Trump’s Syrian Mistake

The Daily Escape

(Aleppo’s Umayyad mosque, photographed before the war, in 2009)

Joshua Landis edits a blog called “Syria Comment”, and his last post was about Trump’s strategy for taking Raqqa from ISIS. He thinks allying with Turkey at the expense of the Kurds is a mistake.

Wrongo’s March 13 post discussed Trump’s Syrian strategy:

We are watching a continuation of the policy that predates the Trump presidency, the balkanization of Syria by alternative means…Trump’s “A Team” of generals seem to have fallen back on the old plan.

Landis thinks that Trump is planning to give the Turks free hand in taking Raqqa and most likely all of the Euphrates Valley. Turkey has proposed taking Raqqa from the north at Tel Abyad. The map below points out the geography:

Tel Abyad is the large black dot near the top of the map. This approach would drive through the middle of the Kurdish region (the purple shaded area above), cutting it in two. This splitting of the Kurdish territory is the main reason Turkey has offered to take Raqqa. From Landis:

Turkey hopes to establish its Arab proxies in a new “Euphrates state” in eastern Syria. This would partition Syria into three states: a western Assad-ruled state; an eastern Turkish and Sunni Arab rebel-ruled state, and a northern Kurdish state.

If the US allows Turkey to do this, it will lose the Kurds as allies in the attack on Raqqa, or in any other part of ISIS territory. Turkey says it is the only way that they can participate, because Assad’s army has already taken territory east of Aleppo, which has cut off Turkey’s access to Raqqa via al-Bab. Landis asks:

Why are the Kurds willing to take Raqqa even though they do not have territorial interests in and around Raqqa? They are investing in their relationship with the US. They assume that it will serve them well over the long run when it comes to their political aspirations.

A major issue with following Turkey’s plan is that they have dangerous Islamic fundamentalist allies. Turkey’s Arab rebel allies include Ahrar al-Sham, (similar to the Taliban, and adamantly opposed to the US). If the Turkey/Ahrar coalition rules the Euphrates post-ISIS, it will become a haven for Salafists and al-Qaida’s coalition.

For the past five years, Turkey has teamed with al-Qaida’s forces in Syria. It allowed them to mass inside Turkey in 2013. Turkey has no problem with them being part of its Arab force, since their strategy is to use the Salafists as proxies in thwarting Kurdish regional ambitions. More from Landis:

These…are the reasons that American generals do not want to work with Turkey. They don’t trust it, both because it wants to attack our Kurdish allies and because it is soft on al-Qaida-like rebel groups.

Our generals don’t fully trust this NATO partner to act in America’s interest!

What’s more, there is a likelihood that Iran, Russia, Syria, and Iraq would move against a Turkey-led Sunni land grab. They will not allow a Sunni rebel enclave in the middle of their spheres of influence. Landis: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

The US would [then] be expected to side with Turkey and the Sunni rebels in a long and escalating war against the Shiites. I think this is a swamp waiting to suck the US into its malodorous depths.

For more than 15 years, we have been engaged in a war in the Middle East. Now, the Pentagon is planning to send another 1, 000 troops to Syria in the coming weeks. This is indeed an endless war.

Let’s get ISIS, but we shouldn’t be teaming solely with the Turks in the effort to destroy ISIS. The great Orange negotiator should stand up to the Turks on this.

Now for some Syrian music. Here is Refugees of Rap with their song, “Haram” (“Forbidden” in Arabic):

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Sample Lyrics (translated):

Came out of the house
I smelled gunpowder
Voices from the minarets

Say go back to your houses
Shells on the neighborhoods come down like rain
I felt more scared, I felt a sense of danger
I completed my way and approaching death to me more and more
Average people say Allahu Akbar
I saw the neighborhood; neighborhood was red in color
The smell of blood and body parts in front of me scatter
I ran to help my friend was injured
Hospitals in dire need of blood donation and mosques shouting
Walls in the streets become white in color


Zogby: ISIS is The Problem and Nobody in the Middle East Wants America to Solve It

A new survey of eight Middle East countries finds consensus on two issues — that Daesh (ISIS) is the major threat, and that the US’ role in countering it is “extremely negative” in the region. The survey was conducted by Zogby Research Services, (Zogby). They conducted face-to-face surveys with 7,400 adults in six Arab states, plus Turkey and Iran, in September. (This was prior to the terror attacks in France and San Bernardino.) Interestingly, the poll found considerable agreement about the causes for Islamic extremism, with majorities blaming:

Corrupt, repressive and unrepresentative governments [and] religious figures and groups promoting extremist ideas and/or incorrect religious interpretations.

Some key findings:

Groups promoting extremism: Respondents in all eight countries were asked about four groups: Daesh (ISIS), the Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda, and militias and groups supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. They were asked to rate how serious a problem each of these groups is on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is “a serious problem” and 5 is “no problem at all.” The table below shows the percentages of respondents who selected 1 or 2 (“problem”) and 4 or 5 (“not a problem”) for each group, as well as a ranking of how problematic the four groups are from the perspective of respondents in each of the eight countries.

