Small Wars Journal

Why the U.S. Military Can’t Fix Syria

Why the U.S. Military Can’t Fix Syria by Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson, New York Times

The State Department “dissent channel” memo on the United States’ policy in Syria, leaked last month, is just the latest expression of a widespread belief in and out of government that American intervention in Syria is necessary and would be successful.

After five years of brutal, grinding war, this view is understandable. The idea of the United States saving the Middle East from itself appeals to liberal hawks and neoconservatives alike. Unfortunately, when that notion has carried the day — as it did in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011 — regional security and stability have worsened. Indeed, in light of Syria’s geopolitical circumstances, intervention along the lines suggested in the memo could produce consequences more dangerous than those of the two previous adventures.

The memo’s authors and other interventionists fail to recognize that the United States in fact has effectively weakened President Bashar al-Assad already. In 2015, the administration’s aggressive covert action program facilitated significant gains for the opposition in northern Syria, exposed Latakia — the regime’s heartland — to attack, and diminished the Syrian military position in the northwestern province of Idlib.

But these losses were also key factors in Russia’s decision to enter the Syrian fray after years of sitting on the sidelines. This gives the lie to the interventionists’ belief that “judicious” airstrikes could somehow disempower the Assad government, sap Russian resolve and improve prospects for a negotiated solution…

Read on.


Outlaw 09

Sun, 07/17/2016 - 7:35am

Many state that the Obama/Rhodes/Kerry and now Russian WH have a fully functioning Syrian/IS strategy...but do we really have anything.....???

A must read a very good Syrian SME......who should have led the NSC on Syrian discussions.

Kyle W. Orton ‏@KyleWOrton

The coalition's anti-#IS op has failed to prioritize legitimate local governance, ensures IS comeback. v @RFERL

Kyle W. Orton ‏@KyleWOrton
New piece by me for @RFERL: "The Caliphate at Two"

Even Kerry responded to him indirectly in his Moscow press conference....

Outlaw 09

Sat, 07/16/2016 - 4:54pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Reports coming out of Aleppo yesterday.....the heaviest site of attacks is still indicating the secular side is still holding well.....with women unvaled being seen all over the place...JaN only has a max of 40 fighters in the fight there the rest is solid FSA....

The rebellion is being driven by both men and women with the women carrying the heaviest load right now thus their rights are actually growing.

Even in a major JaN town the locals largely women have been demonstrating against them for over 100 days now and have not been arrested by JaN....

In the over 1000 locally elected committees....women hold a large number of positions..and keep the schools going ...and the list goes on.....

Sharia.....BTW is a major component of Islam and it cannot be split out of Islam...... the question is just how conservative or secular they use Sharia....

In western or European countries they do follow the legal systems there but in some countries there are rumors of a parallel Sharia system that Muslim communities turn in order to resolve internal disputes as they do not trust the legal systems of the countries they reside in....outside of the ME.........


I don't agree with your assertion that Syria will remain secular. It has been over 10 years since I visited, and while Damascus seemed progressive, the further you got away from there the more conservative the people appeared to be. Furthermore, we are seeing several countries previously viewed as secular drift towards Shari law. Religions are social movements, and if it takes hold or gains strength, then it will influence the political environment.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 07/16/2016 - 4:07pm

Washington, Moscow, Tehran and Riyadh: The Coming Conflict over the Middle East

There are, at the present moment, four game plans colliding with each other in a terrain filled with hidden mines. The sum of the collusion will be totally different than the objectives of each of the players. Worst, no one has the ability to predict the outcome, not even the players themselves.

Let us examine briefly each game plan as seen by each player before addressing, in general, the potential paths of this dangerous game.

Saudi Arabia:

From the Saudi perspective, Iran has gone too far. Ideologically, Tehran enshrined the export of its revolution into its constitution. Practically, it has the Quds Force of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) to make sure that this principle is implemented. Furthermore, it achieved progress through infiltrating Iraq after the US-UK ill-advised invasion and it moved and it is actively present in Damascus now. This came after successfully creating Hezbollah in Lebanon and was followed by the Houthi rebellion in Yemen and the control over Sana’a. The Shia Crescent developed into a full moon.

