Small Wars Journal

The Coming Anarchy in the Levant

Wed, 12/16/2015 - 10:18am

The Coming Anarchy in the Levant

Ehsan M. Ahrari

With the passage of each day, the Levant increasingly appears a place where anarchy might be the only order of the day unless a number of anti-ISIS actors come up with some plan to destroy that entity and save the region.

President Barack Obama’s pragmatism and his fetish for not repeating the ‘mistake’ of ousting Muammar Qaddafi brutal regime in Libya has not only guaranteed Russia’s presence in Syria, but also its influential participation in the future stability of Syria and Iraq.  An important side-payoff for Putin is negotiating a long-term presence in the post-Assad Syria.

The only country that has decided to take on Putin in his underhandedness maneuvering in the Levant is Turkey.  The downing of Russian jet by Turkey might be viewed as an example of that perspective.  However, given the Turkish President Recep Erdogan later expressed of regrets over the incident, might also be perceived as Turkey’s attempt to avoid a military conflict with Russia.  However, Putin remains angry over the incident and has accused Erdogan of conducting illicit oil trade with ISIS, a charge that Obama has labelled as “just not true.”

Regardless of the varying interpretations of that event, it seems that Erdogan’s moderate Islamism is clashing with Putin’s Pan-Slavic overreach into a Muslim region, which  has become a wide open area for political one-upmanship and Machiavellian power games in the wake of America’s decision to preside over the  unmaking of its own historical dominance in that region.  This struggle for dominance on the part of a number of actors within and without the region is only promising to prolong the staying power of ISIS, which does its brutal work best under chaotic conditions.  Such conditions seem to be mounting in the Levant. 

Turkey is accused of not remaining focused on destroying ISIS.  As contentious as that observation may be, the fact of the matter is that Turkey appears more concerned about minimizing all possibilities of the emergence of a Kurdish nation in Northern Iraq—especially now that the Kurds are doing America’s bidding by conducting effective ground war against ISIS—than taking decisive measures to eradicate that terrorist entity.  David Graeber, a professor at the London of Economist, made the following blunt assessment of Erdgon’s performance in the Guardian:

The exact relationship between Erdoğan’s government and Isis may be subject to debate; but of some things we can be relatively certain. Had Turkey placed the same kind of absolute blockade on Isis territories as they did on Kurdish-held parts of Syria, let alone shown the same sort of “benign neglect” towards the PKK and YPG that they have been offering to Isis, that blood-stained “caliphate” would long since have collapsed – and arguably, the Paris attacks may never have happened. And if Turkey were to do the same today, Isis would probably collapse in a matter of months.

Needless to say, the United States is fully aware of this reality.  However, since it is also using Turkish bases to conduct its air campaign against ISIS, the Obama administration has adopted a policy of benign refusal to urge (or quietly demand) Erdogan to ease up his campaign of destruction of the Kurdish forces.

The third influential actor in this struggle is Iran, which is cooperating with Putin’s exercise of Russian hegemony.  But the fact of the matter is that, through supporting Russia’s support of Bashar Assad, Iran is only ensuring its own long-term presence in the Levant.  With the increased Russian presence in Syria, Iran has the potential of becoming less of a target of American and Arab maneuvers to bring about the downfall of the Assad regime.  Still, because Iran has remained a major regional participant in the war against ISIS, it has a tremendous potential of emerging as an actor with which the United States might want to cooperate sometimes in the future.  For that reason, Iran is not only spending billions of dollars for the survival of the Assad regime, but has fully utilized Lebanon’s Hezbollah for that purpose.

These strategic intricacies might be very frustrating for the three major Arab states—Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan.  These are important Sunni States, but because they are operating under constraints of their own, they are unable to counter the influence of Russia or Iran in any significant way.

Ideologically, Jordan is very much in harmony with the United States’ resolve to destroy ISIS.  However, given that it is predominantly a Sunni state, with no real feel for how much of its own population sympathizes with ISIS and its so-called Islamic caliphate, Jordan is in no position to take the bold measure of committing ground troops in America’s fight for the destruction of that terrorist entity.  As a neighboring state of Syria, Jordan has already absorbed more than a million refugees from that country.  Considering that it is a resource-poor country and already has 1.8 million registered Palestinian refugees, the political situation of Jordan is already potentially explosive.  Jordan not only “subsists largely on foreign aid and remittances,” but it also faced with the scary fact that “more than seven out of 10 people in Jordan are under 29.”  Consequently, its economy is under intense pressure to grow at the rate of 6 percent each year, while its actual growth rate is only around 3 percent.  

