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Obama Considering Plan That Would Get U.S. Ground Troops Closer To Front Lines In ISIS War

Obama ISIS

The Washington Post is reporting that President Obama and the Pentagon are weighing a change in policy regarding the use of American ground troops in the fight against ISIS that seems as though it will inevitably result in American ground forces of some kind getting directly involved in the fight:

President Obama’s most senior national security advisers have recommended measures that would move U.S. troops closer to the front lines in Iraq and Syria, officials said, a sign of mounting White House dissatisfaction with progress against the Islamic State and a renewed Pentagon push to expand military involvement in long-running conflicts overseas.

The debate over the proposed steps, which would for the first time position a limited number of Special Operations forces on the ground in Syria and put U.S. advisers closer to the firefights in Iraq, comes as Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter presses the military to deliver new options for greater military involvement in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

The changes would represent a significant escalation of the American role in Iraq and Syria. They still require formal approval from Obama, who could make a decision as soon as this week and could decide not to alter the current course, said U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions are still ongoing. It’s unclear how many additional troops would be required to implement the changes being considered by the president, but the number for now is likely to be relatively small, these officials said.

The recommendations came at Obama’s request and reflect the president’s and his top advisers’ concern that the battle in Iraq and Syria is largely stalemated and in need of new ideas to generate momentum against Islamic State forces.

The list of options that went to the president was generated by field commanders and vetted by the president’s top national security advisers, including Carter and Secretary of State John F. Kerry, in a series of meetings over the past few weeks.

More costly and ambitious measures, such as no-fly zones or buffer zones that would require tens of thousands of ground troops to effectively protect innocent civilians, did not receive the backing of any of Obama’s top policy advisers. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton has said that she favors a no-fly zone in Syria.

Senior U.S. officials, however, warned that such measures had the potential to put the United States in direct conflict with the Syrian regime and the Russian and Iranian forces backing it.

The recommendations delivered to Obama would not put U.S. forces in a direct combat role. But they reflect a major shift in mission for the Pentagon, where as recently as last year officials were focused on winding down U.S. wars and on emerging threats such as China’s military rise.

(…)

The recommendations that went to Obama in a memo last week reflect the president’s conflicting impulses. The proposal would put a small number of U.S. advisers on the ground in Syria for the first time since the United States began military operations against the Islamic State last year. The Pentagon has sent small Special Operations teams into Syria for lightning-quick missions several times since the war began in 2011. The newly proposed Special Operations forces would work with moderate Syrian Arab rebels and possibly some Kurdish groups, such as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, that have scored some recent victories against the Islamic State.

These groups, backed by American air power, are expected to mount a military offensive on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria, in the near future. The push against Raqqa, if it proves effective, would mark a significant setback for the Islamic State, U.S. officials said.

As for the Iraq side of the border, the president’s top advisers have recommended embedding U.S. advisers at the brigade level for specific operations such as the attack to retake Ramadi, a key western Iraqi city that Islamic State forces seized this past spring. Such a move would position U.S. troops, now largely assigned to training bases, closer to the front lines, where they could help Iraqi commanders plan and prosecute the day-to-day fight against the Islamic State in Ramadi.

In both Iraq and Syria, senior officials have also discussed more aggressively targeting Islamic State infrastructure to cripple the group financially. The Islamic State depends on the sale of oil and electricity inside Syria to pay for its military operations. A more aggressive air campaign, however, carries risks of increasing civilian casualties or making an already horrible humanitarian situation worse.

This news comes in the wake of more than a month’s worth of news that seemed to detail nothing but setbacks in the fight against ISIS and overall U.S. strategy in Iraq and Syria. The most notable development over the past month or so, of course, has been the introduction into the Syrian side of the conflict of Russian air power which the Russians claim has been used to hit ISIS and Islamist rebel targets but which the U.S. and others claim has been largely targeted at the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels that have been at the center of American policy in Syria for several years now. That strategy largely been a failure, not the least because many of these so-called “moderates” have been caught selling the arms they received from the West to ISIS and other radical elements, The principal part of U.S. policy on the ground has been a program to train and arm the “moderate” Syrian rebels, but over the summer, we learned that no more than sixty, and perhaps as few as five, actual fighters have been successfully trained by the American-sponsored program. Given that, it didn’t come entirely as a surprise when, earlier this month, the Obama Administration quietly announced that the portion of that program run by the Pentagon was being abandoned in favor of a new strategy that still isn’t entirely clear yet. Beyond Syria, though, there are some indications that Russia is preparing to expand its role in the region, including reports that the Iraqis are considering granting Russia permission to conduct raids inside its borders, a possibility which has reportedly been met with strong rebukes from the United States.  To say that the situation on the ground in Iraq and Syria is chaotic, then, is something of an understatement.

