By Harry C. Blaney III
As one of the key foreign policy tests of Donald Trump’s unfortunate campaign promises and to “Make America Great” is what he will do regarding our Cuba policy. He has indicated as a threat that if Cuba does not change its policies he will cut relations with that nation. But both the threat and its consequences are more likely to make America “little” rather than great and decrease its leverage not only in Latin America but globally.
The death of Fidel Castro is an opportunity to increase our engagement, not to disrupt an initiative that has promoted many of our long-term goals in Cuba and in Latin America. It is a test for rationality and national interest for the new regime and at the moment it looks as if they still do not understand simple facts and long-term strategic interests of this nation and for that matter of the international community.
Trump speaks of disengagement because Cuba is not the democracy we would hope for and has had a record of human rights violations. His twitter threat that : “I will terminate deal” is a bad example of recklessness which applied to a legion of issues would destroy America’s creditably. But does Trump also want to “disengage” with countries with like or even worse such records of democracy and human rights violations like China, Russia, Egypt, Turkey, a number of the “-Stans” and a host of other nations around the world? What has Cuba done that is worst than many of these countries? And where is there a better place to have a constructive influence over time?
President Obama and John Kerry’s policy is, like that of many past presidents, to engage with nations, even those we disagree with on a host of issues, rather that make “America Small” by mindless disengagement. For the good of global security America must be a leader of the global responsible powers and support positive preventive diplomacy, negotiations, and dialogue as necessary tools to make the world safe.
In the first case President Obama’s outreach to Cuba is by any fair account a success, has provided a key access to that beleaguered and troubled nation, and given Americans and Cubans the ability to exchange ideas, trade and cultural activities as never before.
A majority of Americans support the opening of our relations, with diplomatic and business communities agreeing with that approach. Further, many young Cuban-Americans want this opening and outreach to continue. Yet Trump seems in this and in other areas to upend the security, economic and political opportunities that America has gained by a careful and cooperative approach in the international arena.
The test of Cuba policy is whether Trump can see past his destructive campaign rhetoric and look to the long-term gains inherent in constructive engagement with Cuba and other problematic nations. Our country is great, but blind stupidity and destructive policy and actions will only diminish it within and without our nation.
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THE 2016 DEMOCRAT PLATFORM’S FOREIGN AND NATIONAL SECURITY POSITIONS: TERRORISM
Harry C. Blaney III
This is another text on foreign and national security platform of the Democratic Party with commentary with this post we have covered all but one of the more major issues in the platform. Climate change and environment will be posted shortly.
TEXT OF 2016 DEMOCRATIC PLATFORM
We must defeat ISIS, al Qaeda, and their affiliates, and prevent other groups from emerging in their place. Democrats will continue to lead a broad coalition of allies and partners to destroy ISIS’ stronghold in Iraq and Syria. We will press those in the region, especially the Gulf countries and local forces on the ground, to carry their weight in prosecuting this fight. We will dismantle the global network of terror, which supplies terrorists with money, arms, and fighters, and stop them from recruiting and inspiring potential radicals. We will improve our intelligence capabilities, with appropriate safeguards here at home, and ensure that the intelligence community and law enforcement is prepared to deal effectively with the threats we face. We will harden our defenses as well as those of our partners against external and homegrown threats. We will secure the homeland, investing more resources to improve mass transit, aviation, infrastructure, and port security. And we will remain a resilient nation, always coming together to stand up to terror.
Democrats will seek an updated Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that is more precise about our efforts to defeat ISIS and that does not involve large-scale combat deployment of American troops.
As we prosecute the fight against terrorism, Democrats will repudiate vile tactics that would do us harm. We reject Donald Trump’s vilification of Muslims. It violates the religious freedom that is the bedrock of our country and feeds into ISIS’ nefarious narrative. It also alienates people and countries who are crucial to defeating terrorism; the vast majority of Muslims believe in a future of peace and tolerance. We reject Donald Trump’s suggestion that our military should engage in war crimes, like torturing prisoners or murdering civilian family members of suspected terrorists. These tactics run counter to American principles, undermine our moral standing, cost innocent lives, and endanger Americans. We also firmly reject Donald Trump’s willingness to mire tens of thousands of our combat troops in another misguided ground war in the Middle East, which would only further embolden ISIS. There is nothing smart or strong about such an approach.