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are Wahhabi states, whose official Wahhabi ideology is very similar to the one that is practiced by ISIS.  In addition, there are frequent reports of financial support of ISIS, at least from private sources and from some religious charities, from those countries.  Considering the fact that nothing inside these autocratic states happens without the knowledge and at least with the tacit connivance of their governments, it is safe to conclude the governments in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are fully aware of such activities. The most confusing aspect of the political objectives of these two countries is that, while they want the dismantlement of ISIS in Syria, neither Riyadh nor Abu Dhabi has any notion of how different the post-Assad government in Syria will be from ISIS’ so-called Islamic Caliphate.

There are frequent suggestions in the West that Muslim states should take the lead in the fight against ISIS.  But no Muslim state is willing to take the lead on this front either.  Saudi Arabia and the UAE are embroiled in their own fight against Yemen, while ISIS is reported to be making inroads in that war-torn country.  The Egyptian Army continues to demonstrate its gross inability to fight a counterinsurgency war with Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM, or Supporters of Jerusalem), which has pledged allegiance to ISIS since November 2014.  Reading a compelling account of the insurgency in the Egyptian Sinai written by Omar Ashour in the November 2014 issue of Foreign Affairs, one is forced to conclude that Egypt is likely to get even further bogged down in a bloody urban warfare with ABM, with virtually no hope of achieving victory over it.

In the final analysis, two actors that can save the Levant are the United States and Iran.  Even with its diminished capacity to exert influence in the region, the United States, as the dominant global military power, has a tremendous potential to affect political development.  President Obama, aside from continuing his air war against ISIS, continues to look for reaching some sort of consensus among Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the UAE (and some Western countries as secondary actors) regarding Syria after Assad. Once the specifics of that consensus are negotiated, only then the participants will be able to focus on eradicating ISIS.  However, as long as these actors remain divided on that arrangement, ISIS will try to complicate the situation by creating disorder by either arranging or encouraging lone-wolf attacks in the West.  At least for now, as ISIS comes under air attack in Syria, its chief tool is to rely on the social media for creating disorder and chaos within the borders of ‘far enemies.’

Iran knows that, as a Muslim country and as a country that has a significant presence in the Syrian theater of operation, it holds considerable advantages over other actors of the Arab world.  It has every intention of emerging as a major player in the making of that consensus that is aimed at saving the Levant from the coming anarchy.

About the Author(s)

Ehsan Ahrari is an Adjunct Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College, Carlisle, PA, and the CEO of Strategic Paradigms, an Alexandria, VA-based foreign and defense policy consultancy. He specializes in Great Power relations, Strategic affairs of the world of Islam, and anti-terrorism. His website is: He can be reached at: Views contained in this essay are strictly private.



Tue, 12/22/2015 - 11:16pm

Any article on The Levant that omits any mention of Israel is - well - odd.

I may not watch the region as closely as the author, but the situation was far from stable across the region BEFORE the emergence into the open of ISIS. Politics aside demographic and economic factors weakened governance already, if only the inability to create jobs for young people.

As for any country, especially Iran, 'saving the Levant from the coming anarchy' that is wishful thinking.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 12/20/2015 - 8:27am

We are long long past anarchy---we are actually in the First Middle Eastern War and somehow missed the anarchy part....

FINALLY after 82 straight days of social media carrying the evidence of the Russian AF deliberating attacking and killing civilians and critical civilian infrastructure FINALLY MSM picks it up....

NOTICE that all western leaders ignore social media reporting on this genocide YET perk up with MSM carries the same exact story...WHY is that???

Russia is following the Assad regime's strategy of targeting civilian infrastructure. Great work by @LizSly …

Outlaw 09

Sun, 12/20/2015 - 7:58am

CAN the "real anarchist in the world please stand up"......????

