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Iran’s Goals in Syria

by Alireza Nader

January 26, 2015

Источник: http://www.rand.org/blog/2015/01/irans-goals-in-syria.html

What is Iran doing in Syria? How important is Iran in the ground war?
Iran is playing a crucial role in buttressing President Bashar Assad, through military advice, provision of weapons, and funding of the cash-strapped Syrian government. The Assad regime might not survive without support of Iran and its allies such as Hezbollah.
Where are Iranian forces concentrated? How many are there? What are they doing exactly?
Some Iranians have been killed in Syria, including Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammed Allahdadi in January 2015. But Iran does not appear to be committing major ground forces to the conflict. Tehran instead prefers to recruit Shiite militias from across the Middle East and even Afghanistan to fight in places like Damascus and Aleppo. Iran’s profile in Syria is lower than its profile in Iraq.
What are the stakes for Iran in Syria?
Iran has sought to protect the dozens of Shiite holy sites in Syria, especially the Zeinab Shrine near Damascus. Tehran used the holy sites to recruit fighters to aid Assad. More importantly, Syria is the geopolitical lynchpin for Iranian influence in the Levant and the wider Arab world. If the Syrian regime fell, the flow of arms and aid to Iran’s most important Arab ally — the Lebanese militia and political party Hezbollah — would be affected. Hezbollah, which has thousands of rockets aimed at Israel, is the main Iranian deterrence against Israel.
How does Iran’s role in Syria today differ from its earlier activities before the war?
Iran and Syria have been close allies since the 1979 Iranian revolution. Each has provided the other with critical assistance at various times. Syria was one of only two Arab nations (Libya was the other) to support Iran during the eight-year war with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. It was an important conduit for weapons to an isolated Iran.

Over the last decade, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have trained, equipped, and aided Syria’s security and military forces. Hundreds of thousands of Iranian pilgrims and tourists visited Syria before its civil war, and Iranian companies made significant investments in the Syrian economy.

But in the past few years, Iran has played an active role in Syria that few could have imagined before the civil war. “The deep, strategic and historic relations between the people of Syria and Iran … will not be shaken by any force in the world,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said shortly after his 2013 inauguration. Tehran appears to be willing to spend billions of dollars to prop up the Assad regime despite its own floundering economy. For now, Iran is fully committed to the fight.
How do Iran’s actions and goals in Syria differ from the United States?
Iran has opposed U.S. policies on Syria since the conflict broke out. In 2013, Tehran condemned the U.S. move to provide non-lethal aid to rebels for the first time. Iranian officials criticized U.S.-led airstrikes on Islamic State (ISIS) targets in 2014, despite a shared interest in defeating the militants. Rouhani said the bombardments were illegal because they had not been sanctioned by the Syrian government.

Tehran has also argued that the best way to defeat ISIS is to support the Assad government. It has challenged U.S. support for anti-government rebels. “You cannot fight ISIS and the government in Damascus together,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in reaction to the airstrikes.

Tehran generally opposes any type of foreign intervention in Syria. But officials have warned the United States in particular not to deploy its forces in the region again.

Tehran welcomed Assad’s reelection to the presidency in June 2014, while Washington dismissed the poll. “The elections are non-elections. A great big zero,” said Secretary of State John Kerry. But Tehran may not be fully committed to Bashar Assad as the only leader for Syria, although it wants a pro-Iranian regime in Damascus.
How are U.S. and Iranian actions affecting each other’s strategies?
The divide between Iran and the United States in Syria appears to be unbridgeable, but Iran may be flexible in Syria as long as its interests are protected. This may not be palatable for the United States and its allies, especially Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which have long sought to overthrow the Alawite-led regime.

Containing Middle East Terror

Measures to Reduce the Threat Posed By Foreign Fighters Returning from Syria and Iraq

by Brian Michael Jenkins

Источник: http://www.rand.org/pubs/testimonies/CT427.html

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Testimony presented before the House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security on March 17, 2015.

