreement among the foreign powers involved there. The idea has not been warmly embraced by the United States, which has accused Russia of targeting Assad’s foes among the American-backed rebels, rather than the Islamic State.

Hollande said that he and Putin had agreed “to only carry out strikes against terrorists, only against ISIS, and only against jihadist groups.”

“It is important not to strike those groups who are also fighting against terrorists,” he said.

Putin has long argued that the Western powers, Russia and China all face a common Islamist threat, and he has made it clear that he resents what he sees as relative Western indifference to attacks on Russia. He also has suggested that the United States has been negligent in taking the Islamist threat seriously enough.

Putin has emphasized the fight against global terrorism as a means to repair, or at least reestablish, a meaningful partnership with the West.

“Our positions are the same,” Putin told Hollande before they began their private talks. “That forces us to join our forces in fighting terrorists. We are prepared to work with you, Mr. President.”

Hollande said, “I am in Moscow with you to figure out how we can act together in order to coordinate our actions to hit this terrorist group and look for political solutions for Syria.”

Putin’s words notwithstanding, the devil is going to be in the details and the details remains quite complicated. For one, as noted, the Russians will likely remain committed to their desire to protect the Assad regime, or at least some form of it that will be sympathetic to their interests, even while fighting ISIS. Indeed, if you follow Putin’s words since September closely it’s clear that he takes the position that preserve the Assad regime is a key part of fighting ISIS and that the rebels seeking to depose Assad are, effectively, fighting alongside ISIS. The United States, France, and the rest of the West, meanwhile, take the position that there can be no real success in the fight against ISIS as long as the Assad remains in power and continues to wage war not only against ISIS and other jihadist groups, but also against the “moderate” Syrian rebels and the Syrian people themselves. There is, in other words, no consensus on how to wage the fight in Syria and, indeed, seemingly mutually contradictory strategies among the players. As long as that’s the case, the idea of some kind of “grand coalition” against ISIS would seem to be nothing more than a chimera.

Putin’s words also belied by many of the actions that Russia seems to be taking in response to the incident with Turkey earlier this week. Once again, the two nations spent the day yesterday trading insults and, perhaps most importantly, Russia took further steps to cut economic ties with Ankara and threatening further economic retaliation, a step that is more likely to hurt the Turks than it is the Russians. In other steps, the Russians appear to be going ahead with the deployment of the S-400 air defense system in Syria, a version of its deadliest and most advanced such system. As Dave Majumdar notes at The National Interest, this is a development that could have serious implications for the air campaign being waged by the United States and other members of the anti-ISIS coalition given the fact that “only the American F-22, F-35 and B-2 stealth aircraft can operate safely inside a zone protected by the weapon for any length of time.” This leaves open the possibility of an American, British, German, French, Turkish, or other allied aircraft being shot down by a Russian missile, and that would just seem to make the possibility of cooperation all the more unlikely.

President Hollande, then, has seemingly succeeded in getting some commitments from Germany and Great Britain to increase their involvement in the campaign against ISIS. In the end, though, the important players are in Washington and Moscow and until they come to some kind of agreement the idea of a united front against ISIS is little more than a fantasy.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. JohnMcC says:

    A decent place to start thinking about an expanded, ‘full-service’ war on Daesh:

    http://www.nationalinterest.org/feature/5-inconvenient-truths-the-war-isis-14439

    (Hint: Assad’s army with Russian assistance is probably the most effective anti-Daesh force. And every actor in the war against Daesh has another and higher-rated goal.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  2. michael reynolds says:

    ISIS has won this round. They murdered 130 people in the heart of Paris and they’re getting away with it. That’s the bottom line from their perspective: it worked.

    The French want to retaliate but they are militarily weak. The Germans want to ignore the entire matter. The British are balking at taking any action. And Americans are alternately harvesting votes with irrelevant but inflammatory bigotry (Trump) or cringing behind the absurd notion that this is somehow primarily a civil rights issue (Liberals).

    The West is weak. Not just the leaders of the west, the people of the west. Conservatives think they want war with a billion and a half people in dozens of countries. Liberals have convinced themselves that repeated displays of their open hearts and minds will drain support for ISIS. Both ends of the spectrum are wrong. Only a bloody fool thinks the way to win is to increase the number of enemies from tens or hundreds of thousands to more than a billion. As for liberal fantasies, the recruiting tool for ISIS is not limits on Syrian refugees, it is the fact of the attack itself and the limp and feckless western response.

