Saturday, October 10, 2015

Time to Step Back from Syria

From the beginning, I've felt our strategy against ISIL should conform to what I eventually called a "win-build-win" approach. Given Russian-Iranian intervention in Syria, it's time we focused on the first "win" of that strategy.

Russia's intervention in Syria with their ally Iran does force us to make a choice, but it isn't what this article title says:

Russia’s Syria intervention may force choice on Obama: Act or yield

The question is how we act. We should help non-jihadi rebels in Syria more--including air defenses; but otherwise focus on defeating ISIL in Iraq.

Certainly, the Obama administration is pondering pulling back from Syria (tip to Instapundit):

A week into Russia's military intervention in Syria, some top White House advisers and National Security Council staffers are trying to persuade President Barack Obama to scale back U.S. engagement there, to focus on lessening the violence and, for now, to give up on toppling the Syrian regime.

But I don't mean give up on Syria. I mean put it further down the line. If we give up on Syria, we give Russia and Iran a chance to achieve a win in Syria despite the really bad position Assad is in. Recall that years ago, President Obama said Assad had to go, and did nothing to make it so in the mistaken belief that Assad was doomed regardless of what happened.

And what does it mean to "give up on toppling the Syrian regime" for now? We weren't doing much, considering that the train and equip program explicitly made our aid to Syrian rebels contingent on focusing on ISIL rather than Assad. Which made them auxiliaries of the Assad regime, really. What a shock it has failed so far.

Let's fully implement my "Win-Build-Win" strategy and go for victory in Iraq as the priority while trying to build up acceptable opposition in Syria (non-jihadis in the north and south plus the Kurds) that can resist the Russian-Iranian intervention while leaving ISIL alone in the most western parts of Syria unless they target our friends on the ground.

Actions against ISIL in Syria should be purely for isolating ISIL in Iraq from reinforcements and supplies from ISIL in Syria, as I noted in that post:

While we build up the Syrian opposition to become a viable alternative to the jihadis for those who want to fight Assad, we will strike targets in Syria to support the Iraq main effort in Iraq and to shape the battlefield for the last step.

Right now, Putin knows they can ignore ISIL since we pound them. Make ISIL in Syria Putin's problem now since we really can't do anything about them until we win in Iraq.

Right now, Iraqis are growing frustrated with our lack of progress in the fight against ISIL as we try to do too much against all of ISIL and simply do too little against anyone.

Come on people! Is it better to face ISIL in Syria without foreign allies after Assad falls, or Assad later with Russian support after ISIL is destroyed? This should be Strategy 101 stuff.

UPDATE: Related:

The Obama administration is overhauling its approach to fighting the Islamic State in Syria, abandoning a failed Pentagon effort to build a new ground force of moderate rebels and instead partnering with established rebel groups, officials said Friday.

I don't mean to quibble, but we were not in fact trying to build an army of moderate rebels. That was the problem I complained about.

No, the project that predictably failed was our effort to build a proxy force to go after ISIL. We actually explicitly told the recruits that their job was not to fight Assad.

I'd be curious to know if the project failed because the people we trained and armed simply joined actual rebels once they entered Syria.

UPDATE: Oh, and do read the rest of the article. The authors do know their stuff (since I recently complained about the press in general). Even if I disagree, they have a solid base of knowledge to report.

They note that the CIA has actually trained 10,000 rebels fighting Assad in the north. They mention the north but not the Southern Front.

And they quote Senator McCain complaining that a new military training effort that insists recruits fight ISIL rather than Assad will fail, too.

UPDATE: I missed this bit of analysis from the Reality-Based Community:

Last week an Obama administration official bragged that the White House’s Syria policy is working out just as planned. Special envoy for Syria Michael Ratney said that the “Russians wouldn’t have to help [Bashar al-]Assad if we didn’t weaken him.”

His audience, a group of Syrian-American anti-Assad activists, was understandably appalled. Ratney’s remarks were roundly mocked and left critics of Obama’s Middle East policy shaking their heads in disbelief.

Wow. So by the same logic, ISIL is winning because they forced us to intervene in Iraq to keep Iraq afloat? After all, we wouldn't have to help the Iraqi government if they didn't weaken it.