Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Mission Accomplished? Really?

The Syrians and their Russian friends are certainly bombing the Hell out of Aleppo, but Assad is not on the verge of winning the civil war.

America had at least beaten Saddam's army and the insurgencies had yet to develop when President Bush 43 declared mission accomplished in the Iraq War in early 2003. What on Earth justifies this Assad regime confidence?

Syria's top diplomat told the world's nations Saturday that his country's belief in military victory is greater now because the army "is making great strides in its war against terrorism" with support from Russia, Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah fighters.

Of course, he has to say that. Syrian loyalists have been fighting, dying, and suffering to keep Assad in power at a high cost with years of fighting, dying, and suffering ahead of them before it is over. So Syria's top diplomat has to speak as if the fighting, dying, and suffering won't be for a losing cause.

But the "comprehensive" offensive by Assad and his allies against rebel-held Aleppo seems to be mostly a heavy bombing of civilians. Which is surely demoralizing, especially after the false hope of a ceasefire agreed to by that monumentally gullible Secretary of State Kerry and possible deliverance from the Hell on Earth in Aleppo cruelly snatched away as Russia bombed a relief convoy to end that small chance at relief.

Which is probably all that Russia and Assad wanted from that ceasefire ploy.

Yet Assad does have hope of survival. As I wrote in December 2012, Assad needed a whole new war to emerge victorious:

Assad needs to do something that offers his troops hope of victory by giving them an objective within reach. Assad needs to abandon large parts of Syria to the rebels and prepare to rebuild his forces to retake the country.

I went on, saying that with Russian, Iranian, and Hezbollah forces, that Assad could replicate our strategy of expanding our initial core of Iraq until we defeated our enemies there:

Assad would have to similarly hold his core, rebuild his army's numbers, use air power and ground raids into rebel territory to keep the rebels off balance, and then begin expanding areas of control as he gains the numbers to do so.

Assad has a problem in that he can't count on a foreign patron to supply a surge of trained forces as Iraq's government could count on America in 2007. He also has a problem in that his forces rely on a minority of the population rather than the majority (80-90% Shia and Kurd) that the Iraqi government could rely on.

Assad would need to engineer at least a partial awakening by using divide and conquer diplomacy with Sunnis who fear al Qaeda more than they fear a deal with Assad. Perhaps the Kurds could be won over with promises of autonomy.

And perhaps with enough chaos in the abandoned parts of Syria, Assad could even count on Western and regional forces to move in and fight al Qaeda. Even if foreign troops move in just for humanitarian or WMD reasons, the possibility that mission creep will take place as jihadis attack foreign troops (the temptation will be great for al Qaeda types) could turn foreign troops into de facto allies against the jihadis, or at least weaken the jihadi fight against Assad's forces by spreading jihadi attention.

Assad could still win this fight. But he has to retreat until the correlation of forces can be swung back in his favor. Assad just can't win the way he is fighting, now.

ISIL turned out to be the big jihadi threat, but otherwise I think I was darned close.

Assad got his whole new war, as he was forced back to western Syria with only pockets in the east.

But nobody from outside has provided the troops Assad needs to conquer all of Syria. Assad certainly hasn't restored let alone expanded his own army to do the job.

And I don't think Assad can do that with his limited base of support. How many sons of Alawites and other supporters are there to shove into the meat grinder?

Assad may win his war yet, but if he does it will be as the ruler of a rump Syria that may or may not include Aleppo and may or may not include Damascus.

And Russia will accept that since it includes territory for their bases to support their fleet in the eastern Mediterranean Sea; and Iran will accept that because it gives them a land route to Lebanon to support Hezbollah in order to threaten Israel.

We may just get the thankless job of coping with jihadis, Kurdish aspirations and enemies, and neighbors under pressure from refugees and jihadis.

I just thank God we didn't further militarize the conflict back in 2012 by aiding anti-Assad rebels, eh?