Christian test for refugees aids ISIS. Ground war in Syria could be a worse hornet’s nest than Iraq.
The attacks in Paris have the potential to be game changers. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls exclaimed, “nous sommes en guerre” (we are at war), and President Hollande told the world that “France will destroy IS.” President Obama announced that the U.S. stands together with France, and Secretary of State John Kerry announced meetings with his French counterpart to determine exactly what form the response will take. Talks of war are in the air, and it has been seized upon by many of the Republican hopefuls, and some Democrats have lent their voice to the jingoist chants. Whichever path of response that we choose, we would do well to make sure that we don’t repeat the disastrous invade-first and think-about-what-happens-next-later mode that produced the Iraqi mess and the resultant ISIS conundrum.
ISIS has been successful in recruiting Western Muslims, in part, by framing it as a war between Islam and Christian Crusaders–a reminder of the humiliation, plundering, and rape that accompanied the Crusader’s conquering march to the holy land. Meanwhile, candidate Donald Trump, whose ten hour reading about the region has, he claims, given him a greater understanding of it than some generals, now tells us he would “strongly consider” shutting down Muslim mosques in America. Candidate Ted Cruz wants us to apply a religious test and only admit Christian Syrian refugees. Jeb Bush seems to agree with him. Dr. Ben Carson wants to disqualify any Muslim from ever running for president. It is ironic that the very candidates who call for a Christian religious test for Syrian refugees, urge getting our Muslim allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and the Emirate states. I wonder how they can believe that those Muslim regimes and their own populations will respond to their Christian/anti-Islamic rhetoric? Following the Paris attacks, The National Memo asserted that: “Every imbecile who threatens Muslims is an unwitting agent of ISIS; in fact it would be unsurprising to learn that ISIS itself is covertly promoting such messages in order to intensify enmity between the peoples of the Quran and the rest of the world.”
Candidates are falling all over themselves in their jingoism as they attempt to use the Paris disaster as a partisan wedge. Despite all of this talk, rational policy alternatives may be very few. An all-out ground war against ISIS in Syria is fraught with endless obstacles.
What is the current state of affairs in Syria, the home base of ISIS, and what would we face on day 1 after a ground invasion there?
Astonishingly, we didn’t make that calculation before going into Iraq to overthrow Sadaam Hussein, leaving an unsolvable sectarian conflict in its wake. The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld war was marked left a non-inclusive Shia government in place, with a largely Shia manned armed force that rapidly folded in the face of ISIS advances–this despite having had years of training by our military and an overwhelming preponderance of manpower and weaponry. Moderate Sunni’s have not been empowered by the Shia regime to the detriment of efforts to defeat ISIS.
Syria presents us not only with a more divided sectarian quagmire than Iraq, but competing major power involvement, thus far largely in the form of air strikes.
The following map shows areas of sectarian control as well as recent air strikes by Russia, who is fighting in support of the Syrian government of Bashar al Assad, and the U.S. led coalition, targeting ISIS. BBC reports that the U.S. coalition, in a bit over a year, has made more than 4500 air strikes on ISIS in Iraq and 2700 on ISIS targets in Syria. Russian bombing numbers are less certain. As the map below shows, U.S. led air strikes have focused on targets near Syria’s borders. Russia has concentrated their attacks on rebel areas in the northwest, including points of ground action between anti-government forces and Assad’s regime forces north of Damascus, much more than ISIS targets.
The Kurdish controlled areas are largely in the northwest, and border Turkey, who has opposed our heavily arming Kurds in Syria. Turkey is a N.A.T.O. ally with long-running tensions with their own Kurdish populations, some of whom, such as the PDK/Bakur and the PSK, have often embraced terrorist acts against Turkey in support of an independent Kurdistan. Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia terrorist group has moved into Syria, from a point close to Quneitra near the Golan Heights–thereby increasing tensions with Israel–on through a wide swatch to the north and west of Damascus. This enables the defense of Damascus, while it supports regime dominance over Syria’s Mediterranean coastline, just North of Lebanon. Notice also the pockets of Al Nusra Front control in the northwest. Al Nusra is part of the anti-Assad forces in Syria, but it should never be forgotten that they, themselves, are jihadist Sunni Islamists. Virtually every non-ISIS group in Syria has as their primary interest either attacking or defending Assad’s regime. It’s why our 500 million dollar effort to form an anti-Assad force within Syria, committed to fighting ISIS, while avoiding the civil war, has failed so miserably. Syria is a hornet’s nest and we haven’t even begun to discuss ISIS’s land mine carpeting of areas surrounding the cities they control. Ground action would also run the risk of confronting Russia or their Shia allies. Anyone who simplifies the task of putting an invasion ground force in Syria to destroy ISIS, merely demonstrates their ignorance of the region.