Thursday, April 24, 2014

The State of the Iraq-Syria Wars

Strategypage looks at Iraq and Syria. Our enemies can lose much in Iraq and Syria, but we have to support policies that defeat our enemies in Iraq and Syria.

Iraq continues the pattern of poor governance, but with the Shia majority instead of the Sunni majority in charge:

Iraq is a mess, and it always has been. It’s worse since 2003 because now there is no dictatorship to keep foreign (and domestic) journalists from reporting the details the true extent of the mess. In the last decade the international organizations that measure how effective (or ineffective) a country is at running its affairs have been able to measure Iraq. By over a dozen measures Iraq always comes in near the bottom. Local and foreign journalists like to blame this on the 2003 U.S.-British invasion that overthrew the decade’s old Baath Party dictatorship. But Iraqis, and many in the U.S. Department of Defense know better. Iraq has always been a mess, no matter who was running the place.

This is why I wanted to stay in Iraq after 2011 (I wanted 3 brigades in a 25,000-man force that trained and supported Iraqis, rather than fighting). After defeating the military threats and building Iraqi security forces capable of continuing that fight to the end, we needed both to support the campaign against the remnants of resistance and to build a stronger civil society--which would have been made easier by deterring Iranian interference with our military presence.

But we're out. Iran bullies Iraq. Sunni jihadis have regenerated. And we haven't been able to make a lot of progress in promoting rule of law to make progress in reducing the mess Iraq has long been in. Iraq could have been a beacon of hope for the Arab Spring.

Not that I'm defeatist. Our failure to stay has reduced Iraq's chances, but did not doom Iraq. Iraq may yet succeed as an example of an alternative to autocrats or Islamists in running your country. The Iraq War was certainly a local success that could eventually prosper if they get some breaks and we retain enough interest in helping them.

Read the rest, which goes into an interesting related topic of our 2003 invasion based on Iraq's institutional "mess."

Syria is a related struggle that has contributed to the rebirth of al Qaeda in Iraq and made Iranian pressure on Iraq to allow support for Assad more intense, thus undermining Iraq as collateral damage in Iran's battle for Syria.

Syria has endured the rebel surge and is clearing up the west. Strategypage for the first time seems to give Assad the edge:

The Syrian government has become more confident and boastful about its belief in ultimate victory over the rebels. The government’s principal allies Russia and Iran agree that this is now possible, although it may take years. Iranian media and officials are now openly declaring this as fact. The Assads believe (and proclaim) that the main fighting will end this year, followed by “counter-terrorist” operations for as long as it takes. There is much evidence to back these claims. The government apparently controls nearly all of the Lebanese border and is making progress in Homs, Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs. The official U.S. line is that the conflict has evolved into a “war of attrition” but even that description admits that the rebels have lost the initiative and that the government is now better off. The biggest advantage the government has, besides the Iranian mercenaries is the continuing civil war among the rebel Islamic terrorist groups.

But this edge is in the western region. Early on that seemed the only way for Assad to win and I judged Assad could control the west. So an Assad victory is redefined as surviving in a Core Syria built around his ethnic home base and the capital. So Assad is making progress in this narrower version of victory.

The question of whether Assad can then regain the rest of the country is a different story.

And the question of whether Assad can hold his Core Syria where non-allied people live after clearing the rebels out is a question that has yet to be answered. Will the rebels fight on after losing control of pockets of terrain in this Core Syria?

And my question is whether the Alawites and their allies can endure the casualties necessary to defend their narrow victory, let alone move against the rest of Syria. Assad will need to expand his base of support and induct Sunni Syrians into the armed forces to endure the casualties needed for these missions.

If we are serious about helping the rebels regain the initiative with training and weapons (and intelligence and advice?), we could reverse Assad's progress in achieving even his narrow victory.

In what would be a nice touch if Assad falls, Russia would lose their Syrian naval base; and Russia's shiny new Crimea loses a main use for its Sevastopol base in supporting Russia's naval operations in the eastern Mediterranean that could use Syria as its forward naval base.

And Iran would suffer a major defeat, too, losing a forward base in Syria and threatening Iran's ability to support Hezbollah.