While the details of what is being recommended to the President have yet to be made public, it seems clear that it would involve changes that will put American forces even closer to combat with ISIS fighters than they have been before. Already, we have seen the first American ground combat death in the ISIS war when, last week, an American solider was killed in a raid by American and Kurdish commandos on a suspected ISIS prison. If the President adopts the proposals that are being put forward now, it seems inevitable that this will simply be the first of many casualties to come, and that perhaps we will be risking American troops being taken prisoner by ISIS forces, or by other rebel groups who may be willing to sell American prisoners to ISIS for arms and other supplies. More importantly, it seems fairly clear that the policy the Administration is considering here poses a high risk of putting either President Obama or his successor on a course toward self-sustaining escalation. Indeed, escalation can be said to be the definition of our entire policy against ISIS over the past year or more. What started out as a limited air mission to aid Yazidi refugees caught in the middle of a fight between ISIS and the Iraqi Army quickly expanded to include direct aid to the Kurds and the Iraqi Army, efforts to put together some kind of “moderate” force of rebels that could both fight ISIS and fight Bashar Assad at the same time notwithstanding the fact that these are mutually contradictory goals, airstrikes against ISIS positions, and now to a proposal to put American forces closer to combat in Iraq than they have been since the end of the Iraq War. It is, of course, a strategy that lacks any real coherence that only seems to be guaranteed to get the United States more deeply involved in the ground war as time goes on.

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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. Mu says:

    See, that’s why you don’t hand out the Nobel Peace Price early in a presidency, takes away the incentive to not start new wars.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  2. Bigmike22 says:

    This is hilarious. I guess they crossed the Pink Line.. Russia kicks ass in 2 weeks and has every ME country running to them including Israel. I guess the administration has been too busy with other pressing issues like Yemen. For some reason, Syria was none of our business but we have no problem supplying weapons to the Saudis as they obliterate Yemen which would be considered a war Crime if W were still in office.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    Obama has not been as aggressive as GWB but has proven to be as nearly incompetent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    Obama has not been as aggressive as GWB but has proven to be as nearly incompetent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  5. Jim says:

    This sums up my thoughts

    https://youtu.be/j3SysxG6yoE

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  6. grumpy realist says:

    How many times do we have to redo Vietnam before we learn that badly-defined, nebulous “go get them thar enemies” campaigns are A Bad Idea?

    I really thought that President Obama knew better than this. Hopefully, this will be countered by a screaming demand from the Republicans to go full out against ISIS, which will cause a backlash on the part of ordinary Americans so we can stay out of the goddamned Mideast.

    Drop an asteroid on it; that’s the only way to deal with the mess….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  7. Mikey says:

    Does he mean besides the guys who are already there?
    The assertion Delta is there in an “advisory” capacity is laughable. Delta isn’t advisers, they’re operators. They don’t stand at the rear and watch someone else kick the doors.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  8. michael reynolds says:

    Oh, my God, people, take a Xanax and calm down.

    The changes would represent a significant escalation of the American role in Iraq and Syria. They still require formal approval from Obama, who could make a decision as soon as this week and could decide not to alter the current course, said U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions are still ongoing. It’s unclear how many additional troops would be required to implement the changes being considered by the president, but the number for now is likely to be relatively small, these officials said.

    Why it’s “significant,” “unclear” and “relatively small” all in a single paragraph.

    If the President adopts the proposals that are being put forward now, it seems inevitable that this will simply be the first of many casualties to come,

    I know! Imagine if you put this on a graph. Year one: one casualty. What if that number triples? What if it goes up ten times? Ten? Can we possibly deal with ten? Or will we all just have to wet ourselves and run screaming around the room?

    You know, we are a superpower. We are a nation of 320,000,000 people, right? We lost one brave guy, and earned a whole lotta love from the Kurds.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

  9. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: It’s not really about the casualties, not directly anyway. It’s that once again we’re seeing something start out “relatively small” that could (and considering the last 60 years of American history with vanishingly few significant exceptions, probably will) balloon out of control. We’ve crept from “no boots on the ground” to “well, no boots on the ground except these SOF guys but they’re just advisers” to “oops, one of our ‘advisers’ just got KiA in an operation” to “I guess we have to start engaging in direct action” (as if we weren’t already).