    Encouraged by manifest western weakness, ISIS (and AQ) will attack as often as they are able, in France, in Germany, in Britain, in the Netherlands, and in the US. They will go on attacking because they have nothing to fear from us – despite the fact that in proclaiming a Caliphate they made themselves uniquely vulnerable to western power.

    We and others in the west will reverse the limits on intelligence surveillance, we will compromise our liberty, we will surrender our sense of security and we will give more and more power to police. We will begin with self-imposed limits on free speech and quickly move to mandated limits. We will see the rise of extremist right-wing parties in Europe. European Jews – who retain an instinct for trouble on the horizon that other groups lack – are fleeing to Israel and the US.

    In the US we will lock up our borders and try to ride it out, like we tried to ride out WW1 and WW2. World War 3 is here and Americans are, as usual, going limp.

    It is a pathetic display. Hysteria, hate-mongering and straight-up fascism on the Right, narcissism, sanctimony, childishness and triviality on the Left. In all a picture of a weak, disunited, feckless, cowardly and suicidal civilization.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 8

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    The United States has a long history of taking out “bad guys” that only results in something worse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    A “united front” requires three things: clear objectives, leadership, and followership. All are presently in short supply so I don’t expect a united front to appear any time soon.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The French want to retaliate but they are militarily weak. The Germans want to ignore the entire matter. The British are balking at taking any action.

    We didn’t make them weak. They found it expedient to be weak. Even in a wealthy country maintaining a military stronger than the present need requires dedicating productive capacity to it that can’t be applied to something else.

    Being weak may have become less politically expedient but it takes time and persistent dedication to stop being weak. Honestly, I don’t see it.

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  6. Pch101 says:

    White House policy in Syria has been focused on broader regional diplomatic issues, not on opposing any particular militant factions such as ISIS. Hence, the priority on transitioning Assad out of power.

    The Russians obviously want a base of operations and access to a warm water port in the Middle East/ Mediterranean, and are concerned that Islamists can destabilize countries in their neighborhood. Thus, Putin’s decision to side with Assad, without regard for how bad or unpopular Assad may be.

    It’s hard to see how to balance those two positions. As messy as it is, it makes more sense for the US to shift its views than for the Russians to change theirs, and US policy may have to evolve so that its priority in Syria refocus its efforts to prevent the Russians from benefiting from the outcome.

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  7. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I don’t see it, either. I don’t think the mental architecture of a stronger France (or Europe) exists at this time. They have problems similar to us: a hysterical Right, a passive Left, and no energy in the middle.

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  8. Dave Schuler says:

    @Pch101:

    Actually, it’s pretty easy to balance the positions. There is no viable alternative in Syria to the present Alawite regime other than radical Islamists.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  9. michael reynolds says:

    @Pch101:

    Our position is circumscribed by Turkey. We need their air bases, they want to kill off Assad and are happy to see ISIS do that work for them. We need Kurdish ground troops, Turkey hates the Kurds. Our interests are more nearly aligned with the Russians than they are with our NATO ally.

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  10. michael reynolds says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    We have a longer history of sitting around with our thumbs up our asses doing nothing. The United States has caused far more harm in this world by being weak and passive than we have by being too aggressive. Had we been able to swing US power behind either side in the early days of WW1, that war would not have become what it did, with all the terrible sequelae, which include the Bolshevik revolution, WW2 and the Cold War.

    Likewise, had we been a major military power in 1939/40 we could likely have limited the extent of that disaster. Had we been in possession of a million man army and in a position to use it decisively, blitzkrieg would have been impossible, France would not have fallen, et cetera.

    Compared to the downstream effects of American weakness in 1914 and 1940, American mistakes in the MENA are minuscule.

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  11. WR says:

    @michael reynolds: Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving, Michael!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  12. Pch101 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Our interests are more nearly aligned with the Russians than they are with our NATO ally.

    You’re the same guy who said a few days ago that ISIS could be defeated by a coalition involving the Turks.

    The reality is that the Turks, Russians and the western powers have some fairly divergent views. We’re competing against the Russians even though we have some shared interests, which is not a scenario without historical precedent. And neither the Turks nor the US want Kurdish independence, albeit for different reasons.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  13. michael reynolds says:

    @WR:

    First time with a child returning to the nest – our son from college – so there’s been figuring out how that works. But the food went well, with my daughter and I doing two pies from scratch, lobster truffle mac and cheese, filets, and assorted other stuff. You?

