Small Wars Journal

A New Plan for the United States in Syria

Mon, 10/19/2015 - 8:41am

A New Plan for the United States in Syria by Ben Jonsson, War on the Rocks

Gen. David Petraeus called the conflict in Syria “a geopolitical Chernobyl, spewing instability and extremism over the region and the rest of the world.” Now in its fifth year, the war has claimed over 250,000 lives, displaced nearly half the population, and literally torn the country apart. In the process, it has evolved into a different type of problem for the United States. The U.S. strategy to deal with the conflict was unrealistic from the beginning. As the Obama administration rethinks its Syria strategy, it should start by redefining U.S. interests in the face of an increasingly fractured Syrian conflict and adopting a new strategy that seeks to immediately reduce the level of violence by enforcing a pause on offensive operations by all sides in Syria. The United States has the diplomatic and military tools already in place to do this. It would be difficult and require the adroit and shrewd application of power, but to do less would lead to more human devastation, further damage U.S. interests, and allow Russia to gain more influence over the region…

Read on.


Re: interests.

Expansionist nations (the former USSR/the communists during the Old Cold War; the U.S./the West in today's New Cold War) seem to have a great interest in gaining greater power, influence and control in various regions of the world; this, via the transformation of other states and societies more along the expansionist nations' own political, economic and social lines. These such expansionist interests tend to "drive" and dominate the foreign policy, and related actions, of the expansionist nations. (Nations who, understandably, are much less concerned with the status quo, and with "stability," than they are in achieving radical, rapid, comprehensive and complete [but favorable] state and societal change in other countries.)

The opponents of these such expansionist nations (the U.S./the West during the Old Cold War; Russia, China and Iran in today's New Cold War) have a great interest in PREVENTING the expansionist nations from -- via their such "transformational" methods -- gaining greater power, influence and control. For these opponent nations, such concepts as undermining, containing and rolling-back the expansionist nations' efforts; these tend to drive and dominate their (the opponent nations') foreign policies and related actions. ("Preventionist" nations, understandably, being much more concerned with maintaining the status quo, and with maintaining "stability," and being very fearful, indeed, of such radical, rapid, comprehensive and complete state and societal changes as the expansionist powers seek to achieve -- in the opponent nations' own countries -- or elsewhere.)

It is against this backdrop -- of a New Cold War -- and the competing "interests" contained therein (see the paragraphs above) -- that one might propose that "A New Plan for the United States in Syria" (et. al) might be developed.

A plan which, however, and as both the U.S./the West and the Soviets/the communists before us learned, cannot be based on, and/or be driven by, such erroneous ideas as universal values, the end of history and the overwhelming appeal of one's (alien and profane or at least unique and unusual) way of life, way of governance, etc.

(Thus, the plan must be "realistic," as per the guidance provided in the paragraph immediately above?)


Wed, 10/21/2015 - 4:09am

The US calling for a ceasefire will fall on deaf ears at this point. I believe we should be formulating a plan to attack ISIS from the east, as the Syrian/Russian/Iranian alliance moves eastward from western Syria. We should discuss our plan to roll back ISIS with our allies and the Russian led alliance and while we should not become part of the Russian alliance, we should maintain open dialogue with Putin on our aims. It's imperative that we talk to Putin, but the US must maintain total control over our plan. We should emphasize the urgency of getting to a ceasefire in Syria quickly with the more "moderate" Syrian rebels and the US should work with Putin to insure that safe zones can quickly be set up, with the aid of the international community, to protect civilians and those who put down their arms. Pouring more arms in to "moderate Syrians" will prolong the carnage.

We must recognize that Assad is a second tier problem compared to ISIS. If a "Russian-friendly" regime is in the wings to replace Assad, then Putin may be willing to let the good folks in Brussels deal with Assad. Syria has been a Russian client-state for decades and we lose nothing if a Russian-friendly government replaces Assad, but we will lose a great deal if ISIS fills a power vacuum should Assad fall first.

If we demonstrate an ability to implement a plan to work with forces in Iraq to really tackle ISIS, many of our traditional allies may prefer to align with the US rather than the Russian/Iranian/Syrian alliance, and this would counter the growing Iranian influence. We might be able to restore American credibility in the process too, which would aid us long-term. This plan would require deft diplomacy, speedy action and a willingness to use adequate military force to a clearly defined mission - defeat the Islamic State.

A pitfall to avoid would be to invest too many American boots on the ground and end up in an occupying mode in Iraq again, which would not help our long-term strategy in the region, which should be promoting REGIONAL STABILITY.

There was a 2014 paper in SSI by General Huba Wass de Czege (… ),which had some ideas on how to prevent power vacuums as we progress, by relying on local and tribal leaders to create grassroots law and order as we learn and grow our capacity. We need to utilize new ideas and be open to change, while keeping in mind that as ISIS is rolled back, quickly establishing local security capacity is vital and since the "national government" has demonstrated no ability to do this, in addition to the ethnic divide between the national government and local population in ISIS territory, perhaps working with local leadership might work better. This is just an idea. There was a July 2015 SSI paper by Dr. Robert E. Lamb,"Strategic Insights: Fragile States Cannot Be Fixed With State-Building" (…), which explains this common pitfall with international efforts at "nation-building".

Expecting a ceasefire, absent any real US plan, especially with the US reputation at a low-ebb, will get us nowhere.…