    I don’t envy anyone who has to sell that mess of crap to a war-weary public. I’m no bed-wetter, but I did a good chunk of my 20 at JSOC and I know exactly what having Delta there means.

    Hopefully this will turn out to be one of the significant exceptions, and we’ll be able to exert positive influence cleaning up the ISIS mess…but I am not optimistic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  10. michael reynolds says:

    @Mikey:
    Granada, Panama, Haiti, Bosnia, Libya. Five examples where the slope did not get too slippery and we did not end up in another Vietnam. Off the top of my head. Oh and Columbia. Six.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. Andy says:

    @michael reynolds: The problem is that this change lacks a coherent purpose. Our goal is, supposedly, to defeat ISIS. What does this move do to achieve that end? Not much – no one should expect this step to be the decisive factor so what is the purpose for this change? It’s not unreasonable to speculate this is either an incremental move toward a much larger role in the conflict (the came’s nose) or at least a trial balloon to see how a more decisive policy might play politically.

    It’s one thing to take casualties for a clear purpose and an achievable goal – it’s another to take casualties for…what exactly? One can try to diminish the impact or importance of dead Americans by bean counting comparisons to total population, but as the current Secretary of State once said, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

    Putting people’s lives at risk for no coherent strategic purpose is simply not acceptable and it should not be defended – it’s what made President Johnson such a fucking douchebag – he knew we couldn’t win in Vietnam but was too weak to “suffer” the political cost of adjusting policy to that reality.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  12. DrDaveT says:

    @Mikey:

    We’ve crept from “no boots on the ground” to “well, no boots on the ground except these SOF guys but they’re just advisers” to “oops, one of our ‘advisers’ just got KiA in an operation” to “I guess we have to start engaging in direct action” (as if we weren’t already).

    This characterization is accurate as far as it goes, but it starts at an arbitrary point in time that ignores the “…invaded and occupied most of that part of the world” prequel. We’re not starting from zero here; we’re starting from having deliberately destabilized that corner of the world, then screwed up the follow-up, then screwed up the backup plan, then left.

    I could be convinced that we are not competent to interfere productively in Syria; I don’t think I could be convinced that we don’t have a moral obligation to help clean up the ongoing humanitarian disaster that we so ably facilitated. (Which is also why I have no patience with people who don’t want “too many” refugees to come to the US…)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  13. Andy says:

    Doug, please delete my comment in moderation, I think it got caught because I used the “f” word.

    @michael reynolds:

    The problem is that this change lacks a coherent purpose. Our goal is, supposedly, to defeat ISIS. What does this move do to achieve that end? Not much – no one should expect this step to be the decisive factor so what is the purpose for this change? It’s not unreasonable to speculate this is either an incremental move toward a much larger role in the conflict (the camel’s nose) or at least a trial balloon to see how a more decisive policy might play politically.

    It’s one thing to take casualties for a clear purpose and an achievable goal – it’s another to take casualties for…what exactly? One can try to diminish the impact or importance of dead Americans by bean counting comparisons to total population, but as the current Secretary of State once said, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

    Putting people’s lives at risk for no coherent strategic purpose is simply not acceptable and it should not be defended – it’s what made President Johnson such an f’ing d-bag – he knew we couldn’t win in Vietnam but was too weak to “suffer” the political cost of adjusting policy to that reality.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. michael reynolds says:

    @Andy:

    Our position has always been pretty clear: we want to contain, weaken and eventually destroy ISIS using the minimum necessary commitment of US forces. I keep hearing how confusing it all is, and it’s really been about as clear and simple as you can get.

    Now, our policy toward Assad, that’s complicated. Obviously we are accepting his continuance in office – for now.

    But this isn’t even slightly mysterious, and frankly given that Mr. Obama avoided getting us into a ground role in Libya (and weren’t you predicting he would?) should give you some pause about camels’ nose metaphors.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. michael reynolds says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I could be convinced that we are not competent to interfere productively in Syria; I don’t think I could be convinced that we don’t have a moral obligation to help clean up the ongoing humanitarian disaster that we so ably facilitated. (Which is also why I have no patience with people who don’t want “too many” refugees to come to the US…)

    Yeah, it is arbitrary, and you’re certainly right that walking away is immoral. But I agree that we are not competent to really fix any of this, and that limits the pull of morality. As a practical matter, given the utterly insane level of complexity, given the mood of the American public, and given, I would argue, the fact that at the strategic level this may actually be okay for us, I’m fine with marginalia like this. This is small beer. I would not support going back in in force.