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  14. michael reynolds says:

    @Pch101:

    There’s a big gap between “could” and “will.” As a statement of relative power, yes, the Turks could take out ISIS. They have armor, they have men, their army has some history. Had Erdogan not been returned with a fairly commanding vote, Turkey might have been helpful, could still be helpful.

    I don’t see us as competing with Russia in the ME. Competing for what? Control of oil we don’t especially need and that will find its way to market in almost any event? Competing for the position of ‘greatest satan?’

    I see our interests as defending Israel and Jordan. Knocking down organizations promoting anti-western terror. Keeping the Persian Gulf and the canal open to shipping. Forestalling a nuclear ME.

    I don’t think Russia is much concerned with Israel or Jordan, and as to limiting terrorism, keeping the flow going and keeping nukes off their southern border, Russian interests and ours align. If their price is holding onto a base in the eastern Med, I don’t care. That base is only of value so long as the Dardanelles remain open to Russian ships.

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  15. Tyrell says:

    This might not make much sense: we need General Marshall, Eisenhower, and McArthur.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  16. JohnMcC says:

    @michael reynolds: An article in AlJazeera describing the effects of the combined Russian, U.S. and French bombing of Raqqa. Spoiler — the military targets are frequently evacuated prior to being bombed but the over-all destruction is widespread.

    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/11/syrians-insane-nights-french-bombing-151117052945111.html

    Two articles saying that Jews are not evacuating Europe.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-netanyahu-cant-lure-a-mass-migration-of-european-jews/2015/02/20/09ab0c26b-86b-11e4-9423-f3d01ec335c_story.html_

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4609941,00.html

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. michael reynolds says:

    @JohnMcC:

    The Al Jazeera link is data-free, and purely subjective. The impressions of people on the ground are not terribly reliable, though the sense that empty buildings are being blown up rather makes my point that this is all symbolic.

    Your WaPo link is broken and the last link says the opposite of what you’re saying, and predates the current troubles. 2014 was record year for Aliyah in that it was the first time that more Jews arrived in Israel from the free world than from oppressed countries. We’ll get data in a few months and can see who’s right.

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  18. Pch101 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I don’t see us as competing with Russia in the ME. Competing for what?

    I already addressed that. The US should not be thrilled to have a Russian presence that could interfere with American policy interests in the Middle East. Keeping Russia contained is one of the motivations for that policy.

    I see our interests as defending Israel and Jordan. Knocking down organizations promoting anti-western terror. Keeping the Persian Gulf and the canal open to shipping. Forestalling a nuclear ME.

    The White House sees the preservation of Iraq and containment of Iran as vital interests. Knowing that is critical if you want to understand why the US is doing what it is doing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. michael reynolds says:

    @Pch101:

    The US should not be thrilled to have a Russian presence that could interfere with American policy interests in the Middle East. Keeping Russia contained is one of the motivations for that policy.

    I don’t think that quite means anything. Russia needs to be contained only insofar as they interfere with our goals. If they are aligned with us why must we contain them? Before we decide we need to contain Russia, shouldn’t we have some clear notion of how they are at odds with our goals?

    The White House sees the preservation of Iraq and containment of Iran as vital interests. Knowing that is critical if you want to understand why the US is doing what it is doing.

    Having been awake and alert for the last decade, yes, I know that’s the WH’s stated goal. Which is why I wrote, “I see our interests as…” rather than “The WH sees…”

    I think Mr. Obama is wrong to prioritize the territorial integrity of Iraq. I think it’s a foolish policy that does not bear directly on American interests. Iraq and Syria have already come apart and I don’t think we, the Europeans, or Jesus flying in on a cloud can put them back together. Which makes the WH policy an anachronism. Biden was right.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  20. Pch101 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Before we decide we need to contain Russia, shouldn’t we have some clear notion of how they are at odds with our goals?

    Don’t confuse your lack of understanding with everyone else’s level of knowledge.

    I think Mr. Obama is wrong to prioritize the territorial integrity of Iraq.

    It’s a classic Pandora’s box. He doesn’t have much choice but to try. Nobody claimed that it was ideal or easy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  21. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Had we been in possession of a million man army and in a position to use it decisively, blitzkrieg would have been impossible, France would not have fallen, et cetera.

    Similarly, had we been in possession of fire-breathing dragons and sharks with friggin’ lasers on their heads, we could have stopped Hitler.

