aside Winning Hearts and Minds in the Middle East

Lindsey-Graham-War 9Neocons like Senator Graham Lindsey and many high ranking military are quick to point out that they can destroy ISIS strongholds within months if only more US troops were deployed to the middle east. All of us believe this to be a true statement. At best, this would be a very short lived success story like in Iraq. The question always is, “what then? With US military ground (non-Muslim) troops on their lands, ISIS would be guaranteed a never ending number of Islamic terrorist volunteers. Without a political solution with the long term hope for peace and stability in Iraq and Syria, this would position our brave men and women in harms way with no real chance for a meaningful victory and with no end in sight.

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The solution in how to deal with ISIS is complex, but this doesn’t mean that that we our stuck in a place where more can’t be done. A history buff, Kyle Murao wrote a 10/22/14 Quora.com article to address the difficulty of formulating a successful strategy to combat ISIS with all the convoluted issues of middle east. The following are excerpts:

“I’m afraid that when we talk about “ideal” long-term military and political solutions to the plague of ISIL, it’s one of those things that you can only really arrive at through a process of eliminating what isn’t ideal. With that in mind, here are some things that I think the ideal solution will not fail to recognize and adjust for:

  • “Much more than it is a treaty ally of the US and Europe via NATO, Turkey is a large, ethnically diverse state with an Islamic heritage in Western Asia.”
  • “Iran has been one of the largest and most powerful players in this region for like 3,000 years. Pretending it does not have a role to play by refusing to invite it to your housewarming party is delusional.”
  • ‘The Assads were no friends of Israel, but at least they had the advantage of having learned better than to keep trying to wipe it off the map. Whatever Syria looks like a year or 50 years from now, Israel is the neighboring state with the most to lose if things should turn out badly.”
    Picture of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
    Picture of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
  • “Just because they all fly F-15 jets and drive Abrams tanks does not mean that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states will have the same security interests as us forever.’
  • ‘Perhaps most critically: ISIL is not like The Flood or the zombies in I Am Legend. They do not hatch out of cocoons incubated inside their dead victims’ chests. They are numerous and powerful and have considerable popular support in many areas’
  • “The aversion to “boots on the ground” needs to be dropped, right away. As far as the US and Europe are concerned, the campaign to help rid the region of ISIL will be neither easy nor bloodless nor quick–might as well give it a shot of at least being effective’ (I would agree with this premise, with the caveat that boots on the ground should be comprised mostly of neighboring Muslim forces.)
  • CONFLICT ART 134 untitled“Where’s all this leave us? Well, let’s admit that for its part, the US government seems not to have firmly grasped any of these things in the initial stages of the revolt in Syria and the rise in violence in Iraq.
  • “You can’t defeat ISIL without Turkey. Involving Turkey will necessarily mean giving it some pretty robust assurances that America will not facilitate any Kurdish moves toward independence–which begs the important question of which party America values more” (the Kurds have been the main Muslim forces helping us to take back ISIS controlled regions.)
  • “Iran will hedge its bets if it does not think we can be relied upon. Unless and until America puts aside its differences with Iran and openly agrees to collaborate, Tehran has no incentive to trust us, and indeed would be foolish to do so”Conflict art
     “That’s about it for the easy part, though. The hard part is that hearts and minds are now more important than ever. And getting beyond the matter of how to stamp out popular support for this barbaric group, there’s the reality that no matter which way you turn in your quest to destroy ISIL, you end up staring at a wholesale realignment in the middle east.”

“Imagine, for example, the extremely unlikely event that Turkey made a large military incursion into Northern Syria and Iraq to take back territory held by ISIL, and that this happened with NATO’s blessing. Even if it were successful in wiping out ISIL the implications for the power dynamics of the region would be dramatic. Turkey, which has spent roughly a century looking westward after having its shaky empire confiscated at Versailles, would suddenly have crashed back into the Middle Eastern theatre in a major way. Iran–which was bitter rivals of the Ottomans for centuries–might be relieved for a split second, and then quickly start worrying about bolstering its already considerable influence in the Shia-controlled regions of Iraq. The Arab states, former Turkish subjects all, would be worried too…and more so because their chief protector, America, is also a treaty ally of the Turks. The Saudis are already miffed that America has not prevented Israel from punishing Hamas or halted Iranian nuclear development–for how much longer after this latest slight would they remain solidly in America’s camp? It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realize how different the world would look if Saudi Arabia and America weren’t at least roughly on the same page about where global oil prices should be.”

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“Suppose, on the other hand, that Iran, perhaps with Russian backing but without ours, managed to restore Bashar Assad to some semblance of control over Syria and succeeded in beating back ISIL in Iraq. This obviously would have come at the expense of our own dog in the fight, the moderate Syrian rebels. It would mean a strengthening of Hezbollah (the one Shia extremist group), probably resulting in more headaches for the Israelis, an ever-stronger relationship between Baghdad and Tehran, and a very, very, very worried bunch of folks in the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia. The Kurds have a history of cooperation with Tehran (we turned a blind eye when Saddam gassed them in the 1980’s because they were fighting on the side of the Iranians); with Iranian help in putting down this latest mortal threat to their existence, they might well turn away from the US as a key partner and toward Iran. Any influence we might have with Iraq after the war would be pissed away totally, and with American credibility with our Arab allies even worse than it is today, perhaps they might de-emphasize the paramount position of America in favor of diversifying their security partnerships–with India, for example, or Russia or China.”

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‘Or, let’s imagine that this plays out as America would like it to: The Syrian moderates defeat Assad, thanks to significant Kurdish assistance. The Kurds would probably demand more autonomy in return–perhaps even their own state carved from bits of Iran, Iraq and Syria…and Turkey. And who’s to say they wouldn’t deserve it? They’ve suffered varying degrees of repression under these governments (benign in Iran and Syria, severe in Turkey, genocidal in Iraq) and these same repressive governments certainly haven’t been very helpful in the present crisis. Thanks to Iraqi Army soldiers throwing down their guns and fleeing Kurdistan,thousands of Yazidi Kurdish women and children have been sold by ISIL into slavery. If ISIL is defeated without significant investment from Turkey or Iran, it will be by a combination of Syrian moderates, Syrian and Iraqi government forces and militias, and the Kurds, who appear to have the best record on the battlefield of any of these four.

Which is to say that if ISIL is vanquished, it will have been the Kurds who earned their independence. Well-deserved or not though, the prospect of a Kurdish state plopped right in the middle of the map is a very scary one to the regional powers. Kurdistan straddles key trade routes and sits on enormous oil wealth. From a Western perspective, we might say, well those are shitty reasons to deny an entire people their right of self-determination, but then, we aren’t the ones dealing with the close-up strategic consequences of that.”

Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef and President Obama

“One thing I haven’t discussed, because I don’t think it’s likely at all, is some sort of pan-Arab military intervention. Turkey and Iran are reasonably stable societies with considerable popular support and large, experienced militaries. By contrast, while the Arab states are armed with the latest gear that petrodollars can buy, they are not stable, popular elected governments. It’s impossible to imagine them launching an expeditionary war against a hyper-religious faction that many of their citizens actually do not view with any hostility.”

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“Now obviously, all of this is a lot of hand-waving, speculation. But to my mind, they’re extreme examples intended to sketch out the rough direction that events could take.”

We have to find a way to reconcile all of the competing, conflicting interests that have been laid out. The ideal situation would be to get the Americans, the Israelis, the French, the Iranians, the Iraqis, the Turks, the Saudis and Syrians from all factions all in the same room, and try to come up with a comprehensive strategy to defeat ISIL?  It should be the goal to have all these parties, endeavor to develop a common vision on the long-term agenda for the campaign against ISIS and the restoration of stability in Iraq and Syria. These two challenges are inextricably entwined.

In short, NO, the US cannot do this one alone with all of our military might.

4 comments

  1. Excellent commentary. “Perhaps most critically: ISIL is not like The Flood or the zombies in I Am Legend. They do not hatch out of cocoons incubated inside their dead victims’ chests” man i loved that.

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