THE AMERICAN 'FLIP-FLOP' IN SYRIA: A COMMENT
"Washington is sending special operations forces to Syria, in a policy shift that marks the first deployment of US forces in the war-torn country. President Barack Obama agreed to send a small force — no more than 50 troops — to northern Syria to bolster rebel forces who are fighting both Isis and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. The US troops will help co-ordinate fighters on the ground in northern Syria to counter the jihadis. The White House stressed that the forces would not serve in a combat role. But even a limited training role represents a policy change for Mr Obama who has repeatedly said the US would not put boots on the ground in Syria. It also marks a change in the strategy to combat Isis and raises the stakes between Washington and Moscow in their attempts to influence the outcome of the war. Rebel groups in northern Syria have borne the brunt of Moscow’s bombing campaign, aimed at shoring up the Assad government."FT Reporters, "US to put special forces on the ground in Syria". The Financial Times. 30 October 2015, in www.ft.com
The earlier episodes are reassuring when contemplating ISIS today. They show that revolutions pose serious dangers only when they involve great powers, since only great powers have proved capable of spreading their revolutionary principles. ISIS will never come close to being a great power, and although it has attracted some sympathizers abroad, just as earlier revolutions did, its ideology is too parochial and its power too limited to spark similar takeovers outside Iraq and Syria.2. Stephen Walt, "ISIS as Revolutionary State". Foreign Affairs. (November / December 2015), in www.foreignaffairs.com. "Nothing more clearly exposes Washington’s lack of strategic thinking than the US slide into Syria. Until last week President Barack Obama was adamant no American boots would set foot on Syrian soil. Now he has opened a crack in the door with the deployment of 50 US special forces. It is unlikely to stop there. Mr Obama has repeatedly been blindsided by the actions of others in Syria, most notably Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president. Reactive crisis management is a recipe for mission creep. Unless Mr Obama can seize the initiative, the US may be sucked into a war it cannot win. There is no substitute for a strategy. Until now, Mr Obama’s Syria policy has been driven by a lawyer’s mindset, taking each turn of events on a case-by-case basis. The problem with lawyers is that they sometimes miss the big picture. Two years ago Mr Obama set a red line on Syria’s use of chemical weapons that he failed to enforce after it was breached. The impact of his prevarication continues to influence the actions of others from Moscow to Riyadh. Mr Obama’s bluff was called and he wobbled. It is hard to overstate how much damage that did to America’s reputation." 1. Edward Luce, "Obama’s mission creep in Syria". The Financial Times. 2nd November 2015, in www.ft.com While I do not agree with the Financial Times Washington correspondent Edward Luce very often the present is one case in which I do so. As he cogently notes in a piece in the FT yesterday, a very bad combination of incoherence and 'mission-creep' seems to be the modus operandi of the American Administration policies in Syria. If indeed the mot 'policies' is the word that one may employ to describe such. Which is not to gainsay the idea that it is (I believe) an imperative to defeat the radical Islamists of ISIS before it is given time to establish itself and further radiate its hated policies. The question merely is what is the very best means of achieving this objective? I for one would say that at the very least, the Americans and their allies both in and out of the Near & Middle East, should drop, definitively and immediately the goal of ousting the Assad Regime. Which is not to say that anyone has any love or admiration for Assad Fils and his clique as such. Merely that given what we know of the currents of this region, especially in the past few years, the fall of the Assad Regime is hardly guaranteed to resolve or even to help to resolve the manifold dilemmas facing the poor people of Syria. With the exception of the Kurds, none of the opposition who are in any way or manner effective can be said to be either non-sectarian or even vaguely pro-Western. Most are Sunni fanatics, little better au fond than ISIS itself. What the American Administration needs to do, with or without any tie-up with Moskva or its Persian allies, is to ascertain: does it wish to defeat ISIS or not? Does it wish to oust Assad, et. al., or not. Currently, the American Administration seems to wish to accomplish both goals, without however any means of doing so. Per contra to Stephen Walt's thesis, I adhere to the idea that ISIS is a mortal danger to the West and its allies in the region. By no stretch of the imagination can Assad Fils and company be said to be in the same class. Not by a long-shot. Accordingly, the American Administration needs to focus on destroying ISIS. If this does not require the employment of American ground forces: splendid. If it does, then let us then employ them in a massive, swift and sharp attack. What seems to be the description of a failed strategy is to tip a toe of forces into this conflict and then when nothing occurs, dip another toe. That is the Vietnam-like 'mission creep' revidivus that is best avoided at all costs.