The Syria Problem and Hillary Clinton

via Foreign Policy – Michèle Flournoy, the consensus pick to be Defense Secretary should Hillary Clinton win the White House in November, said she’s open to using the U.S. military to push Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Center for a New American Security on Monday, the think tank Flournoy helped found and currently helms as chief executive officer, Flournoy said “limited military coercion” might be necessary to drive Assad out. She helped author a report with fellow CNAS staffers earlier this month that recommends widening American goals in the Syrian war, including “arming and training local groups that are acceptable to the United States regardless of whether they are fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or ISIS.” Currently, Syrian rebels must pledge to only fight ISIS in exchange for U.S. support.

While the media focuses on terrible campaign slogans and “who burned who” on Twitter, there are actual issues playing out in the world. We all know about ISIS and the horrors that come with that  organization, but have no ability to appreciate the magnitude of war and terror that everyday Syrians are facing.

To say Syria is currently mired in a Civil War is an understatement. The country is now ground zero for the following:

  • A takeover of a third of the country by ISIS
  • A Civil War between the Assad Administration + Hezbollah and a multi-faction rebellion group that includes the al-Nursa Front (the Syrian al-Qaeda branch)
  • Open revolt by ethic Kurd forces (many coming to Syria via Turkey)
  • A proxy war between Russia / Iran and Coalition Forces (led by the US)
  • Other fringe militias attacking indiscriminately

To get a real sense of what’s happening in the country, take a moment to inspect this live map of current battles and attacks.

This conflict, which has been in full swing since 2011, has seen the lines of battle drawn and redrawn hundreds of times with many rebel groups constantly pledging allegiance to whomever appears to be winning in their area. Even the US has been duped by these organizations countless times making this statement:

Currently, Syrian rebels must pledge to only fight ISIS in exchange for U.S. support.

one of the most moronic ever uttered by foreign policy experts. “Moderate Rebels,” as described by Senator John McCain, would be the ones getting equipped. It must have been a real shock that these “moderates” said what needed to be said to get guns, ammo, and heavy weapons from either the Department of Defense or the CIA (though these two groups are not coordinating) only to switch to ISIS or whichever faction suits their needs.

However, all of these minor details pale in comparison to absurdity of the plan Ms. Flournoy has concocted. Rather than half-heartily support the groups that may or may not be fighting ISIS, the full US Military should be used to remove the Assad Administration from power. Do the Russians want that? No. Does Hezbollah want that? No. Does Iran want that? No. Does a percentage of the Syrian population want that? No.

Yes, Assad has committed heinous acts against the dissidents in Syria. He’s dropped barrel bombs and used chemical weapons, both war crimes. But, and this is important, what is the right order of operations in Syria? Is the Assad Administration making statements about blowing up American malls and restaurants? They aren’t. Has ISIS? They have and already have inspired two attacks in this country.

ISIS should be the priority. As sick as that may make some people in the Government, right now may not be the time to remove Assad from power. Why not crush ISIS and then use diplomacy to remove Assad? Why not give him a billion dollars and let him go live in Iran or Russia? That may seem insane, but it would be far cheaper, save lives, and accomplish the same goals.

The Obama Administration has had a terribly unfocused strategy in Syria. Russia is eating the US’ lunch and racking up weapons orders from other countries who have been impressed with the capabilities of Russia’s next generation weapons. Yet despite how terribly things have gone in Syria, the Clinton Administration would only make things worse.

How well did it work when we removed Saddam from power by force?

How well did it work when we orchestrated the removal of Gaddafi?

This country has two clear examples of what not to do sitting in front of us. Maybe it is time to try a new approach. Maybe in the short-term the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t.

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Understanding Syria

The conflict in Syria is spawned one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent memory.  Millions of both pro and anti Assad refugees are fleeing the war torn region for the greener pastures of Europe.  Assad’s administration is waging open war on several fronts, but to truly understand the conflict, it is important to understand the players, who roughly break down into the following groups:

  • Pro-Assad militias and the Syrian Armed forces
  • Anti-Assad militias (broken into multiple factions), but supported by the Coalition forces
  • The Russian and Iranian Armed Forces

Assad’s forces are now being openly supported by the Russian Armed Forces, a new development in the conflict.  With Russian bombers hitting both ISIS and Anti-Assad groups, the mixture of tensions has begun to escalate.  Further, Russian President Putin has indicated that he is sending 150,000 troops into Syria to support Assad’s ground forces.

This change flies directly in the face of the US-led Coalition’s approach in Syria – one that has sought to train “moderate” rebel groups and provide bombing support when needed.  Several analysts have noted that the US-led strategy has been to funnel ISIS toward Assad’s forces.  This means bombing ISIS when they are too close to Anti-Assad militias, but avoiding direct conflict with ISIS when the group is engaged with the Syrian military.

Senator John McCain is not afraid to hide the intentions of the US-led Coalition: collapse of the Assad Government before the removal of ISIS.  This approach would ensure a new Government could be picked that would be more open to playing ball with Western powers.  This also allows for a “2 birds with 1 stone” victory.  Removal of a labelled Dictator and removal of a terrorist organization.

On paper, Senator McCain loves this approach, but Russia’s new involvement will alter the US-led strategy quite a bit.

Most importantly, a link must be discovered to the age old driver of these conflicts: energy.  Early signs point to the proposed Qatari  gas pipelines to Europe which would reduce reliance on Russian gas.  Assad, a Russian supporter, just happens to be at the crossroad of these conflicts for power.


Middle-East-map” by W123Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.

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