Much of this text on terrorism followers the main elements of the policies and strategy of the present administration. As a general summary of the approach makes much sense and there has been much success in such areas as taking ground from ISIS and in denying money and other resources to ISIS. It has become writ that we expect the states of the region play a more prominent role in the defeat of ISIS.
This today is exemplified by the recent August 24th attack by Turkish forces including planes and tanks against ISIS terrorists along Turkey’s Syrian border in the area of the town of Jarablus. What is unsaid is to what degree this will impact our need to have the Kurdish forces that are key to defeating ISIS, taking on Assad, and also their role of actions against terrorists in Iraq. The press reports that American planes are supporting the Turkish advance but Turkish leaders have made clear they will attack Kurdish force if the advance into territory near Turkey. That makes for a very complex situation. The Jarablus town is only 95 kilometers from the key city of Aleppo. It is understood that Turkish backed Syrian rebels are working in cooperation with the Turkish forces.
Aleppo and success in Iraq may become a key indication of the success or failure of the joint American lead coalition strategy of destroying ISIS but it is also a very complex and difficult terrain both in military and political grounds. There are some six groups in Syria involved with different motives and alliances. Within the city are forces against Assad which are besieged by pro-Assad army forces, Hezbollah fighters, Iranian troops, and Iraqi Shia militia and even it is said Russian “contract soldiers.” The unknowns are first, the possible Russian response, second, the possibility of a clash between Kurd led forces and others allied with them largely supported by the US coalition, and Turkey’s own objective of destroying or limiting the Kurd power in the region near their border.
Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) are also in the fight and are made up of mainly but not solely of Kurd fighters. This mix of anti-Assad groups which have not always compatible goals makes for a high level of uncertainty of the outcome of the current fighting.
In the end, the test of the current American and allied strategy must be a Syria that is secure, a new government of all groups without Assad in control, and where terrorist do not hold large areas. At the moment the Kurdish and other Arab forces against Assad have taken the critical town of Manbij and want to advance further North and West including towards the Jarablus which could create a threat to both Turkey and Syrian rebels made up largely of Kurds if they engage each other and destroy the unity of the moment. Not least is the role North of Aleppo of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) which plays a role in the defeat of ISIS and is backed by the anti-Assad coalition.
At this moment with the contending forces now fully engaged are creating an even more complex military and political situation with anti-Assad forces diminished yet still strong with Russian support. But a danger is some of these other anti-Assad forces might engaged with each other in a fight over territory and control of large areas and create still more instability. At this point American diplomacy will be key and the need for some kind of accommodation between forces is necessary to end the conflict and stabilize the region. The key today today is what will the region look like the day after ISIS is essentially defeated in both Syria and Iraq. It clearly will not stop all terrorism.
It is hard to argue with the platform idea of protecting our homeland and that of our allies against acts of terrorism. Here key specifics are missing.
Not least also in an anti-terrorist effort is the war in Iraq against ISIS which is also may be coming to some kind of unknown of conclusion but the goal of an Iraq that is untied between Sunni and Shia and Kurds and this will not happen just by defeating ISIS. This issue will be examined in another post.
The second part of the platform on terrorism reaffirms that this is not a war on Muslims, that Trump’s idea of making unlimited war is wrong, and that the idea of sending large numbers of American troops wold be counterproductive. On these stances I see no problem and are compatible with Obama’s perspective and strategy. But the presidential campaign needs to correct some of the false and dangerous assumptions and strategies by Trump that are dangerous to a true “win” over terrorism and for America’s leadership on this and other issues.
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In this series, we will be looking at positions taken by the Democratic Party in their 2016 Platform on issues pertaining to national security. Next up is the Middle East. A commentary on the platform issue will be found at its end.