AND the "Islamic State Air Force" is back at work killing civilians today.....

Russia air strikes hit civilians in #Idlib #Syria over 40 casualties 150 civil injured

The White Helmets @SyriaCivilDef
Idlib City. 20/12/15. 43 killed, more than 150 injured. Teams attribute attacks to Russian bombs.

The White Helmets @SyriaCivilDef
Six air strikes on Idlib city today.

APPEARS that the "Islamic State Air Force" cannot find their own IS the common conclusion is THEY are to not bomb Is positions..??

NOT a single comment from Kerry, Obama, his NSC, and the UNSC on the massive killing of civilians by the "Islamic State Air Force".

Outlaw 09

Sun, 12/20/2015 - 7:24am

Why do we have anarchy......think about it for a moment and do not exclude the roles played by Obama and Kerry right now and since 2011.

Anyway, in essence, we've got a sort of 'I Middle Eastern War' now:

- Russians are back to attempting to de-stabilize Turkey by providing arms to the PKK; Turkey reacts with a big-scale military offensive against the PKK;

- Russians are attempting to complete Assadist efforts to ethnically cleanse Sunnis out of Syria by widespread deployment of CBUs against civilian population in insurgent-held areas - while claiming to be 'bombing Daesh', which is nonsense;

- Saudis are BS-itting around in Yemen (they've just spoiled another cease-fire and UN-sponsored peace negotiations by driving into northern Yemen), and thus too busy but to take care about Syria;

- Iraq is de-facto split between areas controlled by Iranian-puppet regime in Baghdad, Kurds, and the Daesh.

- ...and to describe Syria as a total mess (foremost to lack of Western action, and Russians openly taking sides without any kind of serious Western opposition), would be an understatement...

Meanwhile I'm sure this is going to keep all of us busy for another decade.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 12/20/2015 - 3:58am

We urgently need to get back to the discussion on how Russian uses in their UW strategy non linear warfare especially the one of two key cornerstones...informational both Syria and the eastern Ukraine....

If one truly wants to understand Russian info warfare being poured out daily by the minute that conforms to the Russian 6Ds propaganda doctrine just browse this short selection from one of the worst Russian propaganda outlets "Sputnik International" totally owned by the Russian government......notice the Twitter hashtags they focus on.....

Sputnik ‏@SputnikInt · 4m4 minutes ago
A matter of true intensions: why Washington does not want to send troops to #Syria #Daesh

Sputnik ‏@SputnikInt · 15m15 minutes ago
Is #SaudiCoalition created to challenge Russia, Iran in #Syria? #Daesh #waronterror

Sputnik ‏@SputnikInt · 26m26 minutes ago
#Turkey eyes building pipeline to receive #gas from Israel – reports

Sputnik ‏@SputnikInt · 36m36 minutes ago
Not US job to call for #Assad's resignation – @MartinOMalley #DemDebate #Syria

Sputnik ‏@SputnikInt · 46m46 minutes ago
#Crimea’s Tatars slam #Turkey over aggressive stance towards Russia #BackStabbed #Su24

Outlaw 09

Sun, 12/20/2015 - 3:30am

In 2011 Assad said it clearly and even wrote it on the walls of Syrian towns.

"Either Assad or nobody. Either Assad or we burn the country".

Assad's shabiha wrote "Assad or we burn the country" in 2011. Now tell me he's not responsible for what they say.

Now Putin is "burning" the country and the West simply looks on and says nothing just as they have for the last 4.5 years.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 12/19/2015 - 4:49pm

Taken from the Syria 2015 thread......


What does #Russia do when rebels are battling #ISIS around Mare’a, #Aleppo? They bomb the rebels of course. Luckily no casualties today.

Wait a second, please: Russian bombs have missed?

I'm shocked. Shocked...


Muslims from Russia Now Living in Turkey against Moscow but Not for ISIS
Wh...oh, there are Moslems that aren't Daesh terrorists...?

No end of wonders today... Is it already Christmas?


BREAKING: #Turkey announces troop withdrawal from Iraq after Obama appeal: ministry - AFP

SO what did Obama have to do to get the Turk buy in.....MORE TOWs......