Artful Balance: The Future of US Defense Strategy and Force Posture in the Gulf

By Bilal Y. Saab And Barry Pavel

March 23, 2015

Источник: http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/publications/reports/artful-balance-the-future-of-us-defense-strategy-and-force-posture-in-the-gulf

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A strategic review of US defense strategy and force posture in the Gulf is long overdue. In Artful Balance: Future US Defense Strategy and Force Posture in the Gulf, Bilal Y. Saab, Resident Senior Fellow for Middle East Security at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, and Barry Pavel, Vice President and Director of the Scowcroft Center, analyze how historic changes and developing trends in Washington, the Middle East, and across the globe—along with Iran’s nuclear ambitions and asymmetric threat—are all affecting US defense strategy in the Gulf.

Saab and Pavel argue that it is more critical than ever that US defense strategy in the Gulf be designed around reassuring partners, deterring adversaries, continuing to conduct counterterrorism missions, and advancing needed political development to help dry up the sources of extremism and promote internal stability. Underwriting a new force posture in the region to support that strategy effectively is just as important. The authors propose a more flexible and dynamic force posture in the Gulf that can help protect US long-term interests and those of its partners. To achieve this, they recommend a series of incremental improvements to current US posture to increase its geographical distribution, operational resiliency, political sustainability, and tactical robustness.

Saab and Pavel’s recommendations include:

  • propose and then negotiate an offer of a mutual defense treaty with willing Arab Gulf states
  • reduce the visibility, predictability, and vulnerability of US forces in the Gulf by further dispersing them, diversifying patterns of deployment, and exploring new basing concepts
  • emphasize the maritime character of future US force posture in the Gulf by improving maritime defenses, anti-fast attack and craft capabilities, mine countermeasure capabilities, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities
  • intensify security cooperation with Gulf partners, in order for them to improve their self-defense capabilities and carry a greater share of the burden

Train and Equip Program for Syria: Authorities, Funding, and Issues for Congress

Christopher M. Blanchard

Amy Belasco

June 9, 2015

Источник: https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/index.html

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In 2014, Congress for the first time provided the President with authority and funds to overtly

train and lethally equip vetted members of the Syrian opposition for select purposes. These

purposes include supporting U.S. efforts to combat the Islamic State and other terrorist

organizations in Syria and setting the conditions for a negotiated settlement to Syria’s civil war.

The FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, P.L. 113-291) and the FY2015

Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 (P.L. 113-235) provided that up to

$500 million could be transferred from the newly-established Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund

(CTPF) to train and equip such Syrian forces. Additional funding could be provided from other

sources for the Syrian Train and Equip Program, including from foreign contributions, subject to

the approval of the congressional defense committees.

As of June 2015, the defense committees have approved the transfer of $500 million in FY2015

CTPF funds for the program and an additional $80 million in Defense Working Capital Funds for

related U.S. government operations. Several hundred U.S. military training personnel and a

similar number of support personnel have deployed in support of the program. According to

Administration officials, the intention is for the program to field a force of approximately 3,000

vetted Syrians in 2015 and 5,400 others per year in 2016 and, if authorized, in 2017. The

authority provided in the FY2015 NDAA expires after December 31, 2016.

In FY2016, the Administration is requesting $600 million in a new, separate Syria Train and

Equip account that, if authorized and appropriated as requested, would not require advance

notification and approval by the four defense committees.

Current debate over the program—as expressed in congressional consideration of proposed

FY2016 defense authorization and appropriations legislation (H.R. 2685, H.R. 1735, S. 1376)

centers on:

  • The amounts, alignment, and terms associated with FY2016 funding for the


  • The extent and type of U.S. support or protection, if any, that may be provided to

Syrian trainees upon their return to Syria, especially in the event of attack by pro-

Asad or other forces in Syria.

  • The size, scope, and effectiveness of the Syria Train and Equip Program as

currently implemented; its purposes relative to overarching U.S. strategy toward

Syria; and its integration with U.S.-led coalition efforts to combat the Islamic

State organization.

  • The content and scope of requested strategy and reporting requirements.

A Way Forward for Obama and Putin in Syria

Eugene Rumer

October 7, 2015

Источник: http://carnegieendowment.org/2015/10/07/way-forward-for-obama-and-putin-in-syria/iin7

With no solution to the Syria crisis in sight, it is time to resort to what has worked in other seemingly unsolvable crises: the P5+1 mechanism.