Signs of additional progress of pro-Iranian forces in the Arab World are scattered here and there to threaten even more of the same. Terrorist attacks by these forces are becoming more and more a normal occurrence in many Gulf Arab countries. Bahraini Shias were encouraged to revolt. And Tehran broke free of its isolation after harvesting all possible profits of its illegal nuclear activities.

All the while, the US, which used to be the guarantor of the regional security order, showed signs of changing directions. Washington pursued what it deemed its interests by opening channels with Tehran, pulling its forces from Iraq prematurely, zigzagging in Syria before it finally offers to work with Moscow to preserve Assad and letting down some of its loyal rulers in a moment of need.

The US zigzag on Syria and the Iranian successful offensive in Iraq made the Saudis nervous. Allowing this trend of Iranian expansion was obviously promising to put the Kingdom under siege and deprive it of any strategic depth in the Near East.

This compelled the Saudis to either surrender to the mounting Iranian intervention or take the initiative, regardless of what its traditional allies in Washington do, to what it has to do stop the Iranian wave.


During the years of sanctions and isolation, Tehran regarded intervention in Iraq and Lebanon as a national security priority. Ideology in revolutionary-Iran is not reduced to superficial rhetoric. It is a tool to mobilize the Shias in and out of Iran. It also gives the IRGC substantial powers and profits. Furthermore, it is useable as a national interest tool. It is wrong to assume that Iranian or IRGC leaders act or pretend when they are talking about their regional cause. They sincerely believe their own rhetoric so long as there is nothing, in worldly interests, that compels them to question its validity. It does not only sound self-righteous, it is also profitable.

IRGC leaders and a good portion of Iran’s “establishment” and clergy, believes they have a responsibility towards “the oppressed” (mostazafin) in the Islamic World. They believe that most Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are reactionary, pro-West, perpetually conspiring against their Islamic revolution, supporters of terrorism, oppressive of their Shia minorities, weakening Muslims and therefore should be toppled.

Of all these accusations, some stand in the forefront. Those are the ones that directly hinder the Iranian game plane. For example, Tehran believes that the US presence in the region is both threatening and an obstacle to regaining what Tehran believes its right to become a regional major power.

Iran adapts its message in Arab countries according the peculiarities of each situation. The Quds Force plays an Arab nationalist card in Lebanon through Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and in Syria through Bashar al-Assad, but it plays a sectarian card in Iraq through Nouri al –Maliki and the some factions in the Popular Mobilization Force (PMF). In Yemen, they play an “independence” card and in other countries they play a “democratic” card.

The game plan of Tehran is based on a self-justified intervention in its western neighbors. Ideology and national interests come hand in hand to provide the base of this strategy.


There are two conflicting views when it comes to understanding Moscow’s game plan in the Middle East. The first view looks at Russian policies as a reaction to a long-standing Western strategy to minimize Russia’s influence and hurt its national interests. Moreover, this view sees that President Putin’s intentions in the region and beyond stem from his desire to make the world recognize Russia as a major player and deal with it in respect and parity.

The other view looks at Russia’s assertive role and its occasional use or threat of military actions as an attempt to turn the global order upside down and as violation of international treaties. Russia is viewed, from this standpoint, as a global force which is systematically ready to use subversion and military action to further its global agenda. As such, it should be treated as a hostile power from the point of view of the existing global order.

In the Middle East, Russia helped Assad through direct military intervention, an act that furthered the Iranian game plan. It played an important role in reaching the nuclear deal with Tehran, which led to ending Iranian global isolation. And it is currently eyeing some important energy projects, particularly in Central and South Asia with Tehran. Furthermore, Moscow is monitoring how the political map in the Middle East will evolve, and how this will impact potential natural gas routs to the Mediterranean and from there to West Europe in the future. Clearly, Moscow has a genuine interest in shaping the outcome in a way

Moscow is using its role in the region as a bargaining chip in dealing with the major global powers. This classical game is yielding some positive results as we saw in the Obama administration recent offer to Moscow in regard to Syria. It also used its role there to gain favor with the Europeans while under pressure from the so called refugee crisis.