There are even 'better' news today. US aircraft seem to have hit the 55th Brigade ISF today, killing either 20 or 30.

Of course, Iranian puppets in Baghdad - and RT - are having a field day: why to hell should anybody care the coordinates were provided by the Iraqis themselves? Or about the fact that the other half of the 55th went to Syria, in form of Hezbollah/Iraq's 'pilgrims to Sayyida Zaynab'...?

The only thing surprising here: nobody comes to the idea to call for withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Almost pity not to get a chance to see if the IRGC can at least find the Daesh, not to talk about fighting it...

There are some peculiar assumptions here... does anyone really believe that the Kurds who fight ISIS are "doing America's bidding", rather than fighting for their own survival?

More than anything, though, this article highlights the missing element in US planning for the region: the lack of a practical, achievable end state goal. We are against ISIS. We are against Russian or Iranian hegemony. We are against anarchy... but what are we FOR? It matters, because in the real world "winning" and "success" come down to achieving your objectives, and you can't achieve your objectives if you don't know what they are. American political discourse at the moment is filled with proposals ranging from chest-thumping bluster to reticence, but in almost every case the key element - a practical, achievable end state goal - is simply absent. It's hard to see how a fight is going to end well if we enter it without clarity of purpose.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 12/19/2015 - 4:34pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Has the Obama indecisiveness created the total mess the ME is in right now---or was he so wrapped up in not rocking Iran for his Iran Deal that he could not see the trees for the forest....??

So current situation: Russia is
1. creating civilian massacre in Syria, saving Assad, NOT fighting ISIS.
2. arming PKK
3. arming Houthis

So there is intense fighting going on on TURKISH SOIL here...
Didn't Putin send arms to PKK after SU24 was downed?

Yes, Iranians have been smuggling large quantities of Russian weapons to PKK:

Question: how is is possible that some seemingly random militia can take over a Saudi border post????

Answer: because RUSSIA IS ARMING THEM!!!!
So Russia is instigating war between Turkey and PKK because of #SU24 downing.
Russia's hybrid war on NATO-member...

Seems we need to urgently get back to the Russian non linear warfare doctrine in discussions on Syria ..

Outlaw 09

Sat, 12/19/2015 - 8:49am

In reply to by Bill C. my core comment AND the US strategy for Syria and eastern Ukraine is again exactly what......?

There is none---the US Kerry moves yesterday in the UNSC was simply a dig up of the Arab League proposal from 2012 nothing more nothing less--and that proposal did not fly with Assad, Khamenei, Putin then and the US did not side with it as it came from the Arab League.

In 2012 when the fighting was not as brutal as it is now and when the Syrian civil society was not as radicalized as it is now the US had a chance to make it happen......BUT Obama could have cared less AS he was not willing to clash with Iran for a final has been always about his legacy.

For the anti Assad forces now there is a single goal --get Assad out of Syria and possible war crime charges against him which actually are a valid demand based on his genocidal tactics.

Right now HAVE you noticed anywhere mentioned by Obama and Kerry that the single thing most needed right now is a full and complete stopping of bombing of civilian targets and critical civilian infrastructure as the winter is upon Syria and starvation is a brutal weapon being used by both Russia and Assad.

BUT did you notice anything out of the UNSC, the US and or Putin about stopping the a word was lost.

Tells me they did not care just how many civilians are killed---we are at now 350K PLUS and it is averaging another 80-100 per day and a lot of children and women are in those numbers.

PLUS out of the UNSC was reported that the US/Russia wanted to put together a list of Islamist terror groups numbering 160....

BUT did you see anything mentioned about the 40 (FORTY) Shia terrorist organizations fighting in Syria---WHY are they in Syria and not in Iraq where IS is?? Nothing is being mentioned by the US when it comes to the question WHY are Iraqi Shia militia fighting in Syria with US weapons and Humvees.....??

"All the terrorist ethnic cleansing Shia militias operating Iraq-Syria alone that media NEVER mentions"

WE are log past a so called civil war---Syria has definitely become the epic center of the Sunni Shia "Hundred Years War" with Putin supporting the IRGC, Hezbollah, 25 Iraqi Shia militias, and a Shia mercenary army from 12 different nations sending Shia fighters into Syria.