    Stepping back and setting all moral consideration aside, our allies (such as they are) Israel, KSA, Jordan don’t seem in any imminent danger from ISIS. We have Assad’s people, ISIS and Al Qaeda all murdering each other, with Russians and Hezbollah thrown in for fun. If we could get the North Koreans to join in we could declare Yahtzee. I mean, if we just set aside the small fact that tens of thousands of actual human beings are being killed, and many more are living in hell.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. stonetools says:

    It is, of course, a strategy that lacks any real coherence that only seems to be guaranteed to get the United States more deeply involved in the ground war as time goes on.

    Why, then, lay down your coherent strategy then, Doug, since you have it all figured out.
    Let’s get started.

    1.
    2.
    3.

    (Haven’t done that in a while, but it’s always a winner for puncturing pundit pretentiousness). The Mideast is the place where coherent strategies go to die.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  17. Andy says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Michael, our position is clear but incoherent. Tell me, what, exactly, is the purpose of this proposal – what will it achieve? Declaring that our position is “clear” means nothing if the goal is not achievable. “Weaken and destroy ISIS with the minimum necessary commitment of US forces” you say? Well, one could say that about any use of military force….

    Setting goals without the means and ways to achieve those goals is irresponsible. Strategy isn’t about setting the most desirable goals followed by hand-waving about the details.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: None of those were the kind of escalation we’re seeing here. Limited involvement to advisers to advisers doing the fighting to “limited” escalation.

    I said when we started this that we wouldn’t be able to accomplish the goals of containment and destruction without eventually putting combat troops into direct action. Now the President is essentially saying the same thing.

    Maybe the American people will accept a few dozen KiA in exchange for actually putting ISIS down. It would be a small price to pay for destroying such an evil and monstrous group. Hopefully that’s all it will take.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Our position has always been pretty clear: we want to contain, weaken and eventually destroy ISIS using the minimum necessary commitment of US forces.

    And what if the “minimum necessary” is 50,000? 100,000?

    “Minimum necessary” is not the least bit synonymous with “minimal.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. michael reynolds says:

    @Andy:

    Tell me, what, exactly, is the purpose of this proposal – what will it achieve?

    Well, I should preface this by saying that Barack has not called me yet to fill me in on all the details. But at a guess I think that rescue was us doing some client service with the Kurds. We may not be able to train or recruit or even find any “Syrian moderates,” but we actually do still have the most capable military ally in the area in the Kurds.

    I suspect the Turks are relaxing their objections to our support of the Kurds, given that Mr. Putin is now propping up Assad. Not quite sure who the Turks hate worst, Assad or the Kurds, but we can now certainly make a case for their looking the other way so long as we keep a lid on the Kurds. And since this is presumably the Iraqi Kurds which nuzzle right up against Iran, I would imagine this is a bit of a screw you to Iran as well.

    What this does for us is pretty clear, really: it allows us to use the Kurds more effectively against ISIS, which is our goal: contain, weaken, defeat ISIS. I’m not seeing the confusion. Obviously this contributes to containing ISIS.

    Now, if I wanted to get conspiratorial, I’d suggest we’ve got a back door deal with the Russians – they keep Assad, we build up Kurdistan, and together we squeeze ISIS in the middle.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. michael reynolds says:

    @Mikey:

    I think there’s pretty close to zero chance of 50,000, or even 20,000, let alone 100,000. This is special forces, not regular army.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. Tyrell says:

    The best thing is to surround, contain, cut off supply lines, and choke them. Ground troops would be a waste. Give it time, and they die of attrition. Pinpoint lines of possible movement and attack from the air. It is hard to move across desert unnoticed.
    The middle east needs leadership. The middle east needs another Lawrence. Maybe this time from the US.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Andy says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Michael, if you’re not BFF’s with Barack, then certainly his daughters? I’d think they’d be fans of you or your wife!

    The Kurds are a capable ally, depending on which Kurds you’re talking about. As for the Turks they are relaxing nothing – they’ve stepped up their bombing campaign against the PKK and might even do a raid into Iraq against them (if they haven’t already, I’m not keeping track, but it’s happened several times before). The not-so-nice Kurds (probably the PKK) are busy conducting a terror campaign in SE Turkey targeting, in particular, the Turkish government.