The Syrian crisis is heartbreaking and dangerous, and its impact is threatening the region, Europe, and beyond. Donald Trump would inflame the conflict by alienating our allies, inexplicably allowing ISIS to expand in Syria, and potentially starting a wider war. This is a reckless approach. Democrats will instead root out ISIS and other terrorist groups and bring together the moderate Syrian opposition, international community, and our regional allies to reach a negotiated political transition that ends Assad’s rule. Given the immense scale of human suffering in Syria, it is also imperative that we lead the international community in providing greater humanitarian assistance to the civilian victims of war in Syria and Iraq, especially displaced refugees.
In Afghanistan, we will work with the NATO-led coalition of partners to bolster the democratically-elected government as it assumes a primary role in tackling terrorism, forges a more secure future for the country, and safeguards advances, like securing women’s rights. Democrats will continue to push for an Afghan-led peace process and press both Afghanistan and Pakistan to deny terrorists sanctuary on either side of the border. We support President Obama’s decision to maintain a limited troop presence in Afghanistan into 2017 and ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a haven for terrorists to plan and launch attacks on our homeland.
We support the nuclear agreement with Iran because, as it is vigorously enforced and implemented, it verifiably cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb without resorting to war. We reject Donald Trump’s view that we should have walked away from a deal that peacefully dismantles Iran’s nuclear program. We will continue the work of this administration to ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon and will not hesitate to take military action if Iran races towards one.
Democrats will also address the detrimental role Iran plays in the region and will robustly enforce and, if necessary, strengthen non-nuclear sanctions. Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism. It violates the human rights of its population, denies the Holocaust, vows to eliminate Israel, and has its fingerprints on almost every conflict in the Middle East. Democrats will push back against Iran’s destabilizing activities including its support for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, counter Iran’s ballistic missile program, bolster the capabilities of our Gulf partners, and ensure that Israel always has the ability to defend itself. Finally, Democrats recognize that the Iranian people seek a brighter future for their country and greater engagement with the international community. We will embrace opportunities for cultural, academic and other exchanges with the Iranian people.
The Middle East is a region in turmoil with no good or easy answers either for nations in the region or for Western governments. The fundamentals of insecurity remain the Sunni-Shia divide and the rise of ISIS and other terrorist groups that thrive on this divide in the Muslim community. There are a lot of issues that are missing in this section of the Democratic platform. Not least is directly the problems of the Gulf Sates like Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as a discussion on Libya.
On Syria, the key statement about the country – that the “crisis is heartbreaking and dangerous, and its impact is threatening the region, Europe, and beyond” – is correct. Yet the landscape is so dark and complex that a clear path forward is not only very difficult, it is near impossible without the cooperation of all the major powers in the region. However, this is not currently forthcoming, as Egypt, Turkey, and other players are in internal disarray. Additionally, the Sunni-Shia conflict still badly needs resolution, which seems out of reach without long-term work to heal.
What can and should be done more specifically is deal with the real, major, and dire humanitarian situation. We need now to start to look at a humanitarian space which can at last be effectively enforced by multi-lateral peacekeeping/peace-protecting forces that include Muslim, Western, and other nations, along with needed support with major resources to create a cordon of protection and safety.
Supporting “moderate” forces remains a work in progress that must be reinforced. Yet all of this must, in the end, lead to Assad’s removal in order to create lasting peace. Russia must recognize the need to change its strategy and re-assess its interests, and see a crisis that is heartbreaking, dangerous, and one that’s impact is threatening the stability of the entire region. Europe, America, Russia, and beyond need to acquiesce to a real compromise that ends with a broad based multi-group governmental coalition based on ensured security of all ethnic groups. Not least, what is needed is a major rebuilding of society – which will need a large amount of funding – for a region that has been decimated by hate and a brutal regime. The United Nations and other international organizations need to be involved.
The Afghanistan section essentially is a reiteration of the Obama Administration’s existing strategy, which tries to combine a certain limited US military presence with support for the Afghan government’s efforts to do what is necessary to bring security and a measure, at last, of a responsible government to the nation.
Progress, though slow and with many setbacks, have been made against ISIS and other terrorists groups. There is no mention of addressing the major problem of deep corruption that undermines true security and stability and the building of a measure of democracy. Part of the answer must be to restore some common security and economic improvement in the lives of the common citizen. This means Pakistan must act to stop its actions to destabilize Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
Iraq stands as another battlefield that needs a comprehensive approach – military action alone will not fix the ills we now see in that nation.
