Sept 15, 2014
Proxy wars, trusting moderates and rebuilding nations have one thing in common—failure. The latest barbaric jihadis terrorizing the Middle East have morphed from al-Qaeda in Iraq to Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) before settling on Islamic State (IS).
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The Islamic State’s success lies within its ability to adapt and use social media to shock civilized society all the while luring jihadi fighters to its ranks, currently estimated at 30,000. An example of this marketing is seen with the commercial grade video of the beheadings of three Western hostages.
Faced with the Islamic State’s cowardly version of “shock and awe,” the Obama administration’s latest “strategy” has left war weary world leaders reluctant to join the non-cohesive “broad coalition” Mr. Obama seeks to fight IS.
Obama’s “rid-the-world of ISIS” strategy consists of a four-point proxy war. The President’s address to the nation highlighted what America would do moving forward; and, unfortunately took most options off the table by stating what he wouldn’t do.
First, the President’s new and improved plan begins with an increase in airstrikes against IS targets, provides humanitarian aid, and employs counter-terrorism efforts to cut IS funding. These measures are all good initiatives, but the centerpiece of the Obama Doctrine relies on providing training, intelligence and military weapons, to a proxy army of jihadis and al-Qaeda offshoots including the “moderate” Syrian Free Army. This ragtag group of terrorists will take the lead with the US providing airpower as back up. And yes, that’s the Obama plan in layman’s terms.
“As a soldier who’s spent a fair amount of time on the ground in conflict zones, I find this popular focus on the power of Hellfire missiles and precision bombing a little disconcerting,” Army Lt. Col Daniel Davis said. What many of the talking heads who’ve filled the airwaves since the savage murders of American journalist James Foley (then Steven Sotloff, and this weekend, British aid worker David Haines) apparently fail to understand is that tactics are not strategy. Without first establishing the latter, they advocate a tactic in the dark that, even if successfully attained, could worsen the situation with perverse consequences.”
So far the “broad coalition” has failed to materialize. The United Kingdom and Germany have backed off of airstrikes in Syria, combat assistance on the ground, and combat assistance to jihadis. Jordan’s King Abdullah, who is highly vulnerable to the Islamists and the recipient of $3 billion in U.S. aid earlier this year, explained to Secretary of State John Kerry “that the Palestinian cause remains the core of the conflict in the region.” They plan on rebuilding the Gaza strip; most likely with some of that $3 billion the U.S. gave the King.
Turkey (a NATO ally) told Secretary of State John Kerry it would not open airspace to combat operations and will focus on humanitarian aid. “Turkey will not be involved in any armed operation but will entirely concentrate on humanitarian operations,” an unnamed Turkish government official told Agence France-Press. So the broad coalition is Israel, France and Saudi Arabia. The latter will only allow training of Syrian moderates (the same ones that sold Foley and Sotloff to ISIS for slaughter). Ironically, Saudi Arabia is reportedly the largest source for IS fighters.
In addition to a less than broad coalition, the Obama administration, including Secretary Kerry, refused to answer simple questions like; how much money will they pledge, how many sorties will they fly and how many boots will they offer?
Several reports (link here) highlighted the billions of dollars worth of military equipment the U.S. has provided Middle Eastern countries. They are armed to the teeth, but none of those countries will “officially” use those weapons against fellow Muslims.
Pentagon Press Secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, confirmed on Friday its commitment to eliminating IS saying the primary goal is “the ultimate destruction of their ideology.” He also said, “That can’t be done just through military means alone. That has to be done through good governance, both in Iraq and in Syria … and in a responsive political process, so that the people that are falling sway to this radical ideology are no longer drawn to it.”
The lukewarm reception from Arab nations hasn’t gone unnoticed especially when it looks like the most enthusiastic U.S. partner is Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Paradoxically the Syrian president who has been discredited by the West and who President Obama proclaimed in 2009 that Assad must go and has tactically pushed for the removal of the secular leader, has joined with Iraq in actively engaging the terrorist organization.
Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Fayssal Mekdad told reporters that the U.S. and its allies are essentially fighting the same enemy and wanted to work together with targeted airstrikes. “We are ready to talk,” he said.
So far the Obama administration has not returned Assad’s phone calls.
The leaders of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Gulf Cooperation Council — an alliance of the Sunni Arab Gulf nations that includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates all said they were united in the fight against ISIS, but most of the Gulf countries didn’t disclose what, if anything they would do to support the West’s war on terrorism.
Secretary Kerry tamped down the “war” talk and said he was “engaging in a very significant counterterrorism operation. It’s going to go on for some period of time. If somebody wants to think about it as being a war with ISIL, they can do so, but the fact is it’s a major counterterrorism operation that will have many different moving parts.” A point that he tried to sell on the Sunday talk shows—unconvincingly.
