Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Long Campaign in the Long War

This study urges a better American approach to fighting al Qaeda and ISIL in Iraq and Syria, where our operations are focused on ISIL while allowing al Qaeda to move in to replace ISIL as the sword of too many Sunni Arabs who see America as an ally of Iran and Russia.

To me, the problems identified of Sunni Arab perceptions of America; Iraqi unwillingness to allow much of an American presence in Iraq; and Russian ability to interdict the sea line of communication from Suez to the Strait of Hormuz argues not so much for an integrated strategy against all Sunni jihadis within the Sunni Arab populations of the region as it argues for a strategy that attempts to defeat Iran with their efforts to build bases in the region, create local loyal militias, push America out of the region, and develop nuclear missiles.

Break Iranian power and the allies Iran backs weaken, which weakens Russia's position that exploits and relies on Iran's efforts.

While the proposal to back off from Raqqa missions to focus on building up an American position in southeast Syria to create local armed allies for the eventual drive on Raqqa--while shielding Jordan--is interesting as a Plan B if Iraqi politics under Iranian influence drive America from Iraq, it doesn't mention Assad's regime.

Such a strategy requires the eventual defeat of Assad, doesn't it? Which would be good. But he is not really mentioned.

Also, in the past we tried to carve out friendly rebel areas in the Syrian southeast but have failed. I guess this plan would make that work out better with more American involvement.

While I think the original post-9/11 war resolution covers the battle against al Qaeda and ISIL in Syria--the declaration of war didn't expire, and is it really our fault that our enemies have been so persistent?--an effort to topple Assad with substantial American direct help really should require a public debate and Congressional assent of some type.

Although historically Congressional "assent" has been given through more passive means--like agreeing to fund such operations--than explicit declarations of war (or the modern authorization to use military force that allows for combat without the full legal ramifications of being at war under international law).

Perhaps Assad isn't addressed as the logical follow-up because of that issue. One problem at a time?

And of course, the report is useful to remember that the amazingly long campaigns to take Mosul and Raqqa will not defeat ISIL although it will cripple their pretense to being the new caliphate. Iraq needs our help to continue to battle jihadis in Iraq where ISIL still holds ground outside of Mosul. And ISIL can still operate as terrorists in Iraqi-held territory.

And there is the concurrent next war for Iraq's institutions, of course.

So when Mosul and Raqqa are liberated from ISIL, resist the temptation to assume that we can declare victory and go home on the assumption that surely we must have won this campaign against jihadis after all this time.