The crisis in Syria has become a standoff between the U.S. and Russia. Each side is blaming the other for it. Moscow charges the Syrian tragedy is the direct consequence of U.S. unilateral, delusional pursuit of democracy in the Middle East. Washington insists that Russian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the cause. The most the two seem to be able to agree on is to talk about de-conflicting their air operations to avoid a mid-air collision between their planes. With no solution in sight, it is time to resort to what has worked in other seemingly unsolvable crises: the P5+1 mechanism.

The P5+1—the U.S., Russia, France, Great Britain, China, all U.N. Security Council permanent members joined by Germany—is a unique forum where the key parties can come together to seek a way to solve the Syrian crisis. In addition to the major powers, the P5+1 format has the advantage of being able to engage Iran, a critical actor in Syria without whom no solution can be found. The trust built up between the P5+1 countries and Iran in the course of the negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program, and the success of those talks make for a unique basis to address the Syrian crisis. The U.S. and Russia can ill afford to squander it.

For Russia, President Vladimir Putin’s deployment of air assets to Syria was a clever tactical move that reasserted Russia’s power. Getting into Syria was easy for Putin. Getting out of it may be harder. Air strikes alone will not end the conflict. Even though some in Moscow have hinted that Russian “volunteers” may go to Syria to fight ISIL and other enemies of Assad, Putin said he has no plans to put Russian boots on the ground in Syria. The Russian public is opposed to sending troops there. Many voices in Moscow have sounded the alarm about getting bogged down. P5+1 talks on Syria would offer Putin a way out. And as in nuclear talks with Iran, this format guarantees Putin a seat at the big powers’ table.

Unlike other powers, Iran, an important Russian ally, has boots on the ground in Syria. Iran’s client Hezbollah has been deeply involved in the war, and Iranian troops have been reported fighting in Syria as well, backing Assad. Through its involvement in Syria, Iran, too, has positioned itself as a key party to any future resolution of the Syrian war. It has the ability to undermine any agreement reached without it. It should have a seat at the table.

For Europe, scrambling to deal with Syrian refugees, ending the conflict is top priority. European leaders have yet to offer any comprehensive solution to the crisis other than appealing for all parties to end the fighting. Anything that offers a way out of the crisis is better than nothing.

For the U.S., the P5+1 format would bring some advantages as well as a measure of compromise. It would insulate the U.S. from the charge of unilateralism and create a real coalition to deal with the crisis whose legitimacy under the U.N. umbrella would be unassailable. It would impose the P5+1 framework on what otherwise is Russian unilateralism and could potentially harness Russian military presence constructively on behalf of the coalition. If this was not accepted by Putin, the U.S. could expose his bluff and open him to the charge of unilateralism.

The P5+1 format would require that the U.S. put aside the condition that Assad must step down prior to or as a result of the settlement talks. In fact, recent U.S. statements suggest there is some flexibility in the U.S. position on this issue. U.S. willingness to stop insisting on Assad’s departure and agree to address this issue in the future would open the possibility of creating a real coalition to defeat ISIL and a political solution for the Syrian war, which are the key U.S. goals, shared by Russia, Iran, Europe and—yes—Assad.

Other parties to the conflict—Turkey, Saudi Arabia, other Persian Gulf States—may complain about Iran’s role and Assad remaining in power for now. But in all the years of the war in Syria, they have offered no solution to the crisis, and no way to stop the bloodshed. They should have a voice, but they should not be in a position to block the talks.

Finally, for the Syrians themselves, the P5+1 involvement would offer the reassurance of the international community’s support and involvement in any future settlement in Syria. For the beleaguered Syrian opposition, it would be a commitment by the P5+1 countries that they will not be abandoned to the mercy of Assad’s troops after the conflict is over. For Assad and his supporters, Russia’s and Iran’s presence would serve as a reassurance and hold out the possibility of an orderly transition instead of a defeat or endless conflict.

This is neither the perfect nor a guaranteed solution to the Syrian war. But insisting on the perfect and ignoring the good is not an option while thousands of Syrians are dying.

This article was originally published in Time.