Not going alone, Congress must vote
In 1973 the War Powers Resolution was drafted giving the president more discretion and the ability to dispatch troops anywhere in the world where American interests were threatened for a maximum period of 90 days. However, these expanded presidential powers do not come without risks.
“If something goes wrong, the president takes the heat, which is why a lot of presidents since this law came into effect have preferred Congress authorize the military hostilities,” Judge Andrew Napolitano explained in a Reason op-ed. “So, if something goes wrong, the heat is on them.”
According to Judge Napolitano the president does have legal leeway. “The president could decimate ISIS tomorrow. Military personnel have stated it could be done in 90 days, and certainly in 180 days.”
The question is will President Obama used the War Powers Act like he did for the Libyan airstrikes? That regime change “war of choice” sits squarely on the president. Since America’s hasty exit, the Libyan government has descended into chaos, millions of dollars worth of military weapons are missing, the Special Mission in Benghazi suffered a horrific 9/11 attack from terrorists claiming the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. And just last month the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli had to be evacuate by military convoy as the nearby airport was completely destroyed.
The ill-advised Libyan war also cost the U.S. taxpayers billions. The jihadi rich North African country received $1 billion per year in U.S. aid and purchased armaments that we destroyed with airstrikes. Even though Gadhafi was a brutal dictator, the West considered him a partner in the “war on terror.”
Judge Napolitano had some tough words for Congress and the president. “Last year, Obama offered to help ISIS by degrading its adversaries; now, he wants to degrade ISIS. We have slaughtered innocents and squandered fortunes in an effort to achieve temporary military victories that neither enhance our freedom nor fortify our safety. We will only have peace when we come home—when we cease military intervention in an area of the world not suited for democracy and in which we are essentially despised.”
Is it winnable?
“ISIL is not invincible,” according to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Matthew Olsen. The radical Islamic group that easily crossed borders, disarmed U.S.-trained Iraqi army and successfully terrorized ethnic minorities can be decimated with swift action. But the Director said ISIS “poses a direct and significant threat to us, and to Iraqi and Syrian civilians in the region, and potentially to us here at home.”
The brutal terror group has made significant strides to outpace al-Qaeda to become the most influential jihadist movement by leaving death and destruction to anyone caught in its crosshairs.
Olsen explained, “ISIL has captured our immediate focus. But it is only one of the myriad groups that pose a threat to us as the terrorist landscape evolves and becomes increasingly complex and challenging for us.”
The counter terrorism leader urged regional allies to provide a broad swath of assistance to the U.S. if they wanted to curtail the growing movement that has captured worldwide attention. “A broad international consensus against ISIL will provide the foundation for concerted action to achieve a number of objectives.”
But Tamara Cofman Wittes, Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Middle East Policy, Foreign Policy Program explained why U.S. policy can be tricky.
“The threat to U.S. personnel in Iraq and the ‘potential threat’ of foreign fighters targeting the homeland is a thin reed as a basis for building a major international coalition and opening a new, long-lasting front in the war on terrorism,” she said.
The lack of understanding the problem is further exacerbated when the president linked the anti-ISIS operation to ongoing U.S. airstrikes in Yemen and Somalia. “Either ISIS presents something new and particularly challenging that requires a different American approach, or the anti-ISIS struggle is just a continuation of the counter-terrorism efforts he’s undertaken through targeted military strikes, security cooperation, financial tools and diplomatic effort since taking office. I wish the president had been clearer about which way he views the new enterprise he just announced,” Wittes concluded.
Plus, airstrikes alone will only do so much according to Davis. “Now, despite having successfully destroyed a few targets, we would have pushed the enemy deeper underground, hardened his resolve, and seen his troops burrow in like ticks among the innocent residents of the cities he occupies. Further targeting from the air becomes next to impossible without killing noncombatants or sending in ground troops to flush the fighters out. Unless the President will entertain deepening American engagement by deploying ground combat units to root ISIS members out of their dug-in positions, house-by-house – decidedly not recommended – those successful bombing runs will have led to dismal failure.”
Should the U.S. even bother?
While many U.S. officials describe the ISIS terrorists as an imminent threat to the homeland, others contend the radical Islamic movement isn’t all that equipped to seriously threatened America with a deadly arsenal.