Zogby Extermeism by group-page-0How best to defeat extremism? Respondents in every country said:

Changing the political and social realities that cause young people to be attracted to extremist ideas [followed by] countering the messages and ideas of extremist groups.

Countries combating extremism: When asked which countries were effective at combating sectarian violence, the US was ranked worst by all eight countries while Iran was ranked second-worst, with six countries rating them poorly:

Zogby Role of Countries in combating extremeism-page-0• Surprisingly to people in the US, Turkey gets the most consistently positive reviews for its role in combating extremist sectarian violence, including majorities in Jordan (74%), UAE (63%), Saudi Arabia (59%), and Egypt (53%).
• Saudi Arabia and the UAE are viewed positively by wide margins in some countries. Saudi Arabia’s top ratings come from Egypt (92%), UAE (91%), and Turkey (84%), and a majority in Jordan (68%). The UAE’s top ratings come from Egypt (86%), Saudi Arabia (79%), and Jordan (60%), while 39% of Lebanese and fewer than one-quarter of respondents in Iraq (25%), Turkey (16%), and Iran (15%) see the UAE as playing a positive role in combating extremist sectarian violence.
• In Jordan, 31% of respondents view the US’ role as positive.
• With respect to Iran, Lebanese opinion is evenly split between positive and negative. In Iraq, 36% view Iran’s role as positive, while less than one-quarter of respondents in the other countries surveyed agreed.

Perhaps these results support what most people in the US think:

• ISIS is a big problem and,
• Nobody wants us to solve it.

But, we keep trying to solve it, so the real question for Americans is: “What is in it for us to fight ISIS?”

If you watched the Republican debate in Las Vegas, you saw nine GOP candidates, all of whom avoided military service, bluster about how tough they’ll be on ISIS, using the kids of other Americans as fodder.

What is amazing is, all of these open-carry advocates talk about provoking, disrespecting and punching a guy (Putin) who openly carries an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

And we would provoke him why? Because ISIS is a huge threat to us? Or, because Putin wants to keep Syria’s Assad in power? Or, because it polls well with the fringe of very conservative Republicans who know nothing about military tactics?

Or, is it because the countries in the region really, really want us there?

Zogby (and the people they polled) say, “Not so much.”


Sec Def Carter Says What Politicians Can’t

After Ramadi fell to ISIS, Mr. Obama said in an interview with the Atlantic, that the fall of Ramadi was a “tactical setback” in the US effort to defeat ISIS but said, “I don’t think we’re losing.” Then, because something real had to be said, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said it:

What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight…They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight. They withdrew from the site, and that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves.

He captured the essence of the problem:

We can give them training, we can give them equipment — we obviously can’t give them the will to fight…But if we give them training, we give them equipment, and give them support, and give them some time, I hope they will develop the will to fight, because only if they fight can ISIL remain defeated.

This was all too much for the Republicans, who are attacking President Obama’s “failed” strategy for dealing with ISIS. John Bolton said on Fox News Sunday: “We’re losing. There’s no doubt about it.” John McCain, on CBS’s Face the Nation: “We need more troops on the ground. We need forward air controllers”.

The Republican 2016 candidates also attacked Obama’s strategy, but said little about what they would do differently. Those who have spoken out, want thousands of US troops back in Iraq.

• Lindsey Graham and Rick Santorum want to deploy 10,000 American troops in Iraq as part of a coalition with Arab nations
• Jeb Bush thinks additional American soldiers would have prevented ISIS from gathering strength in recent years. But an American-led force now? “I don’t think that will work,” he said last Friday
• Marco Rubio described his strategy against ISIS with a line from the movie “Taken” — “we will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you”
• Scott Walker and Rick Perry are open to a combat mission
• Rand Paul wants boots on the ground — as long as they are “Arab boots on the ground”

The Republicans offer “more troops” and movie quotes. They seem to say, “It matters not if you win or lose, it’s where you place the blame”. They also want us to believe that the “surge” defeated the Iraqi insurgency back in the day, and that if Obama had just stayed in Iraq, ISIS wouldn’t be there today.

It’s just more Republican delusion about a country we broke and can’t put back together.

Def Sec Carter was correct to rebuke the Iraqis for cutting and running at Ramadi. The Iraqi military and police forces outnumbered the attacking ISIS forces by 10 to 1, and were more heavily armed. Yet they still ran away as fast as their US-provided ground vehicles would carry them. The Iraqi forces have pointed out that they did not have as much air support as they wanted.

Ok, but it is fair to point out the total lack of air support available to ISIS forces. Any army, like the Iraqis who have air support, when facing an enemy who fights without air support, and finds itself unable to overcome that enemy, is probably fighting poorly.

The military situation is that ISIS and the Iraqi Shias are evenly matched in weaponry, and the Iraqi army has superior numbers. ISIS uses their arms and smaller numbers better, and leads their fighters more skillfully. What is keeping the Iraqi army from using the mobile, combined arms operations tactics that ISIS executes routinely? Is it lack of US air support? Lack of Iranian support?

