Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Stake, Heart, and the Undead Caliphate

I mentioned that the post-caliphate ISIL era in Iraq and Syria is looming. Which is not to say the wars are over, of course.

Here are some thoughts on the post-caliphate era in Syria that is emerging:

The Islamic State is weakening, which indicates that we should examine the future of the declining caliphate’s sphere of influence. A weak IS will create an opportunity for other factions backed by their respective regional powers to fill the emerging power vacuum. The United States and Russia are trying to limit their exposure and secure their influence in the Middle East, but the definitive actors in Syria will be exerting influence within its borders. Geopolitical Futures has identified four major powers in the Middle East: Turkey, Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The first three have a deep interest in how the different factions will reposition themselves in the post-caliphate battlespace. Turkey, Iran and Israel are already preparing for this, and we need to examine how these dynamics will affect the Levantine region.

Given Iran's interests and given Saudi Arabia's intense interest in resisting Iran's drive for regional hegemony at Saudi Arabia's expense (and existence), I think Saudi Arabia should be in that list.

Don't think Saudi Arabia won't be more involved to stop Iran, as their deputy crown prince and minister of defense, Mohammed bin Salman said:

So the challenges facing us today are not the first challenges to face our two nations. Today, we are facing a very serious danger in the region and in the world, either when it comes to the hostile activities of the Iranian regime that has supporting the extremists and terrorists in the region and around the world, or the challenges posed by the terrorist organizations. ...

That's why we suffer the most. That's why we need to work and cooperate with our allies. On top of the list comes the United States, the leader of the world. Today, we are very optimistic under the leadership of President Trump and we believe these challenges will be easy to tackle under the leadership of the president.

And in response to the question of whether Saudi Arabia would be putting ground troops into Syria:

We are ready to do anything that will eradicate terrorism, anything without limits.

I'm guessing that practically speaking the Saudis will place limits at special forces and air power.

But with experience in the Yemen campaign, they might have a more expansive view of what they can do in Syria.

The article on the post-caliphate era says that the Syrian Kurds get abandoned in the emerging era.

Perhaps. The point that other objectives can outweigh the value of Kurdish friendship has long been true--see how we abandoned Iraqi Kurds in 1975 when the Shah of Iran used them to leverage a better border deal with Iraq.

And while I've long said there are limits to what we can expect the Syrian Kurds to do, we need the Iraqi Kurds to resist Iran in Iraq. And Iranian Kurds are a potential point of leverage to weaken Iran. So that limits the scope of abandonment of Syria's Kurds.

And if Turkey goes full anti-West to be the new caliphate, that undermines the logic of abandoning Syria's Kurds for the greater objective of Turkish friendship.

Oh, and while ISIL was driven from their sanctuary in the Sirte region, they still live in the grey areas of Libya beyond the control of any organized sub-state actor or entity that has ambitions to control the state.

I'd have a Lexington Rule to attack terrorists such areas.

Come to think of it, while we never did it in Pakistan, the Syria campaign against ISIL is pretty much a Lexington Campaign, eh?

Indeed, this request sounds darned close to the Lexington Rule:

Donald Trump’s administration is considering a military proposal that would designate various undeclared battlefields worldwide to be “temporary areas of active hostility”, the Guardian has learned.

If approved, the Pentagon-proposed measure would give military commanders the same latitude to launch strikes, raids and campaigns against enemy forces for up to six months that they possess in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

Remember, we didn't declare war on Nazi Germany in Germany and France. We fought them wherever we needed to without separate authorizations.

Remember, victory over ISIL's caliphate just punches our ticket to deal with the next problem.

The Saudis may think that way, too, with Iran looming.