ISISL’S Scorched Earth Policy
On the Anatomy of a Bloody Quagmire
As I write, President Obama is meeting with his military advisors to discuss US strategy in the war against ISISL, which is on the verge of capturing yet another city and annexing it into their newly formed Caliphate under the ruthless leadership of Caliph Ibrahim – a radical Muslim theologian who regards himself as a soldier of Allah. It’s a sure bet that anyone with an affection for puzzles, make believe, and games of self-deception would be mightily entertained by the proceedings when Barack meets with his war counselors.
It is obvious to any candid observer well acquainted with the realities of the Sunni Jihad in Syria and Iraq, and the Caliphate they have established, in an area that includes land from both countries which they intend to extend from Damascus to Baghdad, that the present American policy will not work. In fact, it is more than fair to say that in the fight with ISISL the US is working at cross-purposes with itself.
There are so many contradictions among the various forces fighting in Iraq and Syria that as the bullets continue to fly, the conflict will increasingly resemble a circular firing squad! For instance the coalition that could quickly and efficiently wipe out ISISL would include Iran, Turkey and the Kurds, led by US airpower and intelligence. Since they are the ones directly menaced these countries should supply the main ground forces, with whatever number of American advisors they require on the ground.
But President Obama has repeatedly pledged not to put “American boots on the ground” in any of these countries. Furthermore identifying an effective coalition is one thing, while being able to forge a working alliance is quite another. The problem in the present instance is that there are longstanding grievances between the various parties who would make up the coalition, and the kind of wise statesmanship based on realpolitik that the situation demands is sadly lacking.
Alas, since the United States has taken an ironclad position that Iran is our mortal enemy, no alliance can be made with them. Yet it is the US that has repeatedly launched aggressive actions against Iran, who has no history of aggression against the US, while Iran and the US both share a vital national interest in destroying ISISL. It is all too clear that eschewing an alliance with Iran is a shortsighted view of diplomacy that may yet prove disastrous, for the paramount US objective in the region is the defeat of the ISISL Caliphate. Yet as I write the Jihadist forces are advancing on every front. They are literally at the Turkish border. However the Turks are content to park their tanks on the hills above Kabone in a show of force while ISISL wreaks havoc below. Pleas from the Kurds for the Turks to engage ISISL and prevent them from taking the city have thus far fallen on deaf ears. In fact Turkish President Erdogan has said on record that he considers the PKK, the Kurds’ major militia that the US is now arming, to be just as much a group of terrorists as ISISL The US formerly shared that view.
Turkish Tanks cover the Hills
All Show and No Go
As of Thursday morning the Turks have refused to engage ISISL Knowledgeable observers of events in the region believe that ISISL forces will soon occupy Kobane because American airstrikes are ineffective in preventing it. This is largely due to the fact that ISISL forces are now mixed with the civilian populace, which limits the use of bombs lest the US end up killing more innocent people and winning more recruits for the Jihad.
However the hesitation of the Turks is largely due to the fact that they do not wish to see the Kurds armed with state of the art weapons, because the Turks have been engaged in a long standing fight against the creation of an independent Kurdistan. It also explains why the Turks have blocked the Kurds from using Turkish territory as a thoroughfare to ferry men and materials needed for the fight against ISISL in Kobane, despite the swelling chorus calling for them to do more in the effort to defeat the Jihadists. But the Turks reply that they see no need to get involved in “a fight between two terrorist groups.”
Furthermore, the US’s stated objective is defeating ISISL but the Turks are also interested in defeating the Assad regime in Syria, which is not part of the US Mission, although the Obama Administration is on record as opposing that regime. However by opposing ISISL, al Qaeda, the al Nuesra Front and any other offshoots of the radical Sunni Islamists, the US is an objective ally of the Assad regime who also oppose these same forces. Hence when we consider the main US plan of action which is to arm and train a ragtag force of military novices called “The Free Syrian Army,” whose paramount objective is to defeat the Assad regime, there is not much room for optimism.
Lest we forget, the US spent a decade training the Iraqi National Army and equipping them with top shelf American weaponry, but in their first real battle against ISISL four divisions fled like terrified school boys and left all of their weapons in the field! Those weapons are now part of ISISL’s arsenal. The question begged by this recent history is: What makes American military planners believe the “Free Syrian Army” – which it is estimated will be ready to take the field in a year – shall fare any better against ISISL forces? One does not need a crystal ball to see the future here: Any weapons the US supplies to the so-called “Free Syrian Army” are destined to end up in the hands of the Jihadists.
This will make ISISL forces even harder to defeat as they become firmly ensconced within the territory they have claimed for the caliphate; which means that those tasked with extracting them could end up on the job for a long time. In testimony before the House Committee on Armed Services on July 29th 2014, Dr. Stephen Biddle, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University, argued that there was little hope for an Iraqi “government offensive able to regain control over ISIL-occupied areas in the old Sunni Triangle. Even U.S. Army and Marine forces with massive air support found these areas difficult to control before 2008; this goal will remain beyond the Government of Iraq’s reach for a long time to come. “
Referring to the statistical data regarding civil wars like those in Iraq and Syria Dr. Biddle testified to the committee “Wars of this kind are rarely short. Of 128 civil wars fought between 1945 and 2004, only one-fourth ended within two years. Datasets vary slightly with war definitions and other details, but most put the median duration of such wars at 7-10 years, with an important minority of conflicts dragging on for a generation or more.” Hence when critics of US policy aimed at “eradicating ISIL” refer to it as a new “thirty year war,” such as longtime conservative pundit and presidential advisor Pat Buchannan, they are not just engaging in anti-Obama hyperbole.
In view of these grim realities the US appears to be trapped in a quagmire from which there is no foreseeable road to victory, and no acceptable path of retreat. It is as if the entire Middle East is a giant quicksand pit in which US forces – like our dreams for a peaceful, prosperous, stable and pro-American region – are trapped and slowly sinking. Alas, despite America’s air strikes Kobane burns from ISISL’s fire while our allies the Turks – who possess a formidable military arsenal of almost 4000 tanks and hundreds of aircraft – fiddle away on the hillsides and watch the action as two “terrorist” groups slaughter each other. In fact the blase Turks wonder what all the American anxiety is about. “The civilians have all fled Kobane,” said a spokesman for the Turkish government, “there is no tragedy here.”
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
September 9, 2014