Sunday, August 10, 2014

Landmarks in strategeric thinking

Any doubts about the return of the US warplanes to Iraq in the defense of Erbil (and its US consulate) against the troops of the self-denominated Caliph of not-Baghdad ought to be resolved by the speed with which those doughty senators, McCain and Graham, came out to condemn it on Thursday:
"We need a strategic approach, not just a humanitarian one....
"It should include U.S. air strikes against ISIS leaders, forces, and positions both in Iraq and Syria. It should include support to Sunni Iraqis who seek to resist ISIS. And none of this should be contingent on the formation of a new government in Baghdad." 
If by "strategic" you mean an approach that violates every principle of strategy or strategery, then no doubt.

By other criteria, strategic is what the Obama administration is doing, as a coolly reasoned examination by Professor Cole shows: it's not just to protect the consulate and prevent a "Benghazi", but
The US is intervening for political as well as military reasons. Washington says that more such military aid may be forthcoming if Iraq will form a government of national unity. So basically, Obama is putting pressure on President Fuad Massoum to pick a prime minister other than Nouri al-Maliki and form a government asap. Likewise, Washington wants the Kurds to remain within a Federal Iraqi framework rather than declaring independence, and seems to be bombing IS positions for the Kurds in order to extract a promise from Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani that he will stay in Iraq.
Or rather providing cover for the US to continue refusing to intervene when Massoum fails to work out a government of national unity, since he certainly will fail, and keeping Kurdistan nominally in Iraq all the same. The other thing is that the Peshmerga are the only force in Iraq (as opposed to Turkey or Iran) capable of inflicting damage on the army of the self-denominated Caliphate, and inflicting damage on the Caliphate (which itself controls only about 8,000 committed fighters) is encouraging its nervous and not very willing allies, Sunni but not that Sunni, to abandon it, as Cole says the Sufi Naqshbandi are now doing (while the Baath Party is denying it has any connection with the Islamic State).

Because the way to defeat the Islamic State is not to defeat it but to break it up.

Also, American air power didn't just feed or attempt to feed the desperate Yazidi trapped on Sinjar Mountain; the strikes opened up the road for Peshmerga troops to rescue them, in operations that are now ongoing, not merely humanitarian but also strategic in the development of another front of interethnic tolerance.

In this connection I was very reassured by a couple of things Obama said in his interview with Thomas P. Friedman, better known as Thomas L. Friedman, the Mystax Mysterii of the Times.

In particular, he recognizes quite clearly that there can't be a "victory" in Iraq and Syria unless it doesn't involve US troops:
The fact is, said the president, in Iraq a residual U.S. troop presence would never have been needed had the Shiite majority there not “squandered an opportunity” to share power with Sunnis and Kurds. “Had the Shia majority seized the opportunity to reach out to the Sunnis and the Kurds in a more effective way, [and not] passed legislation like de-Baathification,” no outside troops would have been necessary. Absent their will to do that, our troops sooner or later would have been caught in the crossfire, he argued.
And he has a willingness to learn from mistakes (though he can't quite bring himself to call them mistakes) unlike anything I've ever seen in a national-level politician: from
“...our participation in the coalition that overthrew Qaddafi in Libya. I absolutely believed that it was the right thing to do. ... Had we not intervened, it’s likely that Libya would be Syria. ... And so there would be more death, more disruption, more destruction. But what is also true is that I think we [and] our European partners underestimated the need to come in full force if you’re going to do this. Then it’s the day after Qaddafi is gone, when everybody is feeling good and everybody is holding up posters saying, ‘Thank you, America.’ At that moment, there has to be a much more aggressive effort to rebuild societies that didn’t have any civic traditions. ... So that’s a lesson that I now apply every time I ask the question, ‘Should we intervene, militarily? Do we have an answer [for] the day after?’ ”
Though it may not be getting him to the best conclusions (I'd like to think perhaps he can contemplate the helpfulness of a "much more aggressive effort to rebuild societies" only because he knows there was never going to be such an effort from the NATO allies or the US itself, or at least had something more peaceful in mind than it sounds like).

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.


aimai said...

Do we have an answer for the day after? What a refreshing question for a President to ask before bombing or invading. Alas that I don't think it will be asked again by whoever takes his place in 2016.

Victor said...

What I'd like to see, is the Saudi's, and other Middle East countries, take the lead on this - whether is planes, or troops.

It's THEIR neighborhood.

We've done enough damage since WWI over there.

Let THEM police it themselves.

We send the countries there plenty of money and arms.

Let THEM take the lead on this, and we'll continue to support them with money and