VS the Sunni Front States led by KSA and Turkey.

AND the US position in this Obama mess is again what?????

He basically stated yesterday that he fully understands the Khamenei which is just the continued Khomeini revolutionary Islam concept of the Green Crescent ie the need for an Iranian land corridor to Lebanon.

AND Obama is not now fully supporting proIranian positions lately????

So since he is so understanding of the land corridor for Hezbollah is he also willing to provide a land corridor in southern Ukraine to the Russians...??

"The Coming Anarchy in the Levant" (etc.) to be viewed through the following lens:

In the "Foreign Policy" article offered by Outlaw at his "December 18, 2015 - 8:56am" comment below, it becomes abundantly clear that the U.S. believes that it faces no real threat.

Why might I be able to say this?

Because, as this article points out, the only real "war"/conflict that the Republicans and the Democrats are concerned with are:

a. The "wars"/conflict between themselves (the "war" between the Republicans and the Democrats). And

b. The "wars" within their very own parties (the "wars" within the Republican and within the Democratic parties themselves).

Thus, if you are looking for strategy -- and/or for the basis for strategy -- for our foreign policy and/or our national security agenda -- or for the actions undertaken in this foreign policy and/or national security's name -- then you need to look no further than the "threat" suggested by the "In the U.S. it is the Internal Wars that Count" context outlined at my "a" and "b" above.

Everything done in the United States today, to include foreign policy, national security, etc., would seem to be best viewed through this "internal threat/internal competition" lens.

Through this "domestic/indigenous threat/competition" lens to, thus, understand the present and "Coming Anarchy in the Levant."

Herein, to suggest that the Republicans and Democrats are not so much interested in "winning" or bringing peace to the Levant (or elsewhere) -- as they are in "winning" (and/or at least scoring "points") re: the internal competition I have outlined above.

This is the real war.

Everything else (example: the Levant) (a) pales in comparison to, (b) is obviously subordinated to, (c) is pushed to the background re: and/or (d) is defined, discussed and ultimately determined as per the American "indigenous"/"civil war"/"internal" conflict outlined above.

If such were not the case, and a real threat did exist, then it is more likely that such matters would come first (rather than last as it appears they do today) and that these Republicans and these Democrats would be more likely to come together to kick ass and take names re: such a real threat. The fact that they do not, indicates that:

a. There is no such real threat today and that, accordingly,

b. The attention and efforts of both the Republicans and the Democrats is focused elsewhere (to wit: on themselves).

(This, at least, is the message that the Republicans and the Democrats are sending out to the American people today, and to the world at-large.)

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/18/2015 - 4:05am

If we view Bloomberg as an example of the main stream media (MSM) then we need to ask oursleves just how was it possible that they released an article concerning the limitation of US air strikes by SAM17s----if they would have fact checked CENTCOMs own PR from 15/16 Dec they would have seen that air strikes were conducted--NOW they could have been via UAVs but it appears that an AC130 was also used which is not a definite SAM denied area type of aircraft.

I posted the article to draw attention to just how badly MSM is performing in the area of just Syria.......

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/17/2015 - 3:53pm

ISIS launch heavy assault on rebel held Herbel while allowing Assad forces to advance in Kuweires & Russia bombing Rebels fighting ISIS!

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/17/2015 - 2:45pm

IF true some of us here pointed out this Russian development when Putin announced his air deployment along with AD weeks ago.

AND we even wonder why Obama is in his mess....IF this is anywhere close to being accurate THEN Obama has no strategy that can succeed???

New Russian Air Defenses in Syria Keep U.S. Grounded

Dec 17, 2015 1:00 PM EST
By Josh Rogin & Eli Lake


There is a new crisis for the international effort to destroy the Islamic State, created by the Kremlin. The U.S. has stopped flying manned air-support missions for rebels in a key part of northern Syria due to Russia’s expansion of air defense systems there, and the Barack Obama administration is scrambling to figure out what to do about it.