Obama and the Middle East: Rightsizing the U.S. Role

Marc Lynch

October 9, 2015

Источник: http://carnegieendowment.org/2015/10/09/obama-and-middle-east-rightsizing-u.s.-role/iiyo

Changing the failed regional order in the Middle East and rightsizing the American presence was never going to be easy, and the next president will likely discover a new respect for Obama as he or she grapples with the region’s continuing implosion.

Critics of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Middle East strategy often complain that Obama lacks a strategic vision. This is almost exactly wrong. Obama came to office with a conviction that reducing the United States’ massive military and political investment in the Middle East was a vital national security interest in its own right. The occupation of Iraq and the excesses of the war on terrorism had left the United States overextended, especially at a time of economic crisis. “Rightsizing” the United States’ footprint in the region meant not only reducing its material presence but also exercising restraint diplomatically, stepping back and challenging allies to take greater responsibility for their own security. Obama has adhered consistently to this strategy, prioritizing it ruthlessly along the way and firmly resisting efforts to force it off track. This was not a strategy much beloved in Washington or in a region hard-wired for the exercise of American power. But it was a clear and coherent strategy that led Obama to undertake major initiatives on the problems he viewed as rising to the level of core national security interests: Iran’s nuclear weapons program, terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the war in Iraq.

Yet for all of Obama’s analytic acuity, the implementation of his policies has often floundered. His administration has consistently failed to deliver on the promises raised by his inspirational speeches. It has struggled to communicate its policies effectively to publics in the Middle East and has been unable to explain obvious hypocrisies. Efforts to remain evenhanded and noninterventionist have infuriated partisans on all sides who wanted unconditional U.S. support rather than an honest broker.

The administration has struggled to adapt when its policies have failed, from Israel’s refusal to freeze settlement building to Egypt’s military coup to the disintegration of the Iraqi military in the face of what would become the self-declared Islamic State, or ISIS. It has also failed either to restrain or to reassure U.S. allies, which have therefore worked, without penalty, to undermine many U.S. foreign policy initiatives. The Middle East’s autocrats had previously thrived thanks to U.S. security guarantees and a shared antipathy to Iran and Islamists, and they wanted no part of a United States that might support, however tentatively, popular demands for democratic participation, diplomatic engagement with Tehran, or the political inclusion of Islamist movements. Nor did Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ever more closely aligned with the Republican Party, want much to do with U.S.-led peace talks with the Palestinians or outreach to Iran.

The end result has been a gaping chasm between Obama’s analytic successes and his operational failures. Yet the administration has nevertheless gotten the biggest issues shaping the region right. It avoided any deep military commitments in Syria and extricated U.S. forces from Iraq, secured a nuclear deal with Iran, and endorsed the Arab uprisings. On other key issues, such as pushing democratization in Egypt and pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace, it had the right ideas but failed to deliver. Changing the failed regional order in the Middle East and rightsizing the American presence was never going to be easy, and the next president will likely discover a new respect for Obama as he or she grapples with the region’s continuing implosion.


When he entered office, Obama was determined to rebalance U.S. commitments to the Middle East. The repeated attempts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace seemed quixotic in the face of a hostile Israeli government and a fractured Palestinian polity, but either success or failure would finally free Washington from a process that had consumed astonishing amounts of diplomatic time and attention for more than two decades. Similarly, a nuclear agreement with Iran would not only resolve a primary national security challenge without war but also finally allow Washington to pivot away from that issue to others, within and outside the region, that had been subordinated for over a decade.

The Iraq fiasco deeply shaped the administration’s worldview. The administration correctly viewed the invasion of Iraq as a catastrophic misjudgment that had opened the doors to humanitarian suffering, civil war, virulent new forms of jihadism, and greater Iranian regional power. Obama saw that the 2007 U.S. troop surge had reduced the violence but failed to resolve the root political crisis. It was as clear in 2007 as it is today that military success would be irrelevant without political accommodation and that there would always be an insatiable demand for more troops, more weapons, and more commitment. Even if the Bush administration had not bequeathed to him a status-of-forces agreement mandating the ultimate withdrawal of all U.S. troops, and even if the Iraqi government had not wanted the troops to leave, Obama would still have had no interest in keeping large numbers of U.S. forces in Iraq.