“What deadly arsenal? ISIS consists of mortars, heavy machine guns and pickup trucks,” according to Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor, (ret) PhD, and a decorated combat veteran and author. “They cannot effectively employ the captured tanks and armored fighting vehicles. They lack the technical skills and cultural inclination to disciplined soldiering. ISIS looks strong because the people they’ve attacked are weak and incompetent. When ISIS attacked the Kurds the 500 Kurds facing them had only AK47s. Unless ISIS receives modern 3rd or 4th generation shoulder fired air defense ISIS is toast. Shiite militias exploiting our airstrikes in the south are already taking historically Sunni villages and decapitating captured Sunni Arabs and Turkmen. ISIS is grossly inflated by the US and Western media.”
Like many other regional nations, Syria’s Alawites (like the Shiite Arabs in Iraq) are completely dependent on Iranian Pasdaran troops as well as the Russians for critical advice, technology and military support for survival.
The wild card in this latest Middle East chess game is bombing Syria without Assad’s support. “If we enter Syrian air space to bomb without coordination and permission from Assad, the Ruskies could deploy truly potent Russian air defense and radar technology manned by them. This would potentially down some of our aircraft and drive the rest away. The Russians did this in Syria during the 1973 war against the Israelis with considerable effect.”
He continues to explain, “Our ‘stealthy’ aircraft designs are not invisible. Stealth delays detection. It does not prevent it. Putin, no doubt, would welcome the opportunity to demonstrate that fact.
Finally, Obama’s announcement is mobilizing Sunni Arabs and Turks against us that previously rejected the Islamic State. However, America’s determination to align with Shiite Arabs and Iran is changing that attitude. This suggests real trouble in the Arabian Peninsula for the old regimes that play both sides, but decline to oppose the U.S. directly. These regimes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the emirates may not all survive the new round of instability America is creating.
The Russian factor
Lest America wishes to begin another war, the Pentagon should heed Russia’s warning that bombing Syria without Assad’s and the United Nations approval will meet resistance from countries on the Security Council like China, Iran and Russia. Russia warned Obama that any airstrikes constituted a “gross violation” of international law and would be considered “an act of aggression.”
Any potential aggressive acts by the U.S. in Syria without its permission is inadvisable; especially when Syria’s president said he was willing to co-ordinate with the Pentagon. Syria’s National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar confirmed that option, “Any action of any kind without the consent of the Syrian government would be an attack on Syria.”
What President Obama omitted from his speech to rally support for an anti-ISIS campaign was the end-state he seeks for Syria. The world is surely wary of the regime change policy of the U.S. government based on the Libyan model. Does Assad rule when ISIS is crushed or do the “allies” of al-Qaeda fighters then turn on Assad and the U.S.?
Last month Syria offered to help the U.S. fight the Islamic State, however the U.S. ruled that out.
Even a Sunday story in the New York Times unintentionally illustrated President Obama’s lackluster leadership skills. Even when the Left tries to prop up the indecisive President, the truth seems to shine through. Mr. Obama tends to play the “why me” card and easily blames others for his shortcomings, evidence came from invited guests shortly before his “big speech” last week. “He (Obama) vowed to retaliate against President Bashar al-Assad if Syrian forces shot at American planes, and prickliness as he mocked critics of his more reticent approach to the exercise of American power,” one guest said. Mr. Obama also said, “he would order American forces to wipe out Syria’s air defense system, which he noted would be easier than striking ISIS because its locations are better known.” According to the NYT story, Obama went on to blame the French for paying ransoms to get their citizens home.
Hard to imagine George Washington or “Ike” Eisenhower blaming their predecessors, not even “W” blamed Clinton. Most likely those leaders didn’t inform the media or publicized that their policy included the “don’t do stupid stuff” declaration. Real leaders tend to lead and not worry about looking behind.
“What was true then is true now: The so-called international community outside the West is mainly comprised of the middle-class, educated elite — a thin veneer in much of the East and Middle East,” Sarwar Kashmeri said in a US News opinion column. “The United States is about to discover that support for the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) is much deeper than the president’s advisers assume, and Arab support for this, the latest in a 13-year American effort at nation-building in the Middle East, is a mirage.”
If the Congress embarks on a full disclosure debate on sending any service members into harm’s way they will be advised that the Marines are ready and set for a month long engagement to eradicate ISIS. A small victory helps moral and American’s would appreciate a job well done. The caveat here is the U.S. needs to work with Assad and offer him an off-ramp otherwise America should prepare for another war, this time with Russia, Iran and China.
Read previous story: ISIS moves with impunity
Read part one : “Obama trained insurgents launch killing spree against Iraq then turn to Syria”
Read “Iraq, ISIS and trained Islamic insurgents” (Part Two)
The headlines splashed across most major publications this week centered on the growing destabilization of Iraq. After a decade of war, peace and prosperity remain elusive and the “hearts and minds” COIN policy is officially dead. For the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, peace was nothing more than an American dream.
Obama’s Regime change train stops in Ukraine: Link here
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