Sunday, November 02, 2014

Our Syria Problem is Our Objective and Command and Control

I'm generally on board with our strategy against ISIL. My main concerns are whether we have the will to keep going long enough to win, and whether the end point also envisions defeating Syria's Assad.

I'm on board--broadly speaking--with our strategy against ISIL in Iraq and Syria that makes Iraq the main front, since I largely outlined what I'd do before it became clear what we are planning to do.

The Assad part remains heavily in doubt since the later defeat of ISIL in Syria could leave Assad in power. And our approach to using rebels in Syria to fight ISIL is kind of a mess that could fall apart without having a focus on defeating Assad, too:

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel has castigated the US strategy in Syria in a memo to the White House, saying Washington must explain its intentions toward President Bashar al-Assad's regime. ...

Hagel warned that the Syria policy was "in danger of unraveling" due to confusion over the US stance toward Assad, the paper wrote.

Secretary of Defense Hagel seems to be evolving since his role as gutter of the Pentagon has been sidelined by actual wars that can't be "ended" via presidential speech.

His memo needs an answer under the circumstances:

The United States does not expect Syrian rebels it plans to train to fight Islamic State militants to also take on President Bashar al-Assad's forces, but sees them as a crucial part of a political solution to end the war, the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper quoted a senior U.S. official as saying.

Asking Syrian rebels to die for a negotiated settlement with Assad is folly. If we don't back rebel efforts to defeat Assad, there may be no acceptable rebels left by the time we get to the Syria part of our ISIL problem.

I've been confused about our assumption that we could get Syrian rebels to die for a deal with Assad, even before the ISIL explosion in northern Iraq:

I find it astounding that we think we can calibrate this military support to pressure Assad rather than to defeat Assad.

The rebels will take the support we give them, but they surely aren't willing to die for a power-sharing agreement in Geneva. They want to win.

And then there's the way we are waging the war:

Top military leaders in the Pentagon and in the field are growing increasingly frustrated by the tight constraints the White House has placed on the plans to fight ISIS and train a new Syrian rebel army.

As the American-led battle against ISIS stretches into its fourth month, the generals and Pentagon officials leading the air campaign and preparing to train Syrian rebels are working under strict White House orders to keep the war contained within policy limits. The National Security Council has given precise instructions on which rebels can be engaged, who can be trained, and what exactly those fighters will do when they return to Syria. Most of the rebels to be trained by the U.S. will never be sent to fight against ISIS.

Making matters worse, military officers and civilian Pentagon leaders tell The Daily Beast, is the ISIS war’s decision-making process, run by National Security Advisor Susan Rice. It’s been manic and obsessed with the tiniest of details.

Aside from the confusion of where Assad fits in and the folly of trying to be squad leaders on the West Wing of the White House, ponder the difference between the fight in Afghanistan under President Obama and this fight against ISIL.

In the former, the president couldn't seem to care less despite his campaign pledge to focus on the "real" war, as he escalated our presence and then turned to domestic issues content to have appeared to do something to win the war.

But now, when this is his war, he apparently believes he--or his close delegates--is also the best strategist, tactician, and forward observer in his administration.

The notion that Assad is someone we can do business with is an old notion that dies hard. Perhaps harder than Assad himself, unfortunately.

The words are there from the White House spokesman:

"The policy that we have for Assad is really clear: We believe that he's lost the legitimacy to lead," Earnest said in an interview on CNN.

But as the Pentagon concerns indicate, the actions are not there.

We need to be clear in words and actions that Assad is just another enemy in Syria who has to go--and we mean it.

And then let the Pentagon do what it does best--fight and win our nation's wars.