Russia’s military operations inside Syria have been expanding in recent weeks, and the latest Russian deployments, made without any advance notice to the U.S., have disrupted the U.S.-led coalition's efforts to support Syrian rebel forces fighting against the Islamic State near the Turkey-Syria border, just west of the Euphrates River, several Obama administration and U.S. defense officials told us. This crucial part of the battlefield, known inside the military as Box 4, is where a number of groups have been fighting the Islamic State for control, until recently with overhead support from U.S. fighter jets.

But earlier this month, Moscow deployed an SA-17 advanced air defense system near the area and began “painting” U.S. planes, targeting them with radar in what U.S. officials said was a direct and dangerous provocation. The Pentagon halted all manned flights, although U.S. drones are still flying in the area. Russia then began bombing the rebels the U.S. had been supporting.

Inside the top levels of the administration, officials are debating what to do next. The issue is serious enough that Secretary of State John Kerry raised it with Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met on Tuesday, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General John Dunford has discussed it with his Russian counterpart as well, a spokesman for U.S. Air Force Central Command told us.

"The increasing number of Russian-supplied advanced air defense systems in Syria, including SA-17s, is another example that Russia and the regime seek to complicate the global counter-Daesh coalition’s air campaign,” said Major Tim Smith, using another term for the Islamic State.

The increasing number of Russian air defense systems further complicate an already difficult situation over the skies in Syria, and do nothing to advance the fight against the Islamic State, which has no air force, Smith said. He added that Russia could instead be using its influence with the regime to press President Bashar al-Assad to cease attacking civilians. “Unhelpful actions by Russia and the Syrian regime will not stop coalition counter-Daesh operations in Syria, nor will such actions push the coalition away from specific regions in Syria where Daesh is operating,” said Smith.

In Washington, top officials are debating how to respond to Russia's expanded air defenses, said another administration official who was not authorized to discuss internal deliberations. The administration could decide to resume flights in support of the rebels fight Islamic State, but that could risk a deadly incident with the Russian military. For now, the U.S. seems to be acquiescing to Russia’s effort to keep American manned planes out of the sky there and "agree to their rules of the game," the administration official said.

With U.S. planes out of the way, Russia has stepped up its own airstrikes along the Turkey-Syria border, and the Obama administration has accused it of targeting the rebel groups the U.S. was supporting, not the Islamic State. The Russian strikes are also targeting commercial vehicles passing from Turkey into Syria, the administration official told us. The Washington Post reported that the Russian strikes have resulted in a halt of humanitarian aid from Turkey as well.

These heightened tensions between the U.S. and Russia on the ground run counter to the public outreach Kerry has been pursuing as part of his effort to kick-start a peace process between the Syrian regime and the opposition. In remarks at the Kremlin Tuesday, Kerry said he was “grateful for President Putin” and looked forward to cooperating with Russia on the fight against the Islamic State. Kerry will meet with Russian leaders again Friday in New York.

Kerry also said the U.S. is not pursuing “regime change” in Syria, comments that were seen by many as another step away from the long-held U.S. call for Assad to step down. The latest U.S.-Russia talks didn’t focus on Assad’s status, Kerry said, adding that he was working to establish a political process that would allow Syrians to choose their own leadership.

While the diplomacy drags on, the Russian military continues to place Assad in a stronger position and constrain the coalitions' operations, said Matthew McInnis, a former Iran analyst for U.S. Central Command and now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “The Russians are trying to create zones where they would have to give permission for U.S. flights,” he said. “The Russians are increasingly defining the military landscape by their actions.”

McInnis said he has heard other Western diplomats express concern about how much the U.S. may give in to the Russian and Syrian position to get a cease-fire. "There is definitely some nervousness about how far the administration is willing to go to accommodate the Russian position on Assad," he said.

Robert Ford, Obama’s former ambassador to Syria, said the Russians may have another motive in expanding their military operations in northern Syria: to put pressure on Turkey. Russian-Turkish relations have turned ugly since Turkey shot down a Russian plane near its border last month. Turkey is keenly interested in the Box 4 region in Syria because it supports the Sunni Arab groups fighting there, working covertly with the U.S.

“The Russians are doing this to squeeze the Turks," said Ford. "It’s going to cause problems for the CIA program."