The withdrawal from Iraq was a priority from the beginning, carefully implemented and successful on its own terms. No number of U.S. troops would have made a lasting difference in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ignored U.S. guidance when tens of thousands of U.S. troops were on the ground, and he would have continued to pursue personal power even had a residual force stayed behind. Nor was there any serious chance that the United States could have forced the Iraqis in 2010 to accept a government led by Ayad Allawi, a supposed missed opportunity. Iraq’s subsequent failure, the renewed civil war, and the growth of the Islamic State are due not to the U.S. withdrawal but to Maliki’s sectarian, corrupt rule over a shattered state. The withdrawal was well timed: had Obama not withdrawn U.S. troops when he did, the fall of Mosul would almost certainly have led to the reintroduction of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers to refight the same futile war in defense of the same failed state.

Beyond resolving old wars, Obama resisted efforts to drag the United States into new wars. The chaos in Libya following the U.S.-led military campaign in 2011 only confirmed Obama’s instincts that interventions rarely work as planned and that no amount of U.S. military commitment can favorably resolve the region’s conflicts. This is why he, for years, kept the United States out of Syria’s quagmire, except for reportedly providing covert support for rebel groups, despite immense pressure to do otherwise—an enormously wise decision that the interventionist policy community will likely never forgive.


Obama’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran is a textbook example of a successfully conceived and implemented foreign policy: priorities outlined, resources allocated, outcome achieved. Obama’s team maintained the tenuous unity of the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany) to achieve an agreement that met the most vital needs of all parties, with robust limitations on Iran’s nuclear program and staged sanctions relief. The deal delivers on the hopes of a generation of U.S. policymakers, against steep odds.

The case for the Iran deal has always been straightforward. Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons poses a major threat to U.S., regional, and global security, yet there has never been a viable military option for checking the country’s nuclear ambitions, whether it was Israel acting alone or a U.S.-led coalition. Sanctions could hurt Iran’s economy and put pressure on its leadership, but they could never on their own either bring down the regime or force it to capitulate. Hopes for regime change from below remained a fantasy, even during the height of the 2009 Green Movement protests.

That left only diplomacy, with the major questions revolving around whether two suspicious powers could strike a deal that would meet the demands of their cantankerous allies and domestic critics. The Obama administration found ways to thread multiple needles and arrived at a deal that meets the core needs of each side.

Many critics of the deal have raised serious concerns about the ability of its system of inspections to guarantee compliance and about the plausibility of restoring sanctions should Iran break its word. The deeper objection, however, is grounded in the fear that a deal is a prelude to an acceptance of Iranian regional hegemony. These critics fear that the nuclear deal will legitimize Iran’s hegemonic role in the region at the expense of the traditional U.S.-backed order, empowering Iran’s regional ambitions through sanctions relief and a diplomatic opening. They have thus sought to maintain the narrow focus on the nuclear realm and publicly signal the United States’ intent to continue to counter Iranian ambitions elsewhere in the region.

This effort to limit the politically transformative aspects of the deal will probably succeed in the short term. All the players, from Saudi Arabia and Israel to Iran itself, will likely escalate confrontational behavior in arenas such as Syria and Yemen to demonstrate to domestic and international constituencies that they have not capitulated. Over the longer term, however, the successful deal will likely build a shared interest in its continuation and begin to create common interests. That could pave the way toward more effective campaigns in Iraq and Syria, although within clear limits. Obama has no illusions about the nature of the Iranian regime or the depth of the ongoing regional conflicts. The idea that the United States will realign itself with Tehran is a fiction invented mostly by critics on the right. The end state, for Obama, is not a reorientation toward Tehran but rather the construction of a stable regional balance of power—one that does not require the permanent deployment of vast amounts of U.S. resources.


For Obama, the Arab uprisings raised the tantalizing prospect of fundamentally changing the region’s toxic structures. On May 19, 2011, he gave one of the best speeches of his administration on the Middle East. He placed the Arab uprisings in the long sweep of history and aligned the United States with the protesters demanding change—puzzling, indeed, to the despots who had long counted the United States as their primary ally. The strategic vision and moral clarity in this speech were pitch perfect. Obama recognized the aspirations of Arab citizens suffering under autocracy while pushing both regimes and citizens alike toward democracy rather than violence. He was right to embrace the uprisings and to seek to channel them into democratic institutions. Although he failed to support the uprisings consistently across the region or to manage the political wars they unleashed, it was always unclear what more the United States could have done.