Iran remains a work in progress and the Democratic Platform outlines the right path forward because no honest observer can deny that the Iran nuclear agreement is at the heart of ensuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapons for a very long time. The platform acknowledges that all of the other problems of Iran must be addressed, likely one-by-one, and we need to find some common ground. An aggressive stance is self-defeating for that country, and some are starting to recognize this, but it is a slow process. We need a long-term strategy to nudge Iran towards peace and help it to take a more cooperative stance in the region.
What is clear is that the Democratic platform is by far more realistic, more likely to result in a better outcome, less risk prone, and less likely to make the region even more unstable than much of Donald Trump’s own views and those of the GOP that unthinking hostility towards diplomacy and conciliation, raw hostility, and mindless use of military threats and bluster are.
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OUR AGE OF DISCONTENT AND ITS PERILS
Harry C. Blaney III
As we face a coming November election which will be historic on so many different levels and which could bring not just to America great tribulations but also throughout the world. The simple fact is that our acknowledged discontent is mirrored also in many countries including democracies like our own.
This discontent has been exacerbated by the impact of the global “great recession” and the rise of religious conflicts which have destabilized much of the Middle East and beyond. But also by the growth a pernicious inequality and greed authored by authoritarian parties and governments and criminal corporations, banks, and super rich ideologues among the elite.
In America, it has been a deliberate trajectory sent in motion by much of the Republican Party and the mainline conservative media not least Fox news and “talking heads” hate radio shows spuing bigotry, lies, greed and far right-wing attacks on minorities, the poor, and good science. Not least, a key enabler was the Koch Brothers and others with the buying of State legislators, support for rigging of elections against minorities and other opposition voters, and backing candidates filled with hate and racism.
Trump which made a name as a Birther” an act of pure racism; a man who wants to build a wall with Mexico, keep Muslims out of America, and destroy our relations with our allies, and thinks Putin is just lovely. But he and the Republican Tea Party and its racists are also a threat to our some 250 years as a democratic republic.
Yet beyond America, we are seeing true threats to democracy, human rights, sense of a wider cooperative community and support for authoritarianism. This is accompanied also by particularism, narrow right wing nationalism of the neo-fascist Hitler type in Europe and beyond.
We will see soon a vote in Great Britain on the question of continued membership in the European Union. This crackbrained self-defeating idea is spurred by just the forces we have noted. The vote will take place on June 23rd and I plan to be in London to observe one of the truly great historic debates about the future of Europe which could lead to the ascendancy in Britain to the same kind of governance we could see in Donald Trump and those he would put in power.
Yes, we have a common problem. Britain has Boris Johnson, who may run for Prime Minister on the Tory ticket who makes Hitler comparisons that are outrageous and seems to hate the idea of a peaceful and united Europe (what is the other option?). And is also a bit crazy. We have Donald trump who makes racist, bigoted remarks, lies, and impugns our presidents birth place. He also seems to disparage a united Europe and NATO and admires the dictatorial and aggressive Vladimir Putin. And yes both have the same hair style!
The EU is an attempt, so far successful, to keep “Europe free and safe” The reality remains that the EU and the idea of a peaceful united Europe was and is a common dream of much of Europe and the UK; it remains the most significant result of Europe’s enlightened polices that brought prosperity to Europe, and held back aggression from the Soviet Union. That unity is as needed in today’s high risk world as it was in the 1940s and 50s.
Within the continent there are equally dangerous forces on the right that have already bred authoritarian governments in places like Poland, Turkey, Hungary, and in many places the rise of neo-Nazi and racist parties. More on this trend in another post.
In summary, Both Johnson and Trump are guided by an ignorant a-historical perspective and driven by misguided far right ideology along with dangerous personal ambitions that would put America, Britain, and Europe along a path of mutual destruction. National security requires many factors not least a sense of common decent goals, committed allies, and a moral center with wise leadership. These all are in danger on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. In many ways these trends may be as dangerous to national security than what we face from Russia or China.
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PART I : 2016 PROSPECTS FOR THE YEAR IN FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND NATIONAL SECURITY OR AROUND PART OF THE GLOBE IN HALF AN HOUR!