    Both scenarios, of course, are entirely fanciful and would never have happened in the real world as it existed at the time. The difference, of course, is that I recognize that my scenario is a fantasy, and don’t try to make present-day policy prescriptions based on my lack of historical knowledge.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  22. michael reynolds says:

    @Pch101:

    Don’t confuse your snark with an answer. Play teacher: explain why Russia must be kept out of the ME in terms relating to genuine US interests. I’m willing to be instructed. But so far all I’m getting is a knee-jerk opposition to all things Russian. I dislike the Russians and I think Putin is a clown, but that’s beside the point.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  23. michael reynolds says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Explain why it is absolute fantasy to imagine that the US could have embraced its nascent power and become a serious military force in 1913. We managed it a few years later. And ditto for 1939.

    Obviously the resources existed. What was lacking was leadership and ideology.

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  24. Pch101 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Russia is a natural rival to the US. It’s a country prone to producing Putin-type figures, and there are enough cultural differences to exacerbate those political clashes. That’s reason enough to be concerned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. WR says:

    @michael reynolds: One of the unexpected pleasures of moving to NYC has been getting to know my late father’s younger sister who, alone among the siblings, stayed in Manhattan all her life. We had a pleasant and low-key Thanksgiving with her… and now I’m back to work on two feature outlines I need to have finished a couple weeks ago…

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  26. michael reynolds says:

    @Pch101:

    That’s it? “Russia is a natural rival?” Honestly, I thought you might have something. That’s nostalgia, not analysis.

    From 1776 to 1918 Russia was largely irrelevant to the US. They only became a problem after the revolution. It was “commie” problem not a “Russia” problem. The commies are gone, the USSR is gone, modern Russia is half our size with an economy the size of Italy’s. We share no borders. We do not compete for resources to any challenging degree. Russia was a “natural rival” from 1918 to 1989, (interrupted by the small fact that the USSR saved the world from Hitler, when we and the Russkis were besties.)

    Our current “problem” with Russia is Ukraine where we pushed and they pushed back. And potentially the Baltic countries, which are a long way from Syria. In the ME our sole area of real disagreement is over the Assad regime. You’ll notice that the Israelis have no problems with Assad staying in power.

    So, again, our interests are defending Israel and Jordan, knocking down organizations promoting anti-western terror, keeping the Persian Gulf and the canal open to shipping and forestalling a nuclear ME. None of which are in conflict with Russian aims.

    And before someone points out the obvious – that Russia is bombing non-ISIS targets – yes, they are. And who are those targets? Our alleged “moderates” a label we now apply to anyone who is neither Assad or ISIS, ignoring the fact that what’s left is largely Al Qaeda and their allies. It’s a fantasy to imagine that there’s some bunch of Bernie Sanders wannabes ready, willing and able to turn Damascus into Burlington.

    Here are the players and interest groups, as I see it:

    1) Assad and Hezbollah
    2) ISIS
    3) AQ and pals
    4) The Kurds
    5) The Turks who want Assad gone and tacitly support ISIS.
    6) Iran, the “government” of Iraq and other Shia who want ISIS gone and Assad in.
    7) Us and our European allies who want both Assad and ISIS gone, but not if it’s hard.
    8) Us and our alleged Arab allies (KSA, UAE chiefly) who want Assad gone and largely tolerate ISIS.
    9) Us and Jordan, which wants ISIS gone no matter what, ’cause they’re scared and overtaxed with refugees.
    10) Israel which prioritizes Iran as foe and is indifferent to Assad.
    11) The Russians who want to keep Assad.

    Now, that is one hell of a stew. But if we let go of an increasingly unrealistic desire to kill off Assad, you get a different line-up. With that one change the US, Russia, Iran, Israel, the Kurds and Jordan are all largely in-synch as relates to the Syria/Iraq issue.

    The problem here is not Russia, it’s Turkey and the Sunnis because Assad is not blowing up Paris, ISIS is. It was fine and remains fine to go ‘containment’ so long as we’re talking ISIS in situ. But with ISIS shifting strategies to international terrorism, Assad becomes far less important, ISIS more important. In that array of interests our most relevant problem is Turkey which has facilitated the movement of foreign fighters to ISIS with the threat of those foreign fighters carrying terrorism into the west. And Turkey is attacking the one viable friendly force, the Kurds.