Whereas Tunisia’s uprising occurred on the margins of U.S. attention, Egypt’s struck at the heart of the U.S.-led regional order. The millions of Arabs who took to the streets in the first few months of 2011 rarely agreed on their ultimate objectives. What united them was an intense desire to break the existing political order, one in which Washington was deeply implicated. Obama nonetheless viewed the protests that swept the region through a guardedly hopeful lens, framing them within the vision of progressive and moral change that has so clearly run through his political vision at home. This was a remarkable and historically admirable stance, especially given the challenge the protests posed to U.S.-backed regimes.

This embrace of the uprisings was a gamble, of course, and Obama took real risks to try to realize a vision that has, at least in the short term, failed. Obama recognized that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak could not survive and helped broker a peaceful transition. He supported elections and democratic institutions in Egypt, even as Islamists won most of the 2011 and 2012 elections and governance crumbled. That gamble—supporting the inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood within the democratic system—could have been transformational. Had the Brotherhood suffered a defeat in elections following its lost popularity rather than being overthrown in a military coup in July 2013, Egypt and the Middle East would be a far better place today. The administration’s public warnings about the anti-Brotherhood protests and the dangers of a coup have been vindicated by the repressive, unstable regime that followed.

The administration applied its vision for the Arab Spring inconsistently, however, and when forced to choose, it usually opted to sacrifice transformation for expedience in the service of its broader strategy of rightsizing. It rarely spoke out about the brutal repression of protests in Bahrain for fear of alienating its Gulf partners. It allowed Saudi Arabia to take the lead in Yemen’s transition, with predictably antidemocratic results. It struggled to find the right balance between supporting Egypt’s postrevolution leaders, whether military or Muslim Brotherhood, and criticizing their mistakes. It watched as postwar Libya collapsed into anarchic, violent chaos.

Obama read the transformative potential of the Arab Spring accurately, but he couldn’t figure out how to guide it in the right direction. This failure was partly due to the primal forces unleashed and partly due to the destructive role of U.S. allies that worked hard to frustrate any movement toward democracy. The complaint that the administration did not offer the resources necessary to support the political transitions in Tunisia and Egypt is both true and somewhat beside the point. The amount of money the United States was willing to offer the Egyptians was not enough to meaningfully affect their calculations, especially when putative U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were devoting far greater sums to promoting opposing policies. Egyptians who felt they were fighting an existential battle over the identity of their state had little interest in Obama’s advice, especially when the local media were attacking, insulting, and distorting his every move.

The trouble went beyond implementation, however. Obama’s approach to the Arab uprisings was both visionary and incoherent. The administration sympathized with the aspirations of the protesters and hoped to encourage democratic transitions. But it struggled to grasp the fact that the old order under attack was a U.S.-backed regional order, defended by U.S. allies concerned, above all, with keeping themselves in power. The right side of history, on which Obama hoped to place the United States, may have appealed to American values, but it viscerally challenged American interests. When the transitions failed, ending in authoritarian retrenchment or state collapse, the administration had few fallback options beyond cutting its losses and grudgingly accepting the new realities.


Obama always wanted to extricate the United States from existing wars and avoid being dragged into new ones. He has largely succeeded. It is difficult to get credit for things that have not happened, but it is all too easy to imagine a United States today fighting major counterinsurgency campaigns in multiple Arab countries. That the United States currently has only a relatively small number of troops in advisory and support roles in Iraq, and an even more limited presence in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, is a major accomplishment on its own merits.

Before launching an air campaign against the Islamic State, Obama strayed from his rule of avoiding military interventions only once, in Libya. The humanitarian intervention there was, and remains, defensible. Had the United States not acted, it is almost certain that great bloodshed would have followed as the world watched and blamed the West for failing to protect civilians. The Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi showed no real signs of willingness to compromise, and he would likely have survived in power against a long, grinding insurgency. That would have been a crushing blow to the then vital Arab uprisings, emboldening other challenged leaders to escalate their use of military force.

