Monday, August 3, 2015

Ballet Slippers on the Ground

We fiercely contributed to the mess in Iraq and Syria by forcing a “majority rules” government (minus “minority protection”) on Iraq. The old Saddam Hussein minority, the 20% of the population labeled Sunnis who once ruled Iraq, were replaced by a 60% majority of angry Shiites bent on revenge against the former ruling minority. Sunnis rapidly found themselves brutalized, voiceless, their leaders arrested and facing a new harsh never-ending drought in the southwestern enclave without a shred of government help. Northern Iraqi Kurds had long since separated themselves from the rest of Iraq under an effectively autonomous state. The Sunni Iraqis, however, shared a common fate with the majority of the population in Syria, Sunnis as well, ruled by a ruthless Syrian Shiite dictator.
Al Qaeda tried to lend support to Iraqi Sunnis and was behind the litany of shooting and bombings of Iraqi Shiite targets, mostly in Baghdad, but for the average Sunni, none of this provided the slightest relief from daily misery at the hands of their Shiite masters. Syrian rebels also sat sadly as no one came to their aid. Extremists, born of al Qaeda but thinking that was an “old guy” organization with limited power, decided to create a younger, more violent, religiously-based Sunni army in which non-believers (read: folks who do not interpret the Qur’an exactly as these ultra-conservative Sunnis did) are less-than-human, to be exterminated like vermin. They would “rescue” these disenfranchised Sunnis. They became known as ISIS, ISIL, the Islamic State or, locally, as Daesh. Without our setting a vile stage, it is doubtful that ISIS would have ever existed (the FBI now calls them the most dangerous terrorists on earth).
ISIS forces turned on Shiites, what they described as apostate Sunnis and non-Muslims, beheading and creating a genocidal swath across the region. As the United States and allied forces began bombing ISIS targets, as Kurdish forces pushed back (often effectively) against ISIS incursions, while Iranian-led (Shiite) forces (including both Iraqi militia and Iranian troops) also fought against ISIS forces, ISIS continued to expand their territorial holdings, taking half of Syria’s land mass and pushing up to within 25 miles of Baghdad. If territorial expansion is a measure of success, ISIS was winning this confrontation notwithstanding American press reports to the contrary.
ISIS decentralized military tactics, so should their most senior leadership be felled by attacks, they would not be stopped or even slowed. They set up effective if brutal administrative structures in the lands they conquered, mastered social and traditional media like no other, and seemed to be having their way with the ineffective efforts of the military forces aligned against them.
As it became painfully obvious that without serious boots on the ground, ISIS could not be stopped, the question arose, whose boots? Western powers, including the US, made it clear: not us. Iraqi forces – without Iranian leadership – were clearly ill-prepared. And Shiite forces from Iraq and Iran were the mortal enemies of the Sunnis under ISIS control – hardly seen as “rescuers.” The powerful Turkish military held back until ISIS attacks hit them as well… but used their counter-offensive also to decimate Kurdish forces (often rebels within Turkey) who had been among the few who successfully repelled ISIS. Nothing the United States had planned or recommended was working. Nothing. ISIS continue to generate more recruits and grow its territorial conquests.
The “stupidest plan in the world” – for Americans to screen for “moderate values” and train such Syrian rebels to form the body of an anti-ISIS force, a process destined to take years under the best of circumstances – was a failure at every level. Instead of recruiting an initial force of trainees of 5,400 as projected, the US was only able to vet 60 recruits, then down to a meagre 54. And despite Pentagon protests to the contrary, word on the street was that Muslim extremists – the al Nusra Front, an organization known to have passed prisoners to ISIS in the past – was able to abduct some of these trainees.
“Those fighters — 54 in all — suffered perhaps their most embarrassing setback yet on [July 30th]. One of their leaders, a Syrian Army defector who recruited them, was abducted in Syria near the Turkish border, along with his deputy who commands the trainees. They were seized not by the Islamic State but by its rival the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda that is another Islamist extremist byproduct of the four-year-old Syrian civil war.
“The abductions illustrate the challenges confronting the Obama administration as it seeks to marshal local insurgents to fight the Islamic State, which it views as the region’s biggest threat… After a year of trying, the Pentagon still struggles to find recruits to fight the Islamic State without also battling the forces of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, their original foe. The willing few face vetting meant to weed out extremists, so stringent that only dozens have been approved, and they are bit players in the rebellion. The program has not engaged with the biggest, most powerful groups, Islamist factions that are better funded, better equipped and more motivated.” New York Times, July 30th. Turned out that the two leaders were captured along with six of their trainees. Reports suggest that one trainee was killed in the fight with al Nusra, which would be the first casualty of this first batch of recruits.
Iraq’s forces are a standing joke, having deserted, leaving precious military equipment in their wake. Now, “Iraq asked NATO for help training its security forces in December after Islamic State captured large parts of the country…The program will focus on seven priority areas including advice on reforming the security sector, cyber defense and military training, NATO said in a statement. Training will be held in Turkey and Jordan, meaning NATO will not need a new agreement with Iraq to base troops there.” Reuters, July 31st. Even assuming this effort is remotely positive, how long do you think it will take to create a real fighting force? And how much more solidly entrenched do think ISIS will be when these forces are “ready” (if ever)?
Iran – still our enemy – was and still is ready for the fight, but the politics of coordinating with American forces was daunting. Further, the US was loathe to take much of the fight to Syrian territory, even as the Assad regime told the world it just didn’t have the army to defend much of their own nation. Saudi Arabia, distracted in its own unsuccessful fight across the Yemeni border with rebel Shiites (Houthis), decried ISIS but was relatively impotent in opposing a religiously conservative group that benefited from early-stage Saudi financing. Even as ISIS told the Saudi royal family that they too were targets of their wrath.
We hear idiotic statements from many in our Congress and a few presidential candidates about going in and wiping out ISIS… or bombing their oil wells to drain them of needed financial support. Sure, we could escalate our assault, take out oil wells, but without boots on the ground, who’s going to step in and remove the festering ISIS military from their holdings? Do we want to commit another couple of hundred thousand troops to another Middle East battle in which we are either likely to get our asses kicked… or cause another set of destabilizing unforeseen consequences for future generations to unravel, even as we further decimate our economy my seriously ramping up our deficit? And if Iran’s Shiite forces lead the charge, exactly how are those Sunnis that they are purportedly “rescuing” going to react?
I’m Peter Dekom, and with all that military “intelligence” and access to information, when exactly are we going to see people with brains begin to implement anything but stupid ideas on how to contain an evil force that is currently laughing at everything we have done?

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