    So, from where I sit, Mr. Putin is welcome to jump into this mud puddle and get dirty. Mr. Putin will not be facilitating ISIS movements against the west. Nor is he stopping us from going after ISIS. In fact, he’s clarifying our goals which should be, ISIS not Assad.

    We just went on two monster hunts – Saddam and Gaddafi, both eminently deserving of their fates. But in neither case did we get an improved situation. I will rejoice on the day Assad dies, but is it important to us? Not really. We and Israel have gotten along pretty well with Assad. Our problem is ISIS, and the limits imposed on our ability to deal with them come from Turkey and the Sunnis, not the Russians.

    Not to even get into the fact that Turkey our supposed ally and NATO member seems anxious to start trouble with the Russians.

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  27. michael reynolds says:

    One other point. When the Poles went into exile in the UK during WW2 what did they do? They formed combat units (among other things, they took Monte Cassino), contributed pilots to the RAF and parachuted back into Nazi-held Poland to help with intel. The Free French did likewise. So did Norwegians, Dutch etc…

    So, where is the army we’re forming from Syrian refugees in Jordan and Turkey? 3 million refugees. Even if you believe the absurd 2% number, that’s 60,000 potential soldiers. It should be child’s play to recruit a force of ten thousand. Right? So why isn’t that happening? Why are these refugees seemingly less willing to fight for the country from which they’ve fled? Where are the Free Syrian Brigades? How many billions did we spend to ‘train’ six guys?

    Something is not right here.

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  28. humanoid.panda says:

    @michael reynolds: Because its a civil war,and various refugees belong to various communities, who support various actors? In other words, whom do you propose to liberate Syria FROM? Add to that the the Free Poles were not randomly selected refugees- they were overwhelmingly former Polish soldiers interned by the Soviets, and released in 1941.

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  29. michael reynolds says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    Your point goes to the political unreliability of the refugees. Some flee ISIS, some flee Assad, some just want a job. That’s where the analogy to 1939 Jewish refugees breaks down. Half the Jews did not hate the other half. And no part of Judaism then supported terrorism. And Judaism has never been an evangelizing religion with visions of replacing all other faiths.

    So we want to import 10,000 now and 100,000 eventually, from which population we either cannot or will not attempt to recruit a fighting force because they represent both sides of a civil war. The analogy is not 1939 Jews, it would be closer to imagine Mexico taking in large numbers of both Yankees and Rebels in 1865 – but armed with the tools of terrorism.

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  30. Davebo says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Had we been able to swing US power behind either side in the early days of WW1, that war would not have become what it did

    The level of historical ignorance required to make this statement is hard to understate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  31. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Explain why it is absolute fantasy to imagine that the US could have embraced its nascent power and become a serious military force in 1913. We managed it a few years later. And ditto for 1939.

    You know, I spent several decades studying history in some depth. The fact that someone doesn’t have more than a junior high level knowledge of this is not reason for me to take a half-hour to write an in-depth post detailing all the fallacies, false assumptions, and mistakes in the initial comment.

    Or, in shorter terms, the fact that something could have happened does not mean that it was at all probable that it would have happened. Possibility does not equal probability.

    Obviously the resources existed. What was lacking was leadership and ideology.

    No, what was needed was any need to do it. What you’re exhibiting is the common non-historian’s fallacy of attributing perfect knowledge of the future to actors in the past. From the viewpoint of 1945, of course, it would have been preferable for the US to intervene in WWII earlier. But American politicians in 1937, say, were not operating with a knowledge of what would happen in 1945 — they didn’t even know what would happen next week. All they had to work on was their experience in the past, and that experience told them that intervening in foreign wars cost blood and treasure with not much tangible gain. For them with their knowledge at the time the rational move, the logical move, was not to build up military strength, but instead to concentrate on the economy.

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  32. Rafer Janders says:

    @Davebo:

    The level of historical ignorance required to make this statement is hard to understate.

    Yes, I’m afraid Michael exhibits what can only be called a historical Dunning-Kruger effect: he knows so little about history that he mistakenly believes he knows a lot and is cognitively unable to recognize his own deficiency in the field.

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  33. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    When the Poles went into exile in the UK during WW2 what did they do? They formed combat units (among other things, they took Monte Cassino), contributed pilots to the RAF and parachuted back into Nazi-held Poland to help with intel. The Free French did likewise. So did Norwegians, Dutch etc…

    The Poles, Free French, etc. who went into exile were largely soldiers, sailors, airmen. The reason they formed combat units is because they arrived as part of combat units, and had military skill to contribute. The Syrian refugees, on the other hand, are not coming as units of trained soldiers, but as desperate groups of civilian men, women, children and the old.