    Regardless, we’ve already stabilized the Kurdish lines. While the Kurds are great fighters they aren’t much interested in a war of liberation against ISIS in non-Kurd areas. We won’t be seeing them in Mosul or Raqqa anytime soon.

    Finally, I don’t mean to be conspiratorial. It’s just that this administration hasn’t demonstrated a capacity for strategy with respect to Syria or pretty much anywhere else. What is our strategy for defeating ISIS? Up until a few weeks ago, it was to build a “moderate” army that would simultaneously defeat the Syrian government, ISIS, Nusrah and anyone else. Not even advocates can pretend it was viable, and the administration admitted they didn’t put much faith in it to begin with, so… the goal is to contain and defeat ISIS – what is the strategy to accomplish that? How does an active ground component serve that strategy? If this doesn’t work (and it won’t) then what’s next?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    This is special forces, not regular army.

    And they’re being called on to do a mission for which they’re rather ill-suited.

    SOF are not containment forces. There are very few of them and they have specific missions. Remember “sledgehammer” and “scalpel?” It doesn’t get any more scalpel than SOF.

    They can degrade, but again, there are very few of them so they can’t degrade much at once.

    And of course this all adds up to not being able to eventually destroy ISIS either. We could get assistance from local forces, but our track record with that is mixed, to put it very charitably.

    So what happens when we can’t kick the sledgehammer can down the road any further?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. Mikey says:

    @DrDaveT:

    We’re not starting from zero here; we’re starting from having deliberately destabilized that corner of the world, then screwed up the follow-up, then screwed up the backup plan, then left.

    And we’re stuck in the same place we arrived at a while ago: proposing grand outcomes but unwilling or unable to commit the necessary resources to achieve them (assuming, of course, they are achievable at all).

    I don’t think I could be convinced that we don’t have a moral obligation to help clean up the ongoing humanitarian disaster that we so ably facilitated.

    I don’t think I could, either. But…some days I think we are decidedly in the minority among Americans, most of whom just want to close the door on the place and let them all kill each other.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. Jeron says:

    Obama said that there would not be a Islamic State this century. To fulfill that goal he would need to sabotage the creation of the Islamic State.

    Next up we see this wisdom that America could have been supporting the Kurds all along. Except that Sunnis in the region would have rather supported other Sunnis instead and perhaps help to create the not-to-exist Islamic State.

    This is like one of those complicated movies full of twists. As an audience we may not really get the appeal. It would have been a much easier plot if it was straightforward instead.

    Then why? Why could we not have come up with a straightforward plot for the middle east? We came. We fought. We conquered. And we made the sunny deserts our new homes. Oops. :-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. Slugger says:

    I start with the thought that war is evil, always evil, but on rare occasions the lesser of two evils. Death and destruction are guaranteed; good outcomes less. I see little gain for the US in strengthening the regime in Damascus. Strengthening Nusra helps an AlQaeda franchise and advances the goals of our friends in Saudi Arabia on whose behalf we seem to be willing to bomb anyone/anywhere. Moderate Assad opponents are like Santa Claus, a good idea but not a good reality.
    The only upside that I can see to any action in Syria would be stabilizing the country to stem the tide of refugees. The refugees are a genuine humanitarian crisis and a threat to the long term stability of Europe. Certainly more firepower from the USA put into Syria will worsen the refugee crisis in the short run for sure. Will our involvement result in long term stability? A vigorous effort to involve many parties in the quest for stability is needed. This involves talking to Russia and Iran which is hard in today’s political climate in the US.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. Robin Cohen says:

    @Mu: Barack Obama is an idiot.

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  29. michael reynolds says:

    @Andy:

    First: I’d love to have Malia be photographed reading one of my books. The emails keep offering me meet-and-greets, but they never offer me that.

    Second: No one has a Syria strategy, including you and me. No strategy is possible. Which is why all we see is people saying “No strategy: and not “Here’s my strategy.” Or at least no public strategy is possible, because you can’t really say, “All the people we despise are killing each other, yay!” That kind of “strategy” doesn’t sound great given the humanitarian disaster. But looked at unemotionally, amorally? Like I said upthread, if only we could get the North Koreans to join in. . .

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. michael reynolds says:

    @Mikey:

    I don’t think we need to degrade-unto-death. I think we need to contain – and “degrading” is part of that. And then, wait.