Washington’s use of airpower and indirect military aid was therefore justifiable, saving thousands of lives and speeding the fall of a particularly nasty dictator. Libya’s subsequent collapse, however, provided ample support for skeptics of the intervention and should force a deeper rethinking of the virtues of military action in the region. The partisan investigations of the events in Benghazi in September 2012 are a sideshow compared with the broader lessons of the unintended, catastrophic consequences of even noble interventions. The intervention inspired at least some within the Syrian opposition to escalate their armed campaign in the hopes of attracting a similar U.S.-led operation, with tragic results. Interventionists have desperately fought to distinguish the U.S. campaign from its later outcome, just as they did after Iraq turned into a fiasco, but this is a fool’s errand.

The Obama administration’s willingness to support the Saudi campaign in Yemen has been more cynical. Few in Washington believe the Saudi rationale for war, and even fewer believe the campaign has any hope of success. In reality, the United States was appeasing the Saudis on Yemen in order to prevent them from acting as a spoiler on the Iran talks, thereby condemning millions of Yemenis to pointless suffering.

Middle East power politics today are dominated by proxy wars and interventions. The disruption or collapse of governments in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen has transformed those countries into open arenas for regional powers to wage their political conflicts. Iran mobilized Shiite networks and militias, and Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey mobilized Sunni Islamist networks of various denominations. The resulting proxy wars have been hugely destructive, opening the way to more independent and potent nonstate actors, such as the Islamic State. The United States has wisely shied away from openly joining this game, but this has left it with limited options on the new battlefields, as it failed to prevent its allies or adversaries from doing their worst. Nobody has won the proxy wars, which have caused immense human suffering and exacerbated the core problems of state failure and radicalization.

The defining issue of Obama’s tenure will likely be Syria, whose bloodshed, radicalization, and regional destabilization will haunt the Middle East for decades to come. Few policies have been criticized more widely than Obama’s refusal to become militarily involved in support of Syria’s insurgency. It is easy to understand the outrage in the face of the Syrian regime’s unrelenting carnage and daily evils. But the hard reality, which Obama understood, is that none of the popular proposals for intervention would have made things better. Syria was doomed to its horrific civil war almost from the moment President Bashar al-
Assad chose to resort to military repression to stay in power and his opponents chose to take up arms and transform a peaceful uprising into an insurgency. U.S. forces could have been more or less deeply involved in the civil war that followed, but no degree of U.S. military intervention would have solved the problem. Even a large-scale military action would likely have failed, as the fruitless occupation of Iraq so painfully demonstrated.

Supporters of a Syria intervention usually insisted that they did not want U.S. boots on the ground. But the Obama administration was keenly aware of the pressures for escalation that would have followed even a limited operation, because the ideas for a limited U.S. intervention made little sense. Assad was not going to run away at the first sign of NATO bombers, and the limits of airpower have been demonstrated by the air campaign in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State. A no-fly zone might have quickly grounded Assad’s air force, but it would not have protected rebels from mortars or ground actions. Providing antiaircraft weapons to the rebels would have made a tactical difference but would also have posed 
a threat to civil aviation. The U.S. military would have had to defend any safe areas that it declared, which could not be done from the air alone.

Arming the opposition, the most popular proposal and one that the United States has fitfully pursued, 
was always the least likely to succeed. The Syrian opposition was from the beginning hopelessly fragmented and has become increasingly radicalized as the war has ground on. As early as 2012, huge amounts of money and guns were already flowing to opposition groups from the Gulf countries and Turkey, and covert U.S. operations were already under way. But there were few effective and ideologically acceptable groups that the United States could comfortably arm. Arming the opposition would not have given the United States control over these groups, and it would have inevitably entailed U.S. support for extreme jihadists. Insurgents do insurgent things, and as the Syrian uprising morphed into an insurgency, it became increasingly radicalized and brutal.

Assad’s foreign patrons roughly matched whatever support came to the insurgents. As a result, increased external help for the Syrian rebels led only to a more destructive balance of power, with minor fluctuations in each direction within a broader strategic stalemate. And an empowered opposition was always going to become less willing to compromise, as was an empowered Assad. Short of an outright victory by one side, no balance of power could have compelled negotiations.