Harry C. Blaney III
This post will take a quick look at some of the most important global challenges and issues Americans and the rest of humanity will face in this year. This will be a brief look at possible developments in key areas, what risks and dangers lie with the topic and what policies or actions might affect outcomes good or bad. Also indicate what America could, should, or should not do to address the dangers and problems inherent in each issue. In short a quick tour of the most difficult questions our present and likely our next president will likely face.
THE MIDDLE EAST, THE SUNNI-SHIA DIVIDE, AND TERRORISM
There is no region more in disarray and conflict ridden than the Middle East and related regions. Nor is there a more difficult set of forces and issues which makes this region a complex quagmire and yet also more in need of conciliation, diplomacy and outside, yes outside help!
While in the end the Shia and Sunni nations must see that their conflict will destroy them both and make some kind of “pact,” or 2016 could see an escalation of internecine warfare. Here diplomacy from both inside the Islamic community and likely outside. Given the larger consequences we will see in the person of Secretary John Kerry and key Europeans an adding of efforts and pressure for some kind of truce. (See comments on Russia’s role below.)
Sadly the year 2016 started out with a worsening of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia over a stupid if not malicious act of killing a Shia Saudi cleric which seems almost designed to escalate the conflict. It will certainly make putting together a necessary joint Shia-Sunni Iraqi regional governance model harder if not impossible.
Yet it must be halted. The seat of most terrorism lies in this region and least we forget it impacts disastrously, more than anyone Muslims of all sects. We are trying to maintain a close dialogue with the key Shia government of Iran which is difficult at any time and with Saudi Arabia that wants unquestioned US support for its anti-Shia strategy. The latter position would be a disaster for America and our allies, in the end we need to be an “honest broker” and “peacemaker” not an outside protagonist.
ISIS or the so-called Islamic State is now at the heart of violence in the Middle East. But there are also many groups and indeed governments who have given support to these brutal killing machines which we see in North Africa, Africa proper, and in Europe and America in individual attacks. 2016 is likely to see more of these and also more reaction by states to curb these terrorists.
Under Obama’s cautious but directed and increasingly mixed-tools strategy, which curbs the deployment of large combat ground troops, and focus, as it should, on the Muslim states concerned taking the lead in routing out ISIS, seem to, at last, to make some progress. ISIS has lost some 30-40% of its population and/or territory in Syria and Iraq.
We are likely to see “more of the same” but now modified to see what works best and least costly in terms of blood and resources and the key problem of “blowback” and “unintended consequences.” It was and is a wise policy which pleases nobody but is an fine example of “smart power” at work. No guarantee of working but the best option of all the other most bad ones. We are likely to see a tough debate in 2016 over a more militaristic approach verses a more cautious but evolving and multi-tools strategy using cooperation with others as a key component. This conundrum will not be solved in 2016 but the activities and attacks of 2016 will influence future outcomes.
There are a number of Middle East countries which are in a critical state including Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt, many African nations and others which need not just American attention but also from other key countries including Europe and Asian nations. In each case 2016 will require added major resources and attention via hard diplomacy and addressing some of the fundamental causes if each is not addressed the result will be the spread of conflict and terrorism.
ISRAELI- PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
An example of a conflict that is getting worse not better largely due to the continued effort of Prime Minister Bebe Nethanhuh to make sure there will not be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I can’t be less blunt about this. He has expanded illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem which are all Palestinian lands. He has said outrageous words about Palestinians citizens in Israel and has said there will be no two state solution while he is in power. He has insulted and tried to undermined President Obama in as many ways as possible within the already fractured difficult American politics while getting un-presidented major military assistance from the same President to help Israel’s security. His recent visit to Washington to “make up” made little progress towards a peace deal.
While the PLO has not been always helpful in the negotiations and remains weak and divided, and angery it was the continued settlements which forced them into desperate acts which is likely to bring the same sad scenario in 2016 unless there is considerable outside pressure to demand a need to solve this situation, which if not resolved is likely to inflame the entire region and threaten peace and produce a catastrophe for Israel itself. There are those who think America should give up on the Middle East. But the question is in 2016 can the West and other Middle East powers see the consequences of this path to mutual destruction and make an offer that can’t be turned down? Most experts are pessimistic, indeed opposed to any further efforts. They are wrong.