    Once again, you don’t even know what you don’t even know.

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  34. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Likewise, had we been a major military power in 1939/40 we could likely have limited the extent of that disaster.

    Why and how would the United States, while still struggling with the Great Depression, have built up a million man army? More than half of the country was isolationist, the Congress would never have appropriate funds, and there was no strategic need for the US, nestled between two friendly neighbors and defended by two oceans, to have wasted the vast amounts of money needed to do this.

    Now, from the perspective of 1941, having been attacked by Japan and declared war on by Germany, a military build-up and entry into the war was certainly necessary. But what, absent a crystal ball, would have been the need for it in 1939? How would entry into WWII have been sold to the American public? Keep in mind, of course, that such efforts to sell the war had been made and roundly rejected.

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  35. Grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:
    We can at least agree on one thing. Our opposition to Assad is counterproductive to our overall goals in the ME. It would be better for us to pull out of Syria as much as possible and let it be a quagmire to drag down the Russians.
    The new found interest in the far enemy by Daesh is a signal of weakness, not newfound strength. They are losing ground and funding streams will only get more difficult. They need more money and more foreign recruits. Attacks in the West and Western overreaction, particularly to refugee and local Muslim populations help them. It was no mistake that a forged passport of a Syrian refugee was left behind. They wanted it to be found and they want a xenophobic response in the West to drive more recruitment.
    PS, please stop with the strained WWII analogies. They will convince exactly no one. The only people buying in are Jenos, Bill, Drew, and our new trolls. That should tell you something, even if it is less personally comforting that liberals are passive and don’t know the real ™ world like me.

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  36. WR says:

    @michael reynolds: “The analogy is not 1939 Jews, it would be closer to imagine Mexico taking in large numbers of both Yankees and Rebels in 1865 – but armed with the tools of terrorism.”

    I think there might be a movie in there somewhere. Mexican political entity recruits Yank and Reb troops to track down bandits… and chaos ensues. Tone somewhere between The Wild Bunch and The Outlaw Josey Wales.

    You want to work together on this? We can plot it out, you’ll write the book and I can do the script…

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  37. Pch101 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    “Russia is a natural rival?” Honestly, I thought you might have something. That’s nostalgia, not analysis.

    Anyone who is knowledgeable of history would understand the point that I was making.

    Here’s a basic rule of thumb: Large population + Imperial legacy + Nostalgia for said imperial legacy = Potential for conflict. Add in some cultural differences to the mix, and that leaves room for even more problems.

    Russia has all of those features. And it has a leader who is intent on exploiting all of those elements, so the issue is not just theoretical at this point in time.

    Your nonchalance about Russia is very naive at best. Type “Georgia Russia”, “Ukraine Russia” or for that matter “Russia Sweden relations” into a search engine if you are wondering where to begin your research.

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  38. Pch101 says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    The Poles, Free French, etc. who went into exile were largely soldiers, sailors, airmen. The reason they formed combat units is because they arrived as part of combat units, and had military skill to contribute. The Syrian refugees, on the other hand, are not coming as units of trained soldiers, but as desperate groups of civilian men, women, children and the old.

    Perhaps more importantly, there was a greater degree of clarity about what to do back in the 1940s: The Nazis conquered their countries and removed political systems that they supported it, and the displaced wanted them both back.

    The Syrian situation consists of bad guys fighting bad guys. For many, there is no one with whom to ally. The US and the west face this same problem.

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  39. Andre Kenji says:

    @Pch101: To be fair, the problem of Russia since the Tsars is that they want to be a World Power and they have a feudalistic economic. They want to play in the same league with Germany and United States, but in the end they are always playing with the Turks.

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  40. dazedandconfused says:

    Do not expect our admission of being wrong about Assad. Admitting a mistake is deadly in that business, the business of winning a job in the government as an “advisor”. Instead look at actions and watch for deliberate holes in rhetoric. For example, Hollande and Putin met and some press announced they failed to reach an agreement about ISIL. A closer look shows they did reach an agreement that the main threat is “Jihadis”.

    Does anyone still believe the rebellion against Assad isn’t dominated by Jihadis? Aside from five guys, that is.

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