Russia is inviting GCC investment to the North Caucasus region in an attempt to stem the growth of religious radicalism through improvements in the region’s economic conditions. One essential reason for Moscow’s involvement in the Middle East is to stop the spread of Jihadists from the source. But the way they play their hands there may bring about some opposite results.

The US:

We have covered US Middle East policies extensively in previous issues of MEB. We see this policy as utter failure to adapt to contingent circumstances stemming either from limits on US abilities or the rapid roller coaster in the region. From the Arabs standpoint, the structure of US interests has shifted the moment the nuclear deal was signed. The temptation of wining Iran back as an ally was blinding US officials.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the recent offer made by the US to cooperate with Russia to defeat a dangerous group of the Syrian opposition, freeze the issue of transition in Syria, accept Assad for the time being and focus on reducing violence and humanitarian assistance.

This offer enraged the relevant Arab capitals. It is considered a retreat from previous commitments and a reward to Assad and Iran. It alerted the Arab countries to the possibility that president Obama may be moving to bind the next administration with a policy favorable to Tehran.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir hat an unscheduled meeting with Secretary John Kerry on July 7 to inform him, according to State Department official statement, that Riyadh is ready to send ground troops to Syria. Al-Jubeir, however, explained the Saudi opposition to any deal between Moscow and Washington that endangers the roadmap agreed upon in Geneva. Even taking the Department’s statement at face value shown the degree of contrast between two allies, one talking about a deal to bomb the Syrian opposition and preserve Assad, and the other talking about sending troops to support the opposition and topple Assad.

The meeting was between Jubeir and Kerry was followed by a fiery speech given by former chief of Saudi Intelligence Prince Turki al-Faisal to tens of thousands of Mujahedeen Khalq in the “Free Iran” conference in Paris July 9. During the speech, the Saudi former official responded to thousands chanting “down with the regime” by saying: “me too, I want this regime down”. He also promised the opponents of the Ayatollahs with “a certain victory”.

When Saudis wave again the possibility of sending ground troops and take a visible stand in support of Iranian opposition, this means they are indeed running out of patience and ready to escalate.

This game is going on while the region is going through general transformation based on mounting popular discontent. The strategic competition, explained above, generates a tide of sectarian polarization. When Sectarian incitement is intensively projected on societies searching for channels to gather and direct their discontent, it threatens to deviate any popular movement to a confrontation based on sectarian perspectives. This will further tear the region apart and prevent it from progressing in a constructive manner.

We are inching towards a general regional escalation in the Middle East. The four game planes currently colliding in that region are going each in its path based on separate calculations. We do not have a global superpower that is willing or able to see the risks and intervene rapidly to create an area of compromise. None of the four parties will achieve a clean win. For in those cases there is no such thing as a clear win. But so far, the inertia seems to be unstoppable.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 07/16/2016 - 4:04pm

Bill..this is the core problem with the Obama WH......

After years of "Assad fighting ISIS" & months of "Russia doing so", @JohnKerry still don't understand, these 3 strengthen each other...

Outlaw 09

Sat, 07/16/2016 - 3:47pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill.....first of all the 2014 timeframe was during the Crimea and eastern Ukraine events thus I really do think all of what the Obama/Rhodes WH was feeding us was really nothing but words.....

Countered by his own press conference right after the IS invasion of Iraq when he publicly stated he had not strategy......BUT WAIT he had ordered one be done......BUT have you seen anything published, discussed or even carried before Congress in say 2015 or maybe even in 2016"????

Followed by the 2016 WaPo article that YES he had one and it was working...then we get a long discourse in "our needing just a little more "messaging"........

AND if we really look hard at his ground actions necessary to tactically reinforce that strategy...we really do not see much more than USAF drone and air strikes and SOF on the ground and IS is still dominating in Iraq and Syria....and expanding their offensives into Europe and elsewhere...THIS after two years of so called US intensive fighting of IS....

My heartburn is that even those USAF air strikes have been largely ineffective....EVEN the US supported SDF attacks on Raqqa and Manbij are failing....

IS has only lost 20% of it's territory or say going from the size of the UK to that of Sweden.....not much of a real loss one might say.

You are right....IS does work off of a strategic strategy and they are intent on carrying it out.....

It appears to me this WH has not quite figured out what that IS strategy is....

Still the true answer lies with the Syrians themselves.....