The actual number of U.S. flights that were supporting Syrian groups in this area was not large. Officials told us that Defense Secretary Ash Carter had been resisting a more comprehensive air campaign in the area for two reasons: Some of the groups fighting there are not vetted and include Islamic brigades, including the al-Nusrah Front. Also, Carter prefers a strategy of supporting Syrian Kurds with weapons and having them take over the border territory.

But the Syrian Arabs and the Turks don’t want Kurdish troops to control Box 4, said Ford, because then the Kurds would then have a proto-state reaching all the way from the Mediterranean Sea to the Iran-Iraq border.

The success of any U.S.-led effort to bring Assad to the negotiating table will depend on squeezing the Syrian regime. Yet at this crucial moment, the U.S. is not only decreasing pressure, but acquiescing to Russian pressure. This benefits not only Assad and Russia, but also the Islamic State.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/17/2015 - 11:41am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

THIS is though the Russian reality that Obama fails to address.......

In addition to earlier reports 138 Russian airstrikes targeted 101 civilian targets & 10 non-ISIS rebel targets

When an administration allows through their inactivity to address outright genocide when they are fully aware of that ongoing genocide THEN are they also responsible for that genocide????

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/17/2015 - 11:29am

No wonder we are seeing absolutely no success under the so called Obama IS strategy.....when he argues he has no forces on the ground capable of dealing with IS he in fact does BUT that means he must move Assad out of power AND then he clashes with Iran and Putin which he is loath to do to appears......

Syria Drastic reduction in ATGM launches in first half of December 2015:

They reduce #TOW supply to blackmail rebels to surrender talks to appease #Putin.

An this is the Obama plan to force acceptance by the FSA and others to accede to Putin's demands to accept Assad for another two years?????

AND it these very same groups that are currently fighting Islamic State rather successfully AND who had clearly indicated THAT once Assad is forced out they will turn their full attention to IS.

BUT then what was the Obama response---Kerry to Moscow and denying the comments that came out of the oppositional meeting in KSA AND telling basically in Kerry's words--the anti Assad forces MUST drop their demands for Assad to leave first.....

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/17/2015 - 10:10am

Again there is really no definitive Obama and Kerry strategy for IS either in Iraq and or Syria........

December 16, 2015

John Kerry on “Regime Change”

By Frederic C. Hof

Speaking in Moscow on December 15, 2015 after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Secretary of State John Kerry said—as part of his prepared statement—that, “the United States and our partners are not seeking so-called ‘regime change,’ as it is known in Syria. What we have said is that we don’t believe that Assad himself has the ability to be able to lead the future Syria…” Unless Mr. Kerry is using the phrase “regime change” as a synonym for violent overthrow, his statement is perplexing. Is it a superficial attempt to curry favor with Russian hosts? Is it a change in policy? No doubt a clarification will be forthcoming. It is definitely needed. More importantly, the Vienna process launched six weeks ago needs to start saving Syrian lives.

Since August 18, 2011, when President Barack Obama called upon Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside, the American objective with respect to Syria has been one of regime change. That which has been consistently lacking is a strategy to bring it about.

In place of a strategy there has been a fervent wish for a negotiated political transition, by means of which a particularly loathsome war criminal, along with his closest partners in crime, would be changed out for something inclusive, legitimate, and civilized. Having a strategy—even one aimed at setting a basis for productive negotiations—would have taken the president places he did not want to go, especially given Iran’s role in facilitating its client’s survival strategy of collective punishment and mass homicide. No need to offend the Supreme Leader over Syria.

The alternative to an effective strategy aimed at making good on President Obama’s words has been to beg Moscow for help in moving its client toward the exit: first in 2013, resulting in a Geneva conference fiasco; and now in 2015, with a Vienna peace process that, in six weeks, has not even stopped the wholesale massacre of Syrian civilians. Indeed, it has not sprung a single political prisoner from Assad’s dungeons or lifted a siege that starves and sickens civilians. Instead Russia has piled on, slaughtering civilians with its bombing runs and complicating relief operations in northern Syria, disastrously coincident with the onset of winter.

