If you follow this space you know that I have often expressed my concerns over the absence of any apparent long term planning in our Middle East strategy. We seem to be playing a game of whack-a-mole, reacting to terrorist uprisings as they occur, without any real sense of what happens when the latest game ends. Yesterday a series of events occurred that, at least for me, provided a glimpse into what the Middle East will look like for the foreseeable future.
The beheadings of two American citizens by ISIS terrorist brought about a sea change in American public opinion. A nation that wanted no part of another protracted war suddenly demanded revenge for the brutal murders. I believe that the Obama administration succumbed to that public pressure and outlined a strategy that would appease the masses while holding fast to a pledge that now hangs like a millstone around his neck. In the process he has set the country on a failed course to repeat history. Americans want revenge. Are they ready for perpetual war? I fear that's where we are headed.
The administration spent the last 24 hours blowing smoke at anyone who will listen about the successful air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria and the “broad coalition of regional partners” that joined with American forces in the attacks. To its credit, the Obama administration WAS able to cobble together a coalition of five Middle East partners who DID participate at some level in the air strikes. Getting Middle Eastern nations to agree on anything is like herding cats. The administration is certainly entitled to trumpet that success. However the truth is that without American boots on the ground to provide real time intelligence we really don’t know how successful the attacks were. If the president keeps his promise of “no US combat troops on the ground" we may never fully understand with certainty conditions as they occur. I'm not advocating for a full on assault. I'm just questioning the talking parts of a successful mission. I'm not sure that we know what success in the Middle East looks like.
What we do know with certainty is that ISIS cannot be defeated without ground forces to take and hold territory. The administration says that those ground forces will be provided by a reconstituted Iraqi army, the “Free Syria army, and the newly trained and armed “moderate rebels” in the region. By all accounts it will take the better part of a year to whip these forces into fighting shape. The best that we can hope for in the interim is that these air strikes will hold ISIS at bay long enough for the training and arming to bear fruit.
Congress has authorized $500 million to arm and train the “moderate rebels.” The question is: Who are the moderate rebels? By all accounts there are over 100 splinter groups fighting in Syria today…ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, the Nusra Front and a host of other terrorist factions hell bent on killing Americans, among them. For the first time we are now hearing about a group called the Khorasan Group. This is a small organization of roughly 100 fighters that like ISIS, is a splinter group of al Qaeda. They are led by a 33 year old former bin Laden lieutenant who is said to be one of the trusted few who knew in advance about the 9/11 attacks. Khorasan’s stated mission is to recruit westerners to blow up airplanes. They are expert bomb makers. They have been developing and testing bombs made of materials that are unable to be detected by today’s security measures. US intelligence believed that Khorasan posed an eminent threat to national security; to the extent that suspected Khorasan command and control centers were targeted in Monday’s air strikes. We have yet to fully engage ISIS, “the most serious threat to the homeland that we have ever seen” and suddenly a new “eminent” threat, Khorasan, rears its head.
While the US and its new “partners” were blowing things up in yet another Middle Eastern country; some of our former “partners” were showing their true colors.
The US military threw out Saddam, secured Iraq, and set the stage for the democratic election of the Malaki government. Malaki promised to set aside sectarian differences and build a government that represented all the Iraqi people. But no sooner had US forces headed for home, Malaki scrubbed the plan. Instead of seeking compromise between Sunni and Shia factions he sought revenge. He removed the Sunni’s from his cabinet and drove them from leadership positions in the military. His actions turned a promising future sour. A vision of hope and compromise was replaced with anger and distrust. When ISIS stormed into Iraq the Iraqi army, consisting of primarily Sunni soldiers, threw down their arms and ran…their actions in no small part due to their hatred and distrust of the Malaki government. Many of the now ISIS military leaders are former Iraqi generals. The Obama administration is hopeful that the Iraqi army can be reconstituted under the new Iraqi government and form a key component in the ground war against ISIS. Hope springs eternal.
And then there is our old partner in Afghanistan: Hamid Karzai. The Karzai government was known more for its corruption and greed than anything else. For thirteen years Karzai lined his pockets with US billions while simultaneously criticizing the hand that fed him. Forced to resign by the very country that propped him up for over a decade; Karzai’s farewell address was vintage Karzai; expressing his bitterness at what he categorized as America’s betrayal of his country: “American did not want peace for Afghanistan because it had its own agendas and goals here.” He made no mention of the contributions made by the American people or US military forces; the 2,000 dead or the hundreds of billions spent. Instead he made it a point of thanking those countries that had given far less: ‘I want to thank those countries that genuinely supported us…Western countries have their own personal interest…Western countries and the United States have their own personal goals.” And he cautioned his successors to be wary of doing business with the US: “Both wise brothers should be very careful in maintaining their relationship with Western countries and the United States.”
I fear that our recent history in the Middle East portends what the future will bring. I hear all the talk of air strikes and partners but I hear nothing about what happens next. What happens after ISIS is defeated? What happens after the bombs stop falling? Who or what fills the power vacuum? The answers are Khorasan and Malaki and Karzai. Not them specifically but others just like them. Terrorist groups raised from birth to seek retribution for the carnage brought upon them by American bombs. Corrupt despots; loyal to their American benefactors for as long as their palms are greased.
For in the end we are not them. We are infidels…to be used as long as we are useful and then discarded. They want our help as long as we are helpful. And then they want us gone.
If you pose these questions to those in authority they will tell you “It’s complicated!”
It isn’t complicated at all. It’s clear for all to see. It’s all right there in the history books.