RUSSIA: A DISASTER IN WAITING
If it is true that President Putin’s game is enhancing his and Russia’s strategic and geopolitical standing and he wants to be seen as a major international power, he will be seriously disappointed. If his game is to make “mock war” with the West, this path and this goal lies in failure and possibly mutual calamity. The keyis for the West to hold its unity and focus. Russia it is to be a responsible state looking to help peacemaking and constructively dealing with the many global challenges we face, Putin can win that game for Russia’s long term interests.
His problem is really not just the low price of gas and oil, nor his military adventures, it is the tragedy that his policies have made of Russia. The Ukraine/Crimea gambit will prove to be costly on many dimensions and, if seen as it should, to be a cause of the downturn of the Russian economy and the standard of living of the average citizen (not you can be sure of Putin’s friends among the Oligarchy.
Russia is increasingly, as I have written earlier, a “Potemkin Village” is an empty shell and darkness inside and despair growing. Putin is riding high in the opinion polls but much is also due to his harsh repression of any dissent as seen in his “contract killings” at home and abroad. The predictions are for recession, decline of the Ruble, continued low oil and gas prices and not least a continued from the top corrupt society which enfeebles a great nation.
But this realization clearly has not yet happened among many Russians and may not in 2016. The test will be in Ukraine, Syria, and relations with the former countries of the former Soviet Union. A test will also be if he continues to carry out his provocative military flights and ship/sub/troop exercises near or over NATO nations.
Given the recent past history, President Putin is not likely to let up on his dangerous indeed mad aggression and acts of war in Ukraine and Syria unless forced to do so from inside realities or outside pressure. He has backed time and time again brutal regimes and groups. His backing of Assad – a regime that has carried out now for years mass killings of its citizens in Syria. Assad’s is a terrorist regime itself.
In an odd swing this action has put him on the same side as Iran and Hezbollah a terrorist group, an effort to be a likely costly goal of being a “big” player in the muddy Middle East. It is just the same game as his other aggressive gambits with nefarious “allies” in places like Georgia, etc. He may pay a cost and make enemies with the Sunni nations by his actions.
He has from time to time tried to appear to seek common ground but with outcomes that only favor his prejudices and goals. He supports the Iran nuclear deal, and in theory a UN backed peace settlement and process in Syria. In 2016 we will see if this ends in peace and all will depend if he is willing to see in the near future Assad to go. His military chips are put down in the Syrian coast with added arms in 2016, but the forces at work are those he nor we can fully control.
Look for a very hard road here in 2016 unless Putin changes his calculations. Look also for more allied bombing efforts against ISIS and possibly indirectly Assad’s forces if peace talks fail. And some work to deal with the refugee issues seems necessary.
END OF PART I: COMING SECOND PART COVERS EUROPE, ASIA, NUCLEAR WEAPONS, GLOBAL WARMING, AND OTHER ISSUES.
Comments are welcomed.
Harry C. Blaney III
The president was hardly out of the Oval Office before the Republican candidates and the largely Republican owned main line media were attacking him for being “weak” and saying comments such as “nothing new.” None of these pronouncements had a single realistic and intelligent word that was creditable for an alternative strategy that Obama has not already put in place or has announced.
The only implication of these statements and criticism is that many Republicans and neo-cons really want American combat troops on the ground without directly saying it, so that they can be killed, captured, or tortured and beheaded by the ISIS. These same right-wing pundits, editorial writers, and TV networks and radio talk shows, to say nothing re the GOP presidential candidates would then be asking for Obama’s own head!
For example, Republicans are auguring that the air war might have a larger international ground component which would include American combat troops. On Wednesday December 9th at a House Armed Services Committee hearing with DOD Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Chairman Senator John MaCain demanded more aggressive strategy against ISIS implying the present strategy was not working, too weak and that his approach would work. But clearly that strategy would require considerably more American troops on the ground and higher casualties. Further,Trump and his GOP colleagues want un-fettled bombing without consideration of innocent civilian causalities.