Trust them to do the correct thing for themselves and arm them to the hilt....

Syria was and will remain secular and there is nothing IS or JaN can do that will flip that....BUT the current US policy of not stopping the extensive killing of civilians via Assad and Putin are literally driving Syrians into the arms of JaN.....

This WH has totally lost it's "moral compass" when it comes to preventing war crimes and genocide.....

Bill M.

Sat, 07/16/2016 - 3:03pm

In reply to by Bill M.

The key take away is a strategy exists despite the numerous talking heads that claim there isn't one. Arguably the strategy is failing, but that is different than not having one as you claim. The other take away is a strategy to "degrade" ISIL is not a regional strategy, it is a strategy solely in response to short term domestic political pressure. There is no realistic vision for shaping the Middle East in a way that promotes our interests. Somewhat in defense of the administration a regional strategy requires willing partners that have similar interests, I don't see a lot of that in the Middle East. Increasingly I see less of that globally. The rise of the far right, hyper nationalism, fear, etc., is producing a very dangerous world.


For your amusement:…

"In an address from the State Floor of the White House, President Obama speaks to the nation about ISIL -- and our comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group."

Describes how the strategy is working (I didn't write it, I only shared it)…

The same stale approach we have been taking to counter AQ and ISIL, yet we never seem to question its effectiveness (or lack thereof).

Nonetheless Outlaw, contrary to your argument we don't have a strategy we do. It is complete with ways, ends, means, and risk. If an honest person did an assessment he would determine the strategy isn't working. In my opinion it based on false assumptions, and now we see completely idiotic ideas being promoted like use Gen Sherman's strategy, as though attacking a particular region will reduce the threat. That also demonstrates a lack of understanding of the threat and strategy, but we'll see more ideas like that emerge as long as our current strategy is viewed as failing.

To provide context, I'm pasting a couple of my posts below from the forum to provide a different perspective perhaps on the character of the challenge. First we must understand the problem before we can ever hope to solve it.

There are changes VEOs operational and strategic approaches. It is less about what we see, and more about what they see, how they share information, and how differentiated conflicts increasingly become homogenized. In addition to the Internet and social media increasingly enabling the blending of tactics, there are new economic factors that shape these conflicts. External state support is less important due to the multiple ways these groups can now sustain themselves, not only through illicit activity in a growing and global black market, but via fund rising by competing with other groups to see who can conduct the largest and most dramatic atrocities. There is always some rich wantabe terrorist who is willing to donate funds to the cause. Another key difference, in the past local insurgents normally conducted attacks to influence the local audience. Their attacks were conducted locally to create relatively local effects, and the scope of their killing was generally limited (not in all cases) to achieve their political objectives. That is not the case now, which is why we need to be skeptical about considering the populace as the center of gravity in this new form of conflict. We cling to old ideas because they're comfortable, but they blind us to what is actually happening. There isn't a localized insurgency in Belgium, France, England, or the U.S., it is a globalized conflict, where attacks in one area are intended to influence a global audience. I assure Raqqa is not a center of gravity, that point has long past. ISIL is the banner we hang on the threat today, yesterday it was al-Qaeda, it will be another name tomorrow. We need to recognize the larger character of the threat and stop our approach of attacking specific groups while ignoring others who have the same aims, they are ultimately the same.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 07/16/2016 - 6:51am

BTW...this US Senator is an avid Assad supporter.....

As an American...cannot say much about my own elected officials these days as it appears they really know nothing about the world we all live in.....

Senator Dick Black
Good news of the day: Military attempting to oust Turkish dictator #Erdogan #TheManWhoWouldBeHitler

Assad's friend Senator Dick praises Turkey military coup against elected government.

A US senator praising a military coup against a legally and democratically elected official makes one think just how democratic this Senator really is...???

Even I have my differences with where Erdogan is headed but he still is in the eyes of his civil society a democratically elected official..and that has to be respected at all costs......

AND even non Erdogan supporters went into the streets to support the government WHY.... the Turkish civil society differently remembers what it was like to live under a military dictatorship....

Assad fights people with tanks
Erdogan fights tanks with people

Outlaw 09

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 2:27pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Bill..this demo was called for and supported by Sadr.....

