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Beyond Paris: Still No Clear Strategy For Dealing with ISIL, Syria

Posted by Anthony H. Cordesman on


 Anthony Cordesman

Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is simply one of the sharpest minds dealing with American national security. When he says the Obama administration hasn’t done enough to counter ISIL, or Daesh as we prefer to call them now, it’s worth noting. Read on to see what the White House and Pentagon should be doing. The Editor.

It is time to look beyond the tragedy of Paris and the immediate threat of terrorism, and take a hard look at the lack of any meaningful public strategy for the broader fight in Iraq and Syria, and any meaningful measures of progress and effectiveness.

So far, President Obama and the administration have implied that there has been far more progress in defeating ISIL than has occurred, and have only addressed the broadest trends in the current fight against ISIL. They have not provided a clear picture of the real world lack of progress in creating effective local forces on the ground, of how effective coalition airpower has been and could be in the future, or of the massive problems the United States had encountered by relying on Iraqi government and Arab rebel forces.

The president has not indicated how and when a liberation of ISIL-occupied areas could actually take place, or give any hint as to how the United States planned to ensure successful recovery and reintegration of these areas in Iraq and Syria.

More broadly, the President has only addressed something like a third of the full range of issues a truly workable U.S. strategy must address. He has not addressed broader sectarian and ethnic divisions in Syria and Iraq that have led to civil war or near civil war – Sunni versus Shi’ite/Alawite and Arab versus Kurd. He did not address the fact it was their status as failed states in terms of politics, governance, economics, and dealing with population pressures that created the situation ISIL exploited.

More broadly, the President and the Administration have not seriously addressed:

  • The problems in bringing some form of stability or security to either Iraq or Syria —much less both.
  • The role of the Hezbollah or Iran, problems with Turkey, the different goals of Arab states, or the tensions between Arab and Kurd.
  • The problems raised in rebuilding a Syria with more than half its population as refugees or internally displaced persons.
  • How to resolve the fact that the main war in Syria is between the Assad forces and Arab rebels and not with ISIL.
  • The fact many Syrian Arab rebels are part of other Islamist extremist forces like the Al Nusra Front.
  • The deep divisions in Iraq, its weak governance, the growing role of Iran.
  • The problems created by Shi’ite militias.
  • The fact the expansion of Kurdish controlled areas leaves a legacy of future tension or conflict with the Arabs.
  • The problems raised by the limits to Iraq’s oil wealth and its inability to properly support its people or develop its economy.
  • Iraq’s need to make major changes in its security forces, governance, economic, and politics to achieve security and stability.

Clashes with Russia that make it even more unlikely that there can be any international accord on Syria, and have made it even more clear than ever that the United States lacks any clear strategy for the wars it is fighting in Iraq and Syria. They have served as a warning that fighting Islamic extremism means dealing with both its causes and the overall mix of such movements and not just ISIL. They have shown that the fight against ISIS must deal with both Iraq and Syria, and it cannot be separate from a regional strategy that deals with the broader problems in Iraq, Turkey, and the Arab states.

Cordesman has just published a study about these issues. It’s worth reading. The Editor.

What do you think?