Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ugly Allies

As the U.S. and some of her NATO allies have supplied and have escalated the supply of arms and air power against the growing and seemingly unchecked the Sunni-extremist Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/Daesh), the cacophony of several ostensible allies that pledged their support are slip-sliding away. Instead, an unholy alliance of anti-ISIS forces has stepped into their place.
I have blogged (Persians, Phoenicians and Arabs – Modern Consequences, October 20th) on the irony of Iranian and Iranian-backed Shiite forces – Shiites, bitter enemies to many of the Sunnis now under the ISIS’ boot – coming to “rescue” them from their Sunni conquerors. Except for the intervention of occasional Special Forces from the United States, the only significant ground forces fighting ISIS are such Shiites plus the Kurdish soldiers (whom “ally” Turkey has unleashed its military forces these Kurdish “enemies of the state”). If you are a Sunni in conquered ISIS lands, you get this choice: stay under a repressive Sunni regime or face a rescue by your enemy Shiite forces who offer a different repressive regime.
Where are the local Sunni states? Where are Sunnis fighting for Sunnis? “As the United States prepares to intensify airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria, the Arab allies who with great fanfare sent warplanes on the initial missions there a year ago have largely vanished from the campaign.
“The Obama administration heralded the Arab air forces flying side by side with American fighter jets in the campaign’s early days as an important show of solidarity against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or Daesh. Top commanders like Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, who oversees operations in Syria and Iraq, still laud the Arab countries’ contributions to the fight. But as the United States enters a critical phase of the war in Syria, ordering Special Operations troops to support rebel forces and sending two dozen attack planes to Turkey, the air campaign has evolved into a largely American effort.
“Administration officials had sought to avoid the appearance of another American-dominated war, even as most leaders in the Persian Gulf seem more preoccupied with supporting rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Now, some of those officials note with resignation, the Arab partners have quietly left the United States to run the bulk of the air war in Syria — not the first time Washington has found allies wanting.
“Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have shifted most of their aircraft to their fight against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Jordan, reacting to the grisly execution of one of its pilots by the Islamic State, and in a show of solidarity with the Saudis, has also diverted combat flights to Yemen. Jets from Bahrain last struck targets in Syria in February, coalition officials said. Qatar is flying patrols over Syria, but its role has been modest.
“‘They’ve all been busy doing other things, Yemen being the primary draw,’ Lt. Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., who leads the air war from a $60 million command center at this sprawling base in Qatar, said of the Arab allies. He added that those allies still fly periodic missions in Syria and allow American jets to use their bases.
“The United Arab Emirates last carried out strikes in Syria in March; Jordan in August; and Saudi Arabia in September, according to information provided by allied officials last week. But the Arab allies insist they are still playing an essential, if less active, military role in the war…
“The engagement of Western allies, like France and Australia, has also been limited. They have conducted a smattering of strikes in Syria, but have reserved most of their firepower for Islamic State targets in Iraq. Canada’s new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has promised to fulfill his campaign pledge to end Ottawa’s role in the air campaign altogether. And none of the Western allies appears eager to join the United States in basing warplanes at Incirlik air base in Turkey, a move that would make it easier to increase strikes against militants in northern Syria and Iraq.
“So far, eight Arab and Western allies have conducted about 5 percent of the 2,700 airstrikes in Syria, compared with 30 percent of the 5,100 strikes in Iraq, where many NATO partners also fly missions against the Islamic State. But the United States was always likely to fly the majority of the missions in Syria, as it does in Iraq, since its air forces are much larger than those of the Arab states or any forces deployed by Western allies.” New York Times, November 7th.
Warm and cuddly-Russia has also entered the fray, and if the Russian Metrojet that crashed over Sinai, Egypt recently is definitively shown to have been downed by an ISIS-planted bomb, we can expect this aggressive and malevolent, anti-American nation, to double-down on its efforts in the region, both to bolster the Shiite Assad regime in Damascus (in a predominantly Sunni country) and to escalate its attacks against ISIS. Russia currently drops more explosive ordinance against various Syrian targets in a day than does the United States in a month. A double down would escalate this effort accordingly.
So there we are, having helped to lay the stage that made the ISIS possible, pretty much abandoned by the allies we need, the forces we are comfortable with, and now in an ugly, unholy de facto alliance with the demon-states we have battled in recent years. Are there lessons in this mess? Many. Will we learn them? By the sound of so many in Congress and those running for the highest office in the land, I think not.
We have this nasty proclivity to believe that the rules that apply to us, the cultural values we hold dear, should also be the values of distant lands with very different histories and cultures. Having failed to recognize the forces we would unleash in our assault in Iraq, few Americans have a clue about the vitriol of regional factions against us… and each other. While the Obama administration has mended fences with its Western allies and even a few Asian nations, the United States has never been less popular in the developing world than it is today.

I’m Peter Dekom, and being led by those unaware of the necessary dynamics we face is very, very scary.

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