Thursday, December 17, 2015

When You Start to Take Damascus

One reason I have stood behind the "destroy Assad first" strategy for Syria rather than join the "destroy ISIL first" approach now that ISIL has risen in power is that the resolve to destroy our long-time enemy in Damascus is a recent and fleeting sentiment while the resolve to fight ISIL and related jihadis is a more enduring part of our foreign policy. I don't want to lose the opportunity to demonstrate to enemies who have killed us that when we have a chance to get them, we will take it.

Our State Department seems to be easing into the "we can deal with Assad" school (after briefly flirting with red lines and Hitler comparisons):

“The United States and our partners are not seeking regime change in Syria,” Mr. Kerry said. Syrian opposition groups arriving for talks Friday in New York should not demand as a condition of sitting down that Mr. Assad depart immediately, Mr. Kerry said, a position Russia calls a nonstarter for negotiations.

“We see Syria fundamentally very similarly,” Mr. Kerry said. “We want the same outcomes, we see the same dangers, we understand the same challenges.” He added that the countries are “honest with differences.”

How can Kerry possibly believe we and the Russians have the same objective? Russia wants Assad to survive--or at least Assad's regime even if Assad steps aside for someone else in the big office. We have long said Assad has to go. That is still our official policy, isn't it?

But if we do in fact now share with Putin the same view on Syria, you can't possibly believe Russia now shares our view on Assad and his regime. No, we are shifting to support of Assad.

This is a mistake.

If we support Assad to defeat ISIL, there is no way we will retain the resolve to then turn against Assad. No, Assad will be a man we can work with--as the Bush-era talk in Democratic circles had it--and we will become the backer of a man who has barrel-bombed and gassed his own people.

Not to mention killing our troops.

My view is that we owe Assad and his regime for a lot of dead Americans from Lebanon to Iraq over more than two decades as the Assad's have backed Shia and Sunni jihadis.

Defeat him and it will be easy to rally support to then defeat ISIL in Syria. Everyone admits ISIL is evil. There will still be plenty of people in Syria who will reject ISIL once Assad is gone. And by then, we should at least have Iraq nailed down with ISIL ejected from their territory there.

But if we focus on ISIL? Nobody will be willing to turn on Assad then when he has fewer opponents on the ground and a record of successful Russian intervention. The other rebels will be ground to dust.

If we help Assad defeat ISIL, eventually, Assad will recover his power. And he will remember that we started to destroy him--promises of "unbelievably small" strikes notwithstanding.

And Assad will get revenge. And more Americans will die.

It is old advice. If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna. Never do an enemy a small harm. If you strike a king, kill him.

Kill the Assad regime. Then we will deal with a jihadi problem that won't go away even if we destroy ISIL in Syria.

UPDATE: Strategypage goes over the Washington Awakening that got America to flip to Assad's side in league with Russia:

The Russian presence in Syria and general agreement that ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) must be destroyed has led the United States to agree with Russian demands that the war on ISIL include a halt in efforts to remove the Assad government in Syria. This, Russia insisted, was necessary to apply maximum pressure on ISIL. Russia intervened in Syria mainly to keep the Assads, who are long-time Russian allies and weapons customers, in power. Thus initially Russia did not attack ISIL unless ISIL was threatening Assad territory. But now Russia realizes that concentrating on ISIL can get other nations supporting Syrian rebels to ease the pressure on the Assads.

The Russian presence has forced the Americans to make other changes in Syria. For example the U.S. no longer sends manned aircraft into parts of northwest Syria covered by recently introduced Russian anti-aircraft systems. The Americans are apparently more concerned with an accidental Russian attack, which is seen as more likely than a deliberate one.

The latter worry apparently explains this:

The U.S. military said on Wednesday it was pulling 12 F-15 Eagles and Strike Eagle fighter jets from Incirlik air base in Turkey[.]

That was brief. Apparently there is a no-fly zone over Syria--Russia's zone.