In the face of all of this, the Obama administration was wise to resist the slippery slope of intervention and instead to try to corral its allies, shape the conditions for negotiations, and alleviate human suffering. Its worst blunder, the aborted bombing threat of August and September 2013, demonstrated just how easy it was to get drawn in: Obama’s redline on the use of chemical weapons had been mostly a rhetorical sop to give the appearance of toughness, but once articulated, it became costly to abandon. Obama was wise enough to walk away and pay the reputational costs of backing down—but it is telling how near a thing the bombing was.


Obama came to office intending to defeat al Qaeda with a lighter footprint, through drone strikes, partnerships with local allies, and the cultivation of more moderate Islamist groups. He understood the nuances of intra-Islamist politics and seized the opportunity to divide the mainstream of Islamism from al Qaeda and stop the spiral toward a clash of civilizations.

For the first four years of his administration, this approach was largely successful. Al Qaeda lost political and organizational ground across the region, culminating in the May 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden. Mainstream groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates entered the political process following the Arab uprisings, winning elections in Tunisia and Egypt. Obama’s June 2009 speech in Cairo, in which he rejected the notion that the West and Islam were locked in an inevitable contest, launched his strategy against Islamist violent extremism to an effective start, as did the withdrawal from Iraq and the repudiation of the cruder brutalities of the war on terrorism. Obama’s willingness to work with the Muslim Brotherhood following Mubarak’s fall was a departure from decades of U.S. policy and the strongest signal Obama ever sent that the United States believes in democracy regardless of who wins. By early 2012, Obama’s policies on Islamism were proving successful.

Egypt’s military coup and subsequent weakening of the Muslim Brotherhood, the regional support for the Syrian jihad, and Maliki’s sectarian misrule—all of which, to some degree, the Obama administration opposed—were the primary drivers of the resurgence of jihadism in the form of the Islamic State. The intense anti-Brotherhood drive in Egypt and the Gulf discredited the idea of democratic participation, much to the relief of antidemocratic Arab regimes, and removed the protection against violent extremism that the Brotherhood had long offered. The Islamic State has benefited from the regionwide setbacks of the Muslim Brotherhood, which have removed a principle ideological and organizational competitor. As Obama’s team foresaw, Egypt’s rising violence, instability, and extremism are the direct result of this repressive turn.

Syria’s civil war created the environment in which jihadism could regain its traction after years of decline. The Islamic State itself grew partly out of the remains of the never-fully-defeated Iraqi insurgency and thrived under 
the sectarian misrule of Maliki. It has prospered amid the fragmented, multipolar Syrian insurgency populated by countless ideologically similar groups funded by Turkey and the Gulf states. Other shattered states have offered secondary opportunities to expand. The Islamic State has also, ironically, benefited from Obama’s success against al Qaeda; the killing of bin Laden created a vacuum at the center that invited challenge from the periphery.

Analysts have fixated on the Islamic State’s ideological particularities, often acting as if no insurgency in history has ever seized and governed territory, used graphic violence as an instrument of power, and indoctrinated its members. The Islamic State’s strength derives from the weakness of its adversaries and from its ability to capitalize on the failures of the Arab uprisings. The group has thrived in areas of religious polarization and state collapse: in Iraq and Syria, of course, but also in shattered Libya and post-coup Egypt. It has tapped into the same jihadist narratives and networks that once fed al Qaeda’s insurgencies, and its tactics increasingly involve the types of terrorist attacks once associated with al Qaeda. It feeds off of the perception of inevitability but could crumble quickly if setbacks begin to pile up. But even the collapse of the Islamic State would do little to reduce the broader challenge posed by sectarianism and jihadism, which flourish in the current regional environment.


Such restraint will continue to be resisted by all the actors whose strategies were shaped by the old state of affairs. During the Bush administration, Israel faced little pressure to make peace with the Palestinians, and Arab despots figured out that cooperation against terrorism and Iran would deflect calls for democratic reforms. Iraq’s prime minister enjoyed regular videoconferences with the U.S. president and inexhaustible U.S. military support. Few, if any, of