A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, October 24, 2014

What, if Anything, is the US Strategy in Syria? Is There One?

This report notes the US is moving ahead with the idea of creating a new Syrian resistance movement from the ground up to fight ISIS. This has been discussed for couple of weeks now, and the decision seems to have been to address the problem of a fragmented, factionalized opposition by creating yet another faction. We're being warned it will take 18 months or more.

Meanwhile, in case no one noticed, just as we were stepping up air strikes in Syria, so was the Asad regime, reportedly striking 210 targets in just 36 hours, suggesting a sortie rate many would have thought the Syrian Air Force incapable of achieving. That probably includes barrel-bombs dropped from helicopters. But of course, many of the targets are Free Syrian Army targets, not ISIS, and it may be that while the world is preoccupied with ISIS, the Asad regime is doing its best to crush the rest of its opponents before the US can arm and train them (though we seem intent on creating a new force).

And the regime continues to portray itself as a de facto ally against ISIS: after those recent reports that ISIS had three operable combat aircraft, and the US said it was unaware of them, the regime announced that it had destroyed two of the ISIS aircraft in a raid. As I had noted last month, the Syrian regime has already been claiming that it is on the side of the anti-ISIS coalition and hinting at coordination.

I don't think the US is cooperating with Asad, though I know serious analysts like Graham Fuller have urged it to do so; I tend to agree with other analysts such as Ambassador Robert Ford and Michael Young, that anything that strengthens Asad will backfire.

The problem is, I'm unclear what exactly the overall strategy is. It's not unusual to see US Middle Eastern strategy driven by myths, misconceptions, and a blindness to historical experience of the countries involved. See Vietnam, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq again (and now again). Despite Colin Powell's famous "Pottery Barn Rule": 'If you break it, you've bought it' (which Poetry Barn denied is its policy), we have a large responsibility for breaking Iraq. It was always a fragile construct, but from 1919 or so until now, a period a little short of a century, it somehow held together as a country. No more. Mideast policies have tended to be reactive, knee-jerk responses to unforeseen (though often foreseeable crises. In Syria we are fighting ISIS and claim to be opposed to Asad, but instead of strengthening the FSA we are talking about creating a new faction of our own, which prompted the estimable Rami Khouri to characterize it as "New hare-brained American ideas in the Mideast." 

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/81z%2B9u8sVwL._SL1500_.jpgForgive one of my rare uses of NSFW language in suggesting that the patch at right may prove to be an appropriate characterization of too much recent and current policy in the region. Once again.


Dave Kay said...

The US strategy is crystal clear. Arm the moderates and establish Jeffersonian democracy.

Right now the Syria Survey Group --comprised of veterans from the Iraq Survey Group--are looking for the moderates.

B. Ritter said...

The SSG today announced the finding of two moderates.

Sadly, from the days of Shukri Quwatli so not fit for fighting but they will make splendid members of the new moderate government.

W. Blitzer said...

A BND source confirmed this evening German time that the Syrian Regime had rounded up moderates and was transporting them around the country in mobile moderate labs.

Glen Campbell a Scots researched claims to have identified a mysterious transport vehicle near the Euphrates River in Syria in a Google Earth map, which he is pretty confident is one of the MMLs.

No confirmation yet from the SSG.

Anonymous said...

Former US Senator Rick Santorum hailed the SSG's discovery of a copy of Montesquieu's Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in Raqqa as conclusive proof of the existence of moderates in Syria. And called for an immediate air drop of military supplies.

S. Kuwatli said...

SSG Director David Kay announced his resignation today to a shocked press corps after determining that President Al Assad was more moderate than 96% of opposition fighters.