In a recent appearance on CNN with Sen. John McCain (R-Az.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called for the creation of a 100,000-strong “regional army to go into Syria” to fight the Islamic State, claiming that Qatar and Saudi Arabia were already on board with the plan. We are already urging greater military support from these states and the reality is that Saudi Arabia has taken their planes out of the Syria theater and into the Yemen battleground. No official Saudi troops are fighting in Syria now.
There is much talk and little action and statements of Arab states helping, but as one presidential candidate put it “regional countries must bear part of the burden” in the Syrian fight. But they still assume the US and Western allies will do the real major fighting. Senator Graham — who is running for president on the Republican ticket — also called for more than doubling the number of U.S. troops in Iraq from 3,500 to 10,000.
What is a good smart man to do? My answer is to continue a careful, cautious, and effective long-term multiple tools strategy to “degrade and destroy ISIS.” That is what Obama and his team are doing and despite all the right-wing rhetoric it is in fact working bit by bit with some setbacks in a murky and difficult complex landscape. This strategy includes using the tools of diplomacy, not least the effort to bring other actors to the forefront for the solution of getting rid of ISIS, as an Islamic State with land able to expand is a serious threat to the US and its allies.
Let’s look at a bit of the real facts and the trend line of the strategy:
First, the president said this would be a multi-year effort even one of a decade given the spread of ISIS to other lands other than Syria or Iraq. But my view is that already in place and what is planned is not just a likely effective and careful strategy to degrade ISIS, but to eviscerate its ability to hold significant territory and larger populations. But this will not happen overnight. There are too many forces with conflicting goals.
Second, Obama and our allies have now been reinforced by fighters from France, and Britain has agreed to hit Syrian targets. Further, Germany will help to supply logistics and intelligence resources. The anti-ISIS coalition has launched over 8,000 air strikes against the Islamic State over the past 16 months in Iraq and Syria. These attacks have killed some 20,000 fighters, according to U.S. estimates. New supplies and weapons are being put on the ground.
The administration also recently proposed to utilize U.S. Joint Special Operations Command to launch targeted raids against Islamic State leadership across Iraq and Syria, copying the way U.S. commandos previously hit the ranks of al Qaeda in Iraq and Taliban leadership in the past. The military is working on added programs to hit the heart of ISIS. Already, according to Secretary Carter on Wednesday, ISIS oil sales are down due to the bombing and the start of closing the Turkish border and other actions have been taken to stop funds and fighters from getting into Syria. Assistance to key anti-ISIS and yes anti-Assad fighting forces, with mixed objectives, is starting to put real local pressure on ISIS. Russia is a problem that needs and is getting diplomatic attention.
Third, and most important, America and some allies are working the key tract of a short and long-term strategy for defeat of ISIS in its home ground and create the framework for a future stable and peaceful society. The key hard challenge will then be to put together a coalition of the existing diverse players to create the conditions for peace and some measure of fair and broad based governance in the region.
I do believe that soon some kind of humanitarian zone is needed and practical if an effective international peacekeeping force is also included along with the enforcement of a “no-fly zone.” Syrian displaced citizens which must form the heart of a future nation need to stay in their own country and be part of a future government and help with nation building. Already the current millions of refugees have denuded the nation of among its best talent which is needed more than ever. That meas resources to support these people who have lost so much.
Finally, what we do not need is more calls for American ground troops in the fight, we do not need those that create, at home, a divisive and anti-Muslim bigoted rant of the nature of Trump and many of his fellow GOP candidates which play into the hands of ISIS. Obama’s caution is wise as he noted that most Muslims are our fellow citizens, and we should be mindful of our words and actions given our past experience of unneeded recklessness calls for war and hate towards others.
Nothing in this world of conflict is certain but stupidity and lack of counting the costs and risks is true disaster and complicates solving the problems of the Middle East. The time has come for the U.S. to apply wisdom, smart power, and due forethought and act with others while looking at what needs to be done when the fighting abates. Sadly the right-wing Republicans have no answer to these questions and only seem to want endless costly war and not, it seems, peace. If America is to continue to be the key accepted wise world leader and to win in a conflict filled globe we need to avoid fascism, racism, and hate to be our call letters.
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