The administration—with Messrs. Obama and Kerry in the lead—has stated clearly and eloquently why a role for Bashar al-Assad and his regime (the balance of the ruling family and its key enablers) in Syria’s political transition is absurdly inadmissible. This has been the administration’s position since the beginning of the crisis. Yet with the rise of the Islamic State (ISIL, ISIS, or Daesh) in eastern Syria, the anti-Assad rhetoric has sharpened. Desperately lacking a sufficient ground combat component in Syria in its battle against ISIL, the administration dreams of a Syrian government-nationalist rebel united front against the self-proclaimed caliph and calculates—quite correctly—that the dream cannot materialize with the Barrel Bomber in Chief either at the helm or in the ranks. He and his partners are simply drenched in blood and objectively unable to play a unifying role. For the grand, anti-ISIL coalition of armed Syrians to come about, the regime must change.

Indeed, the P5 agreement reached in Geneva in June 2012—the “Action Group for Syria Final Communique”—was a blueprint for peaceful regime change in Syria. Why Russia signed it is anyone’s guess. It has spent over three years trying to redefine its very clear language and meaning. And the Assad regime has rejected the document categorically. Perhaps it can be excused for declining to facilitate its own transition. Yet the American negotiators at Geneva—supported by French and British partners—made clear their goal of putting paid to Assad. All the Russians asked for in the proceedings were no explicit mention of Assad and no reference to “people with blood on their hands.” In return they agreed to a “mutual consent” clause giving opposition and government negotiators veto power over nominees to a “transitional governing body” exercising “full executive power.” Assad’s political fate was thereby consigned to the opposition.

The suspicion here is that the Department of State will, sooner rather than later, issue the requisite “what the Secretary really meant to say” clarification. It will likely define “regime change” in a Saddam Hussein or similar violent context, reiterating that the objective of the United States is an Assad-and-ISIL-free Syria of inclusivity, citizenship, and rule-of-law—a place where political legitimacy can fill vacuums now occupied by two rapacious criminal enterprises largely in the business of living-and-let-living with one another, working with Russia and Iran to eliminate nationalist alternatives.

More salient in the near-term is the question of when this Vienna process will begin to produce positive results for the people of Syria. Six weeks have slipped by since the initial meeting at the end of October. The Assad regime continues its reign of terror in the skies above residential neighborhoods. It continues to besiege some 600,000 people. It does these things in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions. It does so with an enhanced sense of impunity due to Russian and Iranian support and participation. Does anyone on the United States government payroll ever raise these matters with Iranian and Russian counterparts? Will the recent Human Rights Watch report on the “Caesar” photos of people murdered in regime prisons get the attention of a single American official?

In his Moscow statement Secretary Kerry also said, “But we do believe that nobody should be forced to choose between a dictator and being plagued by terrorists. Our challenge remains creating the conditions on which an alternative can emerge.” The first and most important “condition” for anything good to happen is to take civilians off the bullseye in Syria: stop the bombing, lift the sieges, and empty the prisons of political prisoners. Can the sweet-talking of Vladimir Putin be put on pause long enough to address this urgent matter?

If the foreign ministers of the ‘International Syria Support Group’ meeting in New York this Friday will not lift a finger to help the Syrian people, nothing else they do will matter. The ‘regime’ is not the only thing requiring change. Moving civilian protection to the front of the diplomatic queue is all that can prevent this Vienna process from becoming an open-ended permission slip for murder and mayhem.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/17/2015 - 5:13am

Do take notice---after the Obama TOTAL retrenchment and it is actually abandonment of the entire ME and eastern Europe ---not retrenchment a la Wilson 1920 all over again with the same dire results we will be seeing in the next ten years.

Big #Putin show in #Russia'n TV channels -new self-proclaimed global policeman after #USA withdrawn

WHO would have ever thought Putin would be the next "worlds policeman"...??

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/17/2015 - 1:51am

Would highly suggest that all readers take a long look at the responses from CrowBat over on the Syrian military and blunt and to the point concerning the total failure of Obama, Kerry and co. in Syria and IMHO actually contributing far more to the chaos there than even Putin now does......written by one experienced in the area and who has some honest opinions that dovetail with comments posted over the past by Robert Jones.

I will post more comments to this article which is actually the first pass on an important topic BUT at the same time goes to the heart of the TOTAL failure of the US FP especially anything that Obama touches lately....