The president has added ground forces to the battle in Iraq and the military has suggested introducing thousands more. His officials reportedly have decided to focus on overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the name of fighting the Islamic State.
The U.S. has been back at war in the Middle East for more than two months. The results?
The administration’s vast coalition of 60 nations is mostly a PR stunt. The Arab states have done little in the air and nothing afoot. Most flagrantly AWOL is Turkey.
Nor has the administration’s scattershot bombing campaign had much effect. By one count U.S. strikes have killed 464 Islamic State personnel. However, the estimated number of ISIL fighters trebled to as many as 30,000 just a couple weeks into Obama’s war.
Moderate Syrian rebels favored by the administration have been routed in that country’s north. Many fighters defected or fled while abandoning their heavy weapons provided by Washington.
The Free Syrian Army, the biggest Western-oriented insurgent group, also is losing fighters, largely to al-Nusra. Yet, explained former U.S. ambassador Robert Ford: some Syrians “are burning American flags because they think we are helping the regime instead of helping them.” Residents of Raqaa, the ISIL stronghold bombed by American forces, blame Washington for higher food and fuel prices.
Iraq’s Shiite majority has formed a new government—handing the Interior Ministry to a hardline Shia faction responsible for past atrocities against Sunni civilians. Moreover, last week reports emerged that the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front agreed to stop battling each other and even to fight together.
Through everything the Islamic State is unbowed, as Washington makes ever more enemies by intervening yet again in someone else’s quarrel.
The president already has doubled U.S. boots on the ground, sending in another 1500 advisers to Iraq. Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated in September that as many as 15,000 U.S. troops might be needed to retake Iraqi and Syrian territory seized by ISIL. Last week he said that the administration was considering sending American personnel to cooperate with Iraqi troops in the battle for Mosul and to guard that nation’s border.
Equally foolish, administration officials reportedly want to shift their focus to wrecking the most competent military force opposing ISIL: the Syrian army. Focusing on Damascus would be twice stupid.
First, it would mean essentially doubling down on the policy of supporting the weakest faction in Syria, whose members have been defecting to the radicals. Second, it would entail targeting what today is the strongest force resisting the Islamic State. Then U.S.-supported insurgents would weaken the Assad regime, making a ISIL/al-Nusra victory more likely.
Like a second marriage, Washington’s latest Middle Eastern excursion represents the triumph of hope over experience. It is hard to point to a military intervention or other form of meddling which has worked well. As I point out on Forbes online, “Virtually every U.S. action has resulted in a worse reaction, including by al-Qaeda and now the Islamic State—the latter but one of many ill consequences of the Iraq invasion.”
Despite this extraordinary record, the administration would have us believe that it can simultaneously destroy ISIL, rid Iraq of sectarianism, replace Bashar al-Assad with a Syrian Thomas Jefferson, contain Iranian influence, and convince a gaggle of hostile Middle Eastern states to work together to further America’s ends. All we need to do apparently is put more ground forces into Iraq and better target Assad.
President Obama and others in Washington should learn from past mistakes, which are almost too many to be numbered. The most serious may be the belief that the U.S. can “fix” the Middle East. America can’t. It’s time to give up trying to do so.