Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Let's not repeat Iraq with Syria and ISIS

Image result for jon c altmann
By Jon C. Altmann
On Friday, November 13, 2015, France experienced its 9/11.  It was part of a series of terror actions that spanned Beirut against Hammas and in Egypt against an airliner packed with Russian citizens.  In a matter of several days, ISIS, via its agents or associates, returned fire to any group or country that was putting pressure on it's land grab across Southwest Asia.

The opinion of several well-experienced and qualified military and political analysts is that ISIS may not exist today had the U.S. simply confined and tolerated Saddam Hussein.  President Barrack Obama ran on a platform that criticized President George Bush for the Iraqi War and opposed the idea of national building that a new, democratic Iraqi was supposed to become from that process.  ISIS has shown it will taken on other terror groups, like Hammas, has no problem going toe to toe with Iran and its military and is not afraid of Russia and its backing of Syria's Assad-led government.

Iraqi and most of the Middle East and Southwest Asia are the result of political planning by the British and French prior to the end of World War I. 

In a BBC article in 2013 by Tarek Osman ("Why Border lines drawn with a rules in WWI still rock the Middle East"), we are reminded that the French and British had drawn the Sykes-Picot line divided the region on a sectarian basis.  Newly created borders did not correspond to the actual sectarian, tribal or ethnic distinctions on the ground.  The lines proved significantly helpful to Britain and France post-WWI in their colonial efforts across the region (and in pursuit of black gold - oil), but the impact on the region's peoples was different.

Iraq for 400 years prior to WWI existed in three distinct semi-autonomous provinces within the Ottoman Empire.  Three distinctly different religious ethnic groups were predominate in the region - Shiite, Sunni and Kurd. (Scott Anderson. 2014. " The Disintegration of the Iraqi State Has Its Roots in World War I." Retrieved from the Smithsonian.com).

In a more micro view, Terrorism Research Initiative author/researcher Jesmeen Khan stated in his 2007 research piece that Iraq has an embedded tribal culture with 31 principle tribes, with tribes being Sunni, Shiite or Kurd.  The history of the tribal relationships is not congenial, in fact, has deep-seated hatreds.  The Ottomans kept a lid on the region with a heavy hand, much the way many years later Saddam Hussein did.

While the United States has long been a fairly successful melting pot of many cultures, Iraqi has been a boiling stew of deep-seated territorial bad feelings with mixes of religious/ethnic hatreds.

Any senior intelligence analyst looks not only at current information in developing a situational study of an area, but also the geography, culture and history.  Saddam Hussein was, in great part, keeping the Iranians busy just by his existence.  While he gets no awards for being the kind dictator, he also proved to be devoid of weapons of mass destruction and any real long-term military ability when put up against modern first world militaries like the U.S., Britain, France or even Russia.

ISIS today draws its fighters from the most radicals believers of a faith, spins its own interpretations and is not afraid of death because it sees death as opening the door to a heavenly reward.  American, NATO and Russia warriors fight to win, but they don't do so in an effort to kill all of themselves.  They still like the concept that the winner is someone who has more folks left at the end of the war.

President Obama's approach to dislodge Assad and bring some form of locally generated democracy to Syria is as much of a pipe dream as nation building in Iraq has turned out to be.  The idea foisted by presidential hopefuls that a no-fly zone can be created over Syria to save certain populations from barrel bombing of civilian areas is now a dead issue.  The day the Russians deployed its air combat forces to Syria changed all that.  They now have ownership of that piece of sky.

Russia's interests in Syria date back to the cold war days when Russia leased its Tartus, Syria port base on the Mediterranean Sea when Russia commenced as Syria's principle arms supplier.  Under Vladamir Putin, who is really a Soviet Style KBG guy at heart, Russia has been working to restake its prominence on the international scene.

The mixture of Russian and French forces now entering the battlespace around Syria brings combat elements who may not care as much about "collateral" damage as the U.S. and some other NATO countries may in bombing campaigns.  The Russians just lost a lot of comrades and Putin was direct in his nation's position in a TV broadcast this week: “We will find them anywhere on the planet and punish them.”  If Russian munitions are not as precise as American smart bombs, it will not keep Putin up at nights if a city block was destroyed versus one building full of ISIS fighters.

The current American leadership has shown restraint to the point military rules of engagement go to great lengths to limit air attacks when hostiles are close to non-combatants.  However, in the Russian view, if you live near ISIS now, you are living in the wrong neighborhood and urban renewal is needed.  The French may commence restrained, but they have not had this great of loss of life in their homeland since World War II, and that was real personal for them.

The efforts made by good military members not only from the U.S., but other free world nations were good faith towards Iraqis, but the Iraqis did not adhere to what we had to say and President Obama was not of the mind to put up an argument when the Iraqi's wanted us out.  Military air strikes alone will not take out a ground enemy and it will be near impossible to eliminate 400 years of hatred that has brewed in the region.  Lessons of the Cold War era taught us that seeding our message across the airwaves put doubt in the citizens of communist countries.  Sadly, we are not doing are best to be information dominate to reach the younger minds across the Middle East and Southwest Asia.  We are a nation that has had many a great ad campaign, but we have failed to employ that great skill to turn around the hords of lost members of many tribes who believe Jihaad is the best stimulant around.  We wage air campaigns without declarations of war and as such, not a clear statement of the end game goal.

Philosophical approaches fail if they do not have a forceful approach to underscore the philosophy.  Making the "soft sell" by dropping some pinpoint munitions here and there don't close the deal, either.  An angry France, perhaps followed by another angry NATO member may invoke Article 5 of the NATO charter that says an attack against one or more member of NATO shall be considered an attack against all of them would mean its time for the U.S. and others to live up to their promises.  I believe that Russian and French leaders are not crazy, but I also recognize both have nuclear capabilities and a small yield nuclear bomb could easily turn a chunk of ISIS real estate into glass and greatly attrite ISIS forces and supporters in short order.

After World War I, Britain and France made a future mess of the neighborhood, then came the U.S. in 2003 and so far history is showing us our political urban renewal did not work out any better.  There is not enough of the so-called Free Syrian Army to do the job and aside from the Kurds, who have proven they are driven, dedicated warriors, no one else in the region knows how to win a war nor keep a peace.

We need to make some smarter more decisive steps.  We need to use technology, plus military brut strength to defeat ISIS, and do so realizing the culture and make-up of those running to serve ISIS.  This is not a group of folks who has thought out long-term relations among a diverse fighting force.   Not all solutions require boots on the ground nor air strikes, but the current approach is not working all that well nor fast enough.  We deserve a better solution and are capable of much more.  "Much more" requires leadership in style that beckons more the example of Teddy Roosevelt over Woodrow Wilson.


Jon C. Altmann served in senior enlisted leadership positions in the Navy intelligence/information dominance community, including intelligence work with special warfare units.  He has been a public safety consultant and past executive in emergency health care/rescue systems, both in public and private sectors.  He serves in national leadership in a veterans organization and sits on both Federal and local commissions/committees serving the needs of veterans, military members and their families.  Comments and opinions expressed by Jon C. Altmann are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of any government organization or the U.S. Navy, or any of the organizations he volunteers his time in helping others.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated, and will appear after approval..Anonymous comments will not be approved.