    That’s how we destroyed the USSR without shooting a single Russian. We contained the USSR, we pushed them into using resources they couldn’t afford, and we waited until our ideological claim – to whit that a command economy would fail in the end – was proven correct.

    ISIS is contained. Bombing and raids complicate their lives enormously making it harder for them to break out of containment. Now, we wait until our ideological position – that a Sharia based society will inevitably fail – is proven out.

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  31. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: One major step–which wouldn’t even necessarily involve military forces at all–would be to stop the sale of oil from ISIS to anyone. Cut off the $50 million per month they’re raking in.

    I can’t agree, unfortunately, that a Sharia-based society is inevitably doomed to fail. It’s a belief system, not an economic system, and as such is not subject to the requirements of reality. The reason Saudi Arabians don’t rise up in mass revolt against what we Westerners consider unacceptable oppression is most Saudis actually agree with it.

    So some kind of direct action will be necessary in a way that wasn’t during the Cold War.

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  32. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Second: No one has a Syria strategy, including you and me. No strategy is possible. Which is why all we see is people saying “No strategy: and not “Here’s my strategy.

    I am sure that Doug and every other detractor has a secret plan to win the Syrian conflict. They just can’t tell us right now.
    Central to the call for a coherent strategy is the conceit that such a strategy is possible.At the back of that is what I call the WW2 fallacy-the idea that you can fight every war like WW2, and that if Obama can’t map a strategy for a conflict into something like looks like WW2, then the President is at fault somehow.This is silly since the Syrian conflict isn’t anything like WW2. We can’t put up a big map and say “Now let Macarthur take the Philippines over here while Eisenhower can focus on pushing onto Berlin over there.”
    Let’s review. First let’s note that Obama more or less followed Doug’s preferred “coherent strategy” of nonintervention in the Syrian conflict 2011-2014. During that time the Syrian conflict spiraled out of control into the international fustercluck we have today. With that in mind, let’s describe the current situation.
    We have Assad locked in a death match with various jihadi factions, the chief of which is ISIS. We oppose Assad, but all of these factions are ostensibly enemies of the US as well . Our allies in the area are Turkey and the Kurds, but Turkey and the Kurds certainly aren’t allies of each other. We have Russia and Iran backing Assad, which would make them our enemies, but they are fighting our enemies the jihadis-who are being backed by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, who are supposed to be our allies.Think this is complex? It’s just the tip of the iceberg.
    Iran is supposed to be our enemy, but we have a nuclear agreement with them (which they have been scrupulously carrying out , BTW) and we rely on their cooperation in holding down yet another jihadist faction, the Taliban, who is fighting another of our allies, the Afghan government. But Iran is also supporting the Shia Huti faction in Yemen who is involved in a war with a Sunni Yemen regime backed by the our allies the Gulf states. And did I mention Iran also has Kurds?
    Now how the heck do you make a “coherent strategy” out of all that? You don’t-you improvise among a broad set of goals, like containing ISIS, helping the Kurds, making sure Turkey doesn’t spin out of control (It ‘s been known to happen) and helping to keep the EU from cracking apart because of the refugee crisis. (At this point, I don’t even consider ousting Assad as a goal anymore, except in the long term).
    Bottom line, those who are calling for a “coherent strategy” are just being pretentious twits trying to sound sophisticated by calling for impossible. They are to be ignored, unless of course they can produce this magical unicorn.

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  33. Mikey says:

    @stonetools:

    Bottom line, those who are calling for a “coherent strategy” are just being pretentious twits trying to sound sophisticated by calling for impossible. They are to be ignored, unless of course they can produce this magical unicorn.

    Perhaps you might try to see it from their point of view: they are a bit weary after nearly 14 years of playing whack-a-mole in one craphole and completely fvcking up the other, and believe “coherent strategy” = “us knowing exactly what the hell we’re actually supposed to be doing.” They may be seeing things too simplistically, but they can certainly be forgiven for that after so much blood has been spilled to so little effect.

    Then there are those of us who believe the current cobbled-together set of priorities is probably the best we can hope for, but fear mission creep on one hand and insufficient employment of forces on the other, and hope the current administration and the next can strike at least approximately a suitable balance between the two.

    I’m pretty firmly convinced there will have to be greater employment of our forces, both SOF and conventional, to achieve even the relatively modest objectives of containment and degradation. But that assumes the locals will always be spotty and unreliable, which might not be the case, so I could be leaning too hard in that direction. It remains to be seen.