Maybe it is a marked inferiority in leadership. How about a lack of competence in tactics, logistics, maintenance and supply, not to mention nepotism and chronic corruption?

This is not our fight, and it never was. Now that the apple cart is upside down, and the Sunnis and Shias are at each other, there is absolutely no place in this for the US. At the end of the day, we need to have both Sunni and Shia friends in the ME.

Bravo, Secretary Carter!

Keep our politicians real whenever they try to posture about the ME and ISIS.


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 14, 2014

In this week’s “Parade of Bad News”: Yes, the Wrongologist remembers where he was on 9/11, but where we are today is way more important:

COW Permanent War











Mr. Obama must plan carefully whenever the “Coalition” gets together:

COW ISIS Guest List


Nobody said building an ISIS “strategy” would be easy:

COW ISIS Strategy


After the speech, the “coalition of the willing” didn’t include the 535 Commanders-in-Chief in Congress:

COW Are you with me


In other news, here’s why the NFL didn’t get it right the first time:



Coalition of the Willing? An Editorial

Why are the media so willing for America to go up against ISIS? Why are the media letting John McCain go on endlessly, and why are they acting as if Lindsay Graham is the second coming of Douglas MacArthur?

Our post-Cold War American politicians can’t do the intellectual heavy lifting that connects policy to strategy. They are incapable of articulating a realistic vision of the political ends that are the desired outcome of a decisive use of military force.

US foreign policy in the Middle East for nearly a century has been based on one simple principle: Maximize the security of the delivery of fossil fuels from the region to the US. The corollary: While we’re doing that, let’s make sure to maximize the profits of the big corporations that benefit from the oil trade, and the corporations that make big profits by getting America to defend the oil companies.

“I listen to the commanders on the ground” isn’t strategy. And strategy shouldn’t be formulated by the military. They have the operational role, but strategy should be based in the hands of our elected officials. Let’s see what Commander-in-Chief Obama says about our strategy for the Middle East on Wednesday. We shouldn’t second-guess the strategy BEFORE it is promulgated, we can wait to do that.

Since the administration and nearly everyone else on Earth agrees that ISIS is a threat to at least some degree, the questions are:
• In what way is ISIS a threat to America’s security? To what extent are they a threat?
• What do we want the political end state to be in the ME if/when the threat of ISIS is contained, diminished or destroyed?
• What is it worth for America to accomplish this outcome in light of our other, competing, American interests, in the region and globally?

Once we answer those questions, Mr. Obama can give our military leaders definitive policy guidance. The Generals in turn can then give the administration the best possible advice on how military force could secure our aims, or how to use it in conjunction with other elements of national power, such as diplomacy, economic coercion or covert operations.

Moving forward, as McCain, Graham, Rubio and others want, without answering these questions, is another exercise in flailing about, hoping that using sufficient force opportunistically will cause good geopolitical things to happen.

It is important to see that ISIS is different from Al-Qaeda. ISIS focuses on the near enemy, the Iraqi and the Syrian Governments and their supporters, while Al-Qaeda focuses on the far enemy (think 9/11). That should be a pointer for our strategy. The US only attacked ISIS when the Kurdish oilfields were threatened. The message should be that ISIS can do whatever they want in northern Iraq and Syria − once they step out of their box they will get slapped hard.

We should ask if a militant and backward-looking form of Islam is what the people living in Islamic countries want. They are the ones who have to contend with the Muslims who financed the growth of militant Islam, and the Imams who preach it. The citizens in Muslim countries also have to take responsibility for their actions. They can’t just point at the Russians and Europeans and Americans and say “you made us do this.” There is some culpability among the Western powers, but we didn’t suggest, or encourage, Sunnis and Shiites to kill each other. That was a decision made by Muslims, some of whom are in power because of actions by the US.

Solving the problem presented by ISIS is primarily the job of the countries that have common borders with Syria and Iraq. We have a role, but it isn’t our problem to solve. The US and its European allies do not possess the wisdom, or the will, or the tools to fix whatever it is that ails much of the Islamic world.

This is the principal lesson that the long Iraq war taught us. The direction of our future ME strategy lies in recognizing that fact.

No doubt, ISIS poses a danger. But for the US and Europe, the present danger is negligible. Regional powers such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran are both more directly threatened and far better positioned to deal with it. Offering indirect assistance might be helpful, however, the US would be better served simply to butt out. We’ve done enough damage.

Let’s ask some final questions on the way to developing a new ME strategy.

First, if it’s unacceptable to have an antidemocratic Sunni fundamentalist regime that routinely beheads people, denies women basic human rights, and uses oil money to support worldwide terrorism – what are we doing about Saudi Arabia?

Second, nobody’s saying that it’s fine for the ISIS lunatics to form a Sunni caliphate. But the regional powers who should able to and interested in stopping ISIS: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, Iran, and Egypt must do the heavy lifting. Some have even participated in making ISIS what they are today. Let them clean it up.

If ISIS defeats its local opponents, and then truly threatens the world, there’d be sufficient reason to step in.

But so far, it has not.