Boots on the Ground

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Boots on the Ground

If we all can remember, this was the promise President Obama made about our involvement in Syria. In fact, according to USA Today, President Obama told us 16 times there would be “no boots on the ground in Syria.”  The truth is by the end of 2106 we have had around 5,000 troops in Syria.  This in itself should be a big deal.  The press, however, out of fear of making President Obama look bad never felt the need to pass this story on to the American people.

Last week was promising.  When Ameican officials announced they were sending an additional 400 troops into Syria it looked like the American troop involvement might actually get some ink.  It did for a few hours before the CBO numbers stole the spotlight back.  You would think with Obama out of office and the press’s willingness to make Trump look bad this would have been a bigger story.  This may have been the case, if not for the fact that Trump seems to be using the strategy designed by Obama and his military advisors.  This help explains why the press and the democrats have been so silent on troops heading into Syria.  It is unfortunate that we are in place in America where the only time foreign policy debates take place are when either party has something to gain.

Even though political parties in the US may have little to gain the American people certainly do.  If the US can successfully kick ISIS out and stabilize Syria that would almost immediately help slow down the immigration crisis impacting Europe and the United States.  It would also, of course, weaken ISIS the biggest US national security threat.  However, herein lies the problem.  Removing ISIS and taking back Raqqa is the not issue. The issue is HOW we do it and what happens after we do.  Nicholas Grossman explains the aftermath problem the US is currently facing…

Support from local Sunni Arabs helps explain why ISIS successfully took so much territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014. Both Assad and former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki governed as Shia sectarians. (Assad is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shia Islam, and both governments are friendly with Iran). The Sunni Arabs situated between Damascus and Baghdad felt oppressed, and many accepted ISIS — which adheres to a fundamentalist version of Sunni Islam — as a less bad alternative.

If the post-ISIS government in Raqqa lacks popular support, it will foment another Sunni Arab insurgency. Someone has to hold the territory, and do it in a way that provides security without alienating the people.

The problem for the US is  Assad believes that Raqqa is rightfully his territory (which makes sense because he is the President of Syria).  However, it was the oppression of the Sunni’s that allowed ISIS to take control in the first place.  The only other solution on the table, besides the US occupying Raqqa, is allowing the Kurds to take control.  This is a problem for an entirely different reason.  Turkey’s Prime Minster, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, is threatened by the Kurds.  He believes they are fighting for the Kurdistan Workers Party which he, and the US, view as a terrorist group.  The US has found no evidence that this is the case, but Erdogan is a power-hungry paranoid man who sees a threat around every corner and can not be convinced otherwise.

If this were the only complication things probably wouldn’t be so bad.  However, when it comes to foreign policy there are always other allies and actors you need to account for.  In fact, the biggest actor (besides the US) is Russia.  Russia’s involvement and alliance with Turkey and Syria’s President, Bashir Al-Assad, has definitely created it’s fair share of headaches for American analysts.  The situation in Raqqa and Majib are no different as Matthew Continetti explains…

Things get even more complicated. Also in Manbij are the Russians, who are helping units of the Syrian army police a group of villages. The Kurds invited them, too, presumably as a separate hedge against Turkey. To keep score: The Americans, the Russians, the Turks, the Kurds, and the Syrians are all converging on an impoverished city in the middle of nowhere that has no strategic importance to the United States.

One needn’t have read The Guns of August to fret about the risks of miscalculation and misinterpretation. Which is why, on Tuesday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Joseph Dunford, met with his Russian and Turkish counterparts. “One American official described the situation around Manbij as a potential tinderbox,” reports the New York Times. As if we didn’t have enough to worry about.

I almost wish the current President and former President weren’t so united on the plan to defeat ISIS..  If there were splintering strategies that could energize one side of the aisle to take a stand and ask questions about the strategy in the middle east. We all want to defeat ISIS, I think, and the issue on the table is not a debate on the elimination of ISIS.  It is a debate about what happens next.  Far too often the US takes a short-sighted approach to national security.  It was miscalculations and short-sightedness that elongated the fight in Iraq. It was short-sightedness (and electoral gain) that allowed President Obama to miss the growing threat that birthed ISIS.  Let us hope this same view doesn’t blind us to the potential pitfalls of defeating ISIS in Syria.  The first step in making sure that doesn’t happen, is talking about it.  Let us hope that happens real soon.

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