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  34. stonetools says:

    @Mikey:

    Then there are those of us who believe the current cobbled-together set of priorities is probably the best we can hope for, but fear mission creep on one hand and insufficient employment of forces on the other, and hope the current administration and the next can strike at least approximately a suitable balance between the two.

    I think your view is far more realistic than those asking for some kind of paint-by-numbers strategy. The situation is just too fluid for that, and that’s not the President’s fault.The President, however, has to have the temperament and judgment to “know when hold’ em and know when to fold ’em.” So far he hasn’t made any major errors, but that doesn’t satisfy the “Why can’t we do a WW2 type war” crowd.
    We also have to think differently from “fight a war, capture Berlin, bring the boys home ” mindset. Note that the Cold War wasn’t like that. Most of our wars aren’t like that, contrary to popular mythology.
    Let’s face it, we are a superpower with a far flung empire, global interests, and all kinds of enemies. That means garrisoning the frontier, propping up vassal states, and fighting off barbarian raiders. The Romans did it, the Chinese did it, the British did it-now we have to do it. The difference-their barbarian raiders couldn’t strike at the heart of the empire from thousands of miles away.

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  35. Andy says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If there is no strategy, they why should anyone defend this change in policy much less our current policy? If we have no strategy, why commit additional forces? If you really believe that no strategy is possible, then what is the point of doing anything there at all? If we have a “hidden” strategy that can’t be made public because it’s domestically unpopular, then what is it and what does additional action by US ground forces accomplish?

    In one sense I agree with you – I think there are coherent strategies but the problem is they are’t politically popular domestically. They would require a level of realpolitik that our establishment politics is not capable of at the present time. We are still in entrances with the notion that the US is indispensable for resolving any global crisis and we’d have a lot more success if only the wogs would listen to our wisdom about secular, progressive, capitalist, multi-cultural democracy.

    Even given the limits of our collective strategic vision, we could at least do a lot more to ease suffering and assist regional governments with the refugee crisis. But we aren’t really doing much of that, certainly not enough to make a material difference. More broadly, we could recognize that Sykes-Picot is dead, that the experiments begun by the British in creating nation-states among the people of the ME is dead, and ease (or a least not oppose), the inevitable dissolution of Iraq and Syria (at least). Obviously we are not anywhere near that yet, nor any other strategies that might actually benefit US interests.

    @stonetools:

    Bottom line, those who are calling for a “coherent strategy” are just being pretentious twits trying to sound sophisticated by calling for impossible. They are to be ignored, unless of course they can produce this magical unicorn.

    It’s the administration and the foreign policy establishment that set the goal of defeating ISIS, replacing Assad, and promoting democracy in Syria via the means of building an Army of Syrian moderates (“unicorns”). The twits are those those who thought those ends were achievable, those who attempted, through half-measures, to achieve them and those who continue to advocate for that impossible end state despite the obvious reality. The twits also include all the useful idiots who know little of actual strategy, see things only in terms of domestic politics and carry water for their side no matter the circumstances.

    So, I’m perfectly happy to point out the flaws of our current incoherent foreign policy, advocate for better policy and a “coherent strategy” – even if some throw up their hands, say that nothing can be done and declare that anyone who says otherwise is “pretentious twit.”

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  36. stonetools says:

    @Andy:
    Obama initially supported the democracy reformers in the Arab spring of 2011, but that’s a long, long way from saying that is a goal of current Syrian policy. your talk of “coherent strategy’ seems to be one that never changes focus over time and in response to circumstances, which is why I’m skeptical of the idea of a “coherent strategy” as some sort of fixed long range plan. That’s not possible in Syria.
    Obama did take a half hearted stab at arming moderates, but note that he did so in response to Republican demands that he do more in Syria. He stopped when the initial results were bad, which is actually how we want a commander to adjust when the facts on the ground show a tactic isn’t working. In the meantime, his main plan to to contain ISIS-by arming the Kurds and by attacking
    them from the air-seems to working well. ISIS is n longer in control of Mosul and advancing toward
    Baghdad. Rather, they have been driven out of northern Iraq and are falling back in northeast Syria.


    I’m perfectly happy to point out the flaws of our current incoherent foreign policy, advocate for better policy and a “coherent strategy”

    Well if you can do better than current strategy, here’s your chance to shine. Go:

    1.
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    3.

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