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The Iraq-Syria Two Step

By Arshad M Khan

19 September, 2014

Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat ... Sun Tzu

Not only does the Obama administration ignore Sun Tzu's age old warning, it wants war on the cheap, providing air support while locals do the fighting, hoping also that it weakens possible adversaries. It wants war without significant troop involvement (and casualties), at least until it leaves office and hands over the problem to its successor -- a problem, by the way, of its own making. A look at the disastrous policy making in the area covering not just this administration but several others is in order.

Three decades ago, this country was aiding Saddam Hussein in Iraq's war against the then new fundamentalist regime of the Ayatollahs in Shia Iran. At the time, Iraq's government was secular with a Christian prime minister. US help blunted a final Iranian offensive resulting in a stalemate and the end of the war. Thereafter, lacking clear signals from the US, the uncontrollable Saddam was off his leash.

US failure to clarify its position led to his Kuwait adventure, and subsequently to the first US-Iraq war. Saddam's defeat, however, was followed not by Saddam's removal but by more suffering for the Iraqi people through economic sanctions. One result was the death of a half-million children for lack of medicines and other necessities.

It did not stop there. In the wake of 9/11 came Bush II's mega-dollar war based on false claims. Iraq was occupied, and the fateful and disastrous decisions following (de-Ba'athification, the disbandment of the old Iraqi army and political sectarianism) led to what has become essentially a Shiite regime and a Shiite army hounding Sunnis. That some Sunni force would emerge was inevitable; that it came from Syrian rebels assisted indirectly by the US is not only tragic and ironic but also the result of a continuing deeply flawed policy targeting secular regimes. We are now back in Iraq fighting fundamentalist Sunni forces in the form of ISIS the so-called Islamic State.

US policy in Iraq has been a succession of failures: first the failure to impress on Saddam the unacceptability of a Kuwait invasion; then, after the first war became inevitable, the failure to remove Saddam and continue a secular regime under another leader; and the appalling failure after the second war to maintain a secular regime (like the Ba'ath Party which kept fundamentalists in check). The first would have prevented two expensive wars; the last the necessity for the present one. The lessons have still not been learned for the US continues its effort to oust a secular government in Syria.

The latest Iraq intervention, namely, the plan to fight ISIS, is irrealizable both operationally and strategically. On an operational level, it relies on arming and training the moderate almost non-existent Syrian rebels of the Free Syrian Army. One need only consider the time, training and money spent training the Iraqi army and its abysmal performance against ISIS to assess the chances of success. Moreover, the Free Syrian Army smashed repeatedly by ISIS signed a non-aggression pact, and, so far, have declined to join Obama's effort.

Strategically the situation is almost farcical: Fighting ISIS in Iraq, the US is placed on the same side as Iran and its Shia sphere of influence, i.e. the Iraqi Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, the Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad. In Syria, from where ISIS originates and is the strongest rebel group fighting the Assad regime, the US is on the opposite side, i.e. against the Assad regime and its supporters (who happen to be the same Iran, Hezbollah, and the Shia government in Baghdad).

Thus the policy upends itself with the invisible wall of the Syria-Iraq border. About the only consistency for the Democrats recalls the so-called invisible wall, between commercial and investment banking, for which the Democrats traded the real wall of Glass-Steagall. The financial disaster was not long in coming.

There are over a billion Sunnis to about a 100 million Shia in the Muslim world who, until recent fundamentalism took hold, lived fairly peaceably together, or in their own countries -- principally Iran for the Shia, and the rest of the Muslim world for Sunnis.

In a recent Vice Media documentary many in the Sunni population under ISIS control in Iraq actually favored ISIS rule over what they characterized as Baghdad's Shiite Army. It is not unlikely then that US actions will anger the Sunnis in Iraq and elsewhere. Concurrently, arming Syrian rebels against the Shia-backed Assad regime, will inflame the Shia. Piling on sectarian hatred raises the danger level for the US in an already steaming Muslim world that blames it for Israel's recent pointless Gaza invasion killing over 2000 -- pointless because Israel in the end was forced to accede to Hamas' demands for easing some of the border controls imprisoning Gazans -- and even more for the lack of sympathy for the victims, two-thirds civilian and mostly children, women and old men.

Meanwhile, the Iraq-Syria two-step is being lauded by the same Washington pundits who brought us the multi-trillion dollar wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, their civilian misery, and their Islamic fundamentalist consequences, as well as the chaos in Libya and its aftermath ... a fundamentalist resurgence in Central and West Africa.

The author is an occasional commentator and can be reached through ofthisandthat.org



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