Thousands of Iraqis gather to demand: "No, no to sectarianism. No, no to corruption"

Outlaw 09

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 2:24pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Again only the Syrians can take care of IS......we just need to empower them and allow them to head afterwards wherever they want to head is their future not ours....and afterwards have the courage/satisfaction that we helped them go their own way forward.

Manbij: #ISIS killed an #US mercenary, who fought for #YPG against #ISIS in #Manbij. #Aleppo

Aleppo: #Syria|n rebels have killed 9 #Pakistan|i of #Iran|ian #IRGC's Zeinabiun Brigade in #Aleppo.

Just in time for Kerry's wheels-down in Moscow: Russian jets bomb US-backed rebels in Syria a second time:…

Daraa: Huge amount of fighters, tanks and heavy artillery taking part in the new rebel offensive against the regime

Simes: very difficult for this admin to get deal with Putin on basis of the current US proposal. (grounding Syria AF, for various reasons)

Outlaw 09

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 2:03pm

In reply to by Bill M. is the inherent problem...bombing and drones has not made a large dent whatsoever in either IS and or the Syrian JaN (AQ)....nor historically has it ever made a major difference.

Our drone strikes while killing many of the top echelon of IS the middle management just moves up the ladder and when they are killed then the next generation just moves up.

In Europe with the German RAF when the Wall fell they were at the third generation of leadership......and three of them are still on the run today in former East Germany where they were recently spotted....

If we look at the massive JSOC killing machine with it's 24 hour targeting system....all they did was tactically clip the wings of AQI...they never did in the end strategically defeat AQI.....

Just ask the NVA in all the years the USAF bombed the heck out of them......and yet they still captured SVN...

We currently have Marines, US SOF and SF engaged with the SDF and supporting the Iraqi's and with the US supported SDF Manbij/Raqqa offensive but they are largely bogged down in Manbij and going nowhere Mosul

So if bombing, drones and a minimum of US boots are on the ground and not having much effect as well....WHAT is the next move?????

We had reached that point over two years ago....REMEMBER what MSM and the Obama WH has not told the US....that namely FSA and JaN had largely pushed IS out of 15 Syrian regions and into the current three regions on their own in 2014 as well as boxing in Assad....THEN we shut off the weapons flows.....and IS and Assad both resurged with the help now of Russia.

So the solution has been always staring both DoD,the CIA and the Obama WH in the face....using the local forces that are readily the FSA and their related groups as it is only via the locals that can do the job in the end as it is Syrians who must live with and or without IS.

NOW comes in the inherent weakness of the Obama WH of not wanting to do stupid things....then comes the massive spin of "we cannot find" any "moderates".....that was nothing but a smokescreen for not wanting to "do anything stupid" following the mantra..."first we need to find those moderates".....and still we hear "we ain't found them yet".....

Here we are 4 years later still looking for those so called "moderates".....

We should have simply eliminated the Syrian AF when the Obama "red line" would have allowed it with ease with limited problems for the USAF...that would have eliminated as a side effect the use of the so called "barrel bombs" an Assad terrorizing weapon which would have reduced the number of IDPs and refugees....

Then on to the air dropping of humanitarian aid to over 300,000 besieged Sunni civilians....eliminating a leverage point of Assad and Putin.

Then onto allowing the local area supporters of FSA to actually flow weapons into the combat zones...the Obama WH has largely pressured the local supporters to refrain from weapons flows needed to actively combat both IS and Assad. Especially allowing a far heavier flow of TOWs...WHICH BTW Obama basically stopped before Geneva in order to force the FSA into Zurich....

Then pushed for the actual removal of Assad the key individual who actually kicked off IS in 2006.....instead of always making statements that he had to go.....

This could have been all achieved before Putin arrived in Syria........

BUT as you know we had no Presidential strategy to speak of so I am intrigued as to why you think we currently have one?

If you recall at one major press conference even Obama had to admit they had no strategy for countering IS but were working on one.."it would be coming soon" but it was DOA and the Obama WH has never spoken publicly about one until suddenly the WaPo article.

Then we got the WaPo article that stated we had one and it was working just was we all did not get it thus more Rhodes "messaging"...was needed.

