Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.
Gareth Porter explains how the U.S. is about to be forced by its own allies to accept certain anti-democratic terrorist groups over other anti-democratic terrorist groups in Syria, unless it (sensibly) revises its policy there quite dramatically:
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has revealed that the next phase [of the Vienna talks] will turn on bargaining among the international sponsors of anti-Assad groups about who would be allowed to join a new government.
Those decisions, in turn, would depend on which of the groups are deemed by the foreign sponsors of those very groups to be “terrorists” and which are deemed acceptable.
As Hammond acknowledges, the Saudis are certainly not going to agree to call Ahrar al-Sham or other extremist jihadist groups allied with it – or perhaps even al-Nusra – “terrorists”.
They may have to give up al-Nusra Front, which has expressed support for the Islamic State terrorist assault on Paris. But they rest they are likely to continue to back.
Unless Obama is prepared to face a rupture in the U.S. alliance with the Sunni Gulf Sheikdoms over the issue, the result will be that the same anti-democratic groups committed to overthrowing the remnants of the old order by force will be invited by the United States and its Gulf allies to take key positions in the post-Assad government.
Pictured: Destroyed Syrian Army tanks, August 2012, after the Battle of Azaz. (Credit: Christiaan Triebert via Wikipedia)
It’s going to be weird to see how ISIS incorporates China into their history-obsessed weirdness of Crusaders and Safavids.
How dare you try to send my generation to die in Syria because your first 14 years of the strategy have been colossal failures that made the world less safe than it already was.
If you want to know why the Syria conflict can’t be ended by willpower or the snap of a fingers, this is a good analysis by Gareth Porter. The latest peace talks don’t include any significant armed combatant party in Syria – not any stripe of rebels, not the government, and certainly not ISIS. Practically speaking, on the side of the anti-regime forces, there is nobody that the rest of the world is comfortable negotiating with who could actually control any armed fighters if a deal was reached. The Syrian government (or even just the Army) doesn’t want to negotiate a deal either because they have no interest in signing a deal that brings al Qaeda/Nusra to power, and they are currently the primary non-ISIS opponent.
Flag of the Syrian government.
Trench warfare largely fell out of favor when aerial bombing became more commonplace and it wasn’t so rare for one or both sides to possess aircraft with serious ground attack capabilities. (Paratroopers didn’t help matters either, if you were trying to defend a location via front-facing trenches.)
But in a conflict where neither side has its own air force, such as the war between Kurdish YPG fighters and ISIS in eastern Syria, extensive trench complexes still make sense for slowing offensives and for securing territory. The New York Times sent reporters to the Kurdish front lines and reported back on the scale and complexity of the earthworks there:
[Kurdish] fighters hold most of the more than 280-mile-long front line with the Islamic State. Parts of it have come to resemble an international border, with deep trenches and high berms running for miles, lined with bright lights to prevent jihadist infiltrators. The whole line is dotted with heavily sandbagged positions to protect against machine gun and mortar attacks by the jihadists.
The geo-ethnic divisions wracking Syria, Iraq, and Turkey today were largely drawn during World War I and the five or so years that followed it, so it’s interesting to see massive earthworks and trench networks like that war re-emerge a century later in the waging of this conflict.
Approximate front line of the southward push by Kurdish YPG forces against ISIS in eastern Syria, as of October 26, 2015. (Map via Wikimedia community.)
There’s one important fact to know in light of recent headlines about Russia’s Air Force bombing US-trained fighters in Syria, which I have pulled from the news from about two weeks ago…
Only four or five U.S-trained Syrian fighters remain on the battlefield against ISIS militants, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East acknowledged Wednesday in the face of withering criticism from senators who dismissed the training program as a “total failure” and demanded a change of strategy.
Gen. Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. is looking at better ways to deploy the Syrian forces, but he agreed that the U.S. will not reach its goal of training 5,000 in the near term.
Wall Street Journal:
If the Pentagon shifts course to focus on training small numbers of fighters, it would represent a reversal. The military has criticized the Central Intelligence Agency’s lackluster covert effort to train Syrian rebels as ineffective because it produced too few fighters.
When the Obama administration shifted the main training program to the Pentagon, the military sought to train 5,000 Syrian rebels by year’s end. But the program has been slow to get off the ground and the first group of 54 fighters to enter Syria this summer was quickly routed by rival fighters.
There’s a second important fact. Here’s the Wall Street Journal on the cost of the failed program:
Under one proposal being crafted at the Pentagon, the $500 million train-and-equip program—a core component of the U.S. Syria strategy—would be supplanted by a more modest effort focused on creating specially trained militants empowered to call in U.S. airstrikes, defense officials said.
But at least we had wasted it *before* the Russians bombed the last few guys. Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front took care of that.
A brief reflection on 14 years of continuous US misadventures in the Middle East North Africa region and the mainstream foreign policy community’s exclusion of alternative perspectives.
In its cross-partisan drive for a new style of foreign policy after the Cold War, the DC crowd seems to have converged upon the worst-of-all-possible-worlds solution to the world’s problems.
From the left, the military-internationalists without a balancing dose of any hardheaded, restraining realism. From the right, the neocons and literal “crusaders,” whose force-based adventurism is sure to end about as dismally as their medieval forerunners.
Both believe unlimited force applied everywhere can remake the world in their vision, yet the vision is as clouded by legacy alliances and enmities as any prior world power’s vision has been. They cannot even plausibly claim to have transcended the obvious immorality of the frequent pacts-with-devils made by Cold War realpolitik advocates.
Witness the negligible self-reflection on ill-conceived partnerships with Saudi Arabia’s regional wrecking-ball (or other similarly damaging alliances). Witness the beliefs in “good guys” and “bad guys” and meaningful change through isolation, bombardment, and speeches.
It is a foreign policy worldview as averse to compromises for the sake of reality as the members of Congress. Yet it already so pre-compromised and impure as to render the ideals behind it a hollow joke.