Syria is relatively easy to fix if we fully understand the Syrian civil society is fully capable of deciding what they some aspects Assad is correct when he says Syrians have to decide what they want.....WE just have to accept where it goes.

Even the invasion by Hezbollah and the Iranian Shia militias and their IRGC has largely been held in check by the FSA and JaN....who have inflicted heavy loses on both.

WHAT is far harder to fix is Iraq.....where Iran is heavily into a sectarian takeover....and our former Baghdad enemy....Sadr is openly stating so.

In some aspects the Iraqi solution is also in our rests with Sadr and Sistani....and the Sunni tribes.

Sadr has stepped up and built deep contacts into the Sunni tribes and has come out indicating that the Iraqi government with their Shia security services/military forces have largely alienated the Sunni's...

But can we jump over our Sadr shadow and fully support him as well as the FSA????

Sometimes the solutions are actually relatively easy....what is hard is getting the courage necessary to engage in the solution.

This President is a talker not a fighter......his career started out as a community negotiator as a lawyer and that is the thread that runs through his entire eight years.

Couple that with a left social slant and a drive as the first black President to not get into a war.....and remember he never served in the military thus his enamor with he identifies with them as "their Commander"...

Then you have what we have now....a President far more interested in his "legacy" than "fixing problems"....

Bill M.

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 11:16am


DoD can't fix Syria for several reasons, but three reasons are key. First, those proposing plans don't understand our political system with its inherent limitations on the implementation of strategy, and we had no understanding of the situation beyond Assad and IS are bad actors. Second, assuming we had the political will to take firmer action we can't control what follows (more chaos, more death, more suffering, and we now own it), because third, there are numerous actors, both state and non state that will compete for different outcomes. The President has a strategy, and regardless of who get elected next, the strategy is unlikely to change much based on comments above.

What we will probably do is hit ISIL harder, which needs to happen, but that still won't fix the region.

Bill M.

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 11:14am


DoD can't fix Syria for several reasons, but three reasons are key. First, those proposing plans don't understand our political system with its inherent limitations on the implementation of strategy, and we had no understanding of the situation beyond Assad and IS are bad actors. Second, assuming we had the political will to take firmer action we can't control what follows (more chaos, more death, more suffering, and we now own it), because third, there are numerous actors, both state and non state that will compete for different outcomes. The President has a strategy, and regardless of who get elected next, the strategy is unlikely to change much based on comments above.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 12:49am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

So convince me I have been wrong in bashing this Obama/Rhodes/Kerry and now Russian WH for over two years now for a total lack of anything seen vaguely as a "strategy"...and only focusing on his own personal "legacy" at the cost of thousands of killed Ukrainians and Syrians.....

Sad really sad to see US FP fall completely apart because the Obama WH did not want to do "stupid shit" UNQUOTE.

AND this behavior from a Nobel Peace Prize winner....?????

Outlaw 09

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 12:45am is the core problem and I have been hammering this for two years now.....

The Obama admin leaned on Russia to save its bacon in Syria repeatedly and was burned every time. No lessons learned

American Power in Russian Hands

Noah Rothman / July 14, 2016

You would think that Barack Obama would have learned his lesson by now. You would be wrong.


According to reporting by the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin, the United States has proposed to cooperate with Russia in the skies over Syria. The proposed plan would create a new joint military command-and-control office where both nations’ militaries could coordinate their strikes on terrorist targets. What’s troubling in this proposal, however, is it would appear to prioritize Russian targets and, thus, Russian interests.

“Overall, the proposal would dramatically shift the United States’ Syria policy by directing more American military power against Jabhat al-Nusra, which unlike the Islamic State is focused on fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” read Rogin’s dispatch. The proposal would ostensibly allow the United States to draw Russia into making more strikes on ISIS targets, which it has been previously reluctant to do, jointly with American forces. In the event, however, that there was a substantial threat to its Assad regime allies from Nusra or the terror group advanced beyond unspecified “designated areas,” the Russian air force could act unilaterally.

How this proposal advances American interests in the region is subject to interpretation. The risks, meanwhile, are clear, present, and simply cataloged:

Kerry sees the proposal as a way to reduce the violence in Syria and ground the regime’s air force. The risk is that attacking Jabhat al-Nusra in conjunction with the Russians will spur terrorist recruiting, increase civilian casualties and put the United States firmly on the wrong side of the revolution in the eyes of the Syrian people. Also, there’s no enforcement mechanism if the Putin or Assad regimes violate their commitments — as they have consistently done until now.

Secondly, this pact would ratify what Russia partially achieved with its “de-confliction” agreement with the United States: the legitimization of its military intervention in Syria. And if Russia’s intervention in Syria is legitimate, then so are the interests it is defending: namely, the preservation of the genocidal Bashar al-Assad regime.

In the absence of a multinational coalition, Barack Obama has never been comfortable with anything more than pinprick precision displays of kinetic American military power. In Syria, the president has been losing members of that anti-ISIS coalition for some time, and Russia’s addition might suffice to mollify some of their concerns about the appearance of unilateralism. The president has, however, been relying on Russia to effectively manage American interests in the Middle East for years and has repeatedly been burned in the process.

In his desperation to avoid following through with his “red line” for action in Syria in the autumn of 2013, after a series of mass casualty chemical weapons attacks on civilian populations by Assad forces, the president leaned on Russia. In a prime-time address to the nation, Obama announced that Moscow had agreed to broker a third way in which they would oversee the removal of chemical weapons from Syria so that American airstrikes can be avoided. Today, chemical weapons stockpiles are still in Assad regime hands, as well as in the possession of terror groups like ISIS, and American airstrikes were not averted.

Russian support for Assad, welcomed by an American administration that continued to issue contradictory calls for the Syrian dictator’s abdication, was a great success. Russia bought time for his forces, which were beleaguered and collapsing by October of 2013, and they secured their last post-Soviet port on the Mediterranean at Tartus. But those gains could not be sustained forever without direct intervention. After weeks of importing support personnel and equipment, a Russian three-star general marched into the American embassy in Baghdad with a simple message. Federation air strikes on “terrorist” targets in Syria would begin momentarily. “If you have forces in the area we request they leave,” he reportedly said. Russian forces immediately began harassing American drones, shadowing Turkish fighter planes, and seeking to push the West out of theater by force.

Even after all this, the Obama administration continued to hope that Russia could somehow extricate itself from the Syrian nightmare it allowed to metastasize through inaction. Even as Russian forces reportedly deployed cluster munitions on civilian targets and targeted brick-and-mortar hospitals with airstrikes, the White House still begged the Kremlin to impose a ceasefire on the belligerents in Syria. Time and again, the administration has been disappointed by their Russian counterparts, but that disappointment never seems to dissuade them from taking another kick at the football.

It should be abundantly clear by now that this administration will never be comfortable with America’s prohibitive military power. They would prefer to be used and embarrassed by their erstwhile partners in the Russian government than to unapologetically pursue American interests and grand strategy. In Syria, in particular, the Obama administration’s reputation has been severely damaged. If only the White House could see it.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 07/14/2016 - 2:30pm

Bill...this is exactly why DoD cannot do a thing......absolutely no senior leadership out of this WH.....

Kyle W. Orton
US to offer Russia an 'anti-terror pact' in Syria via @Josiensor.
Comments from @Charles_Lister and me.

"The rebellion will feel, not unjustifiably, that this is the US taking sides against them."

Michael Weiss
✔ @michaeldweiss Seems also Obama's attempt to tie Hillary's hand. She'll have limited options once a deal with Moscow is locked in.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 07/14/2016 - 1:06pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill...the solution has been in our faces since 2012 and yet this WH did nothing....we talk a lot here at SWJ about empowering those in the conflict areas to take on IS and in this case Assad as that is truly the only solution.

BUT we allowed the Obama/Rhodes/Kerry and now Russian WH to change the narrative to that of "who is a moderate" instead of doing exactly what Robert Jones has often written here...

Take a risk and assist and assist and assist, but let the locals take care of the problem and then sit back and when asked for input provide that input but again allow the civil society take the course it deems it needs to it is then the locals that have fought for what it is they deem they want not something pushed on them by the US and or the West......

THEN we finally might be seen as a Western nation state that "finally listens for a change".....

We had a perfect chance to in fact exercise this option in 2012 and even both the CIA and DoD often pushed the concept but were repeatedly shot down by the Obama/Rhodes/Kerry and now Russian WH as it would be "doing stupid things"...

What amazes me is how does this WH sleep at night knowing they are actually complicit in supporting Assad's and now Putin genocide and ongoing war crimes....and that is from a nation that claims to support the rule of law, good governance and transparency.,.....and claims the "morale high ground whenever possible"......those exact same things the Syrian civil society were demanding peacefully in late 2011 early 2012 before a dictator turned brutally on them....

Right now there ae over 1000 locally elected Syrian community groups that by all accounts were actually quite fair and democratic for the ME and YET this Obama/Rhodes/Kerry and now Russian WH does not care at all....

Have we as a nation basically become so bankrupt we can no longer recognize what we have been preaching to the world for over 70 odd years??

Sadly we are that bankrupt.....

Over 500,000 dead
Over 300,000 being currently starved and besieged
Over 6M refugees and internal displaced
Over 200,000 tortured/killed/disappeared in the Syrian security prison system

AND hundreds of cluster, incendiary and thermobaric munitions being dropped on civilians including women and children....

Ask any of the ME Arab Sunni states what they now think about the US and for that matter ask any of the global Sunni communities.....the perception of the US is even lower that that of a "slug".....we are now being perceived to be equal partners with Russia in the killing of Sunni's and we tilted fully to the Shia and Iran....

AND all we get out of this Obama/Rhodes/Kerry and now Russian WH is...."we will not do stupid shit" UNQUOTE AND we will not "play the games of the DC FP establishment"...UNQUOTE..

They actually take pride in the following if their QUOTES in their own interviews are correct......

Over 500,000 dead
Over 300,000 being currently starved and besieged
Over 6M refugees and internal displaced
Over 200,000 tortured/killed/disappeared in the Syrian security prison system

AND hundreds of cluster, incendiary and thermobaric munitions being dropped on civilians including women and children....

Right now this Obama/Rhodes/Kerry and now Russian WH has absolutely no morale standing or morale leverage left (simply put no one trusts us anymore in the ME outside of maybe the Kurds).

Bill M.

Thu, 07/14/2016 - 11:19am

The only proposals have been tactical, to include providing TOWs to the anti Assad resistance. Now we're providing limited support to groups willing to fight ISIL, but both of these actions only extended the conflict, which resulted in more civilian loss of life, and created an opportunity for Russia to intervene, which was a game changer. This illustrates our desire for easy and low cost solutions that are built on top of liberal and neocons hope. Hope not based on reason, understanding, or strategy. Talking heads in the media offer more of the same. Don't expect reason based changes during an election year, we'll only hear criticisms of the administration and opposing party based on comments meant to gain voter favor, not to resolve the problem.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 07/14/2016 - 4:24am

DoD can indeed "fix" Syria....there are solid proposals out there even years "fix" the problem....BUT in the face of an utter lack of political leadership out of an Obama/Rhodes/Kerry/Russian WH that has made a clear and concise decision to write off the killing of over 500,000 Syrians, the creation of millions of refugees and IDPs, starvation, war crimes, genocide AS being not in the US interests....ALL because to do something "would be stupid shit" UNQUOTE....AND because of the Obama/Rhodes/Kerry/Russian WH full tilt to Iran....which was preceded by a massive spin campaign and now the Iran Deal shows signs of actually failing....

DoD does nothing as it is reliant on civilian leadership.....a leadership that has failed to produce a single coherent, clear and concise national level strategy for anything other than "hope" and "legacy".

DoD prides itself on it's airdrop abilities YET Obama has not allowed a single humanitarian airdrop to over 300,000 starving and besieged civilians WHICH Kerry publicly stated would be receiving humanitarian aid...

How bad is that?????

This has been probably one of the worst Presidential FP eight years and one of the worst NSCs seen/experienced in the last 70 years......

The Obama legacy will be one of "why did you ignore war crimes,starvation and genocide in the killing over 500,000 civilians/creation of millions of refugees and IDPs, and the use of CW which is still ongoing"...and "you turned the ME into a true sectarian Shia Sunni battleground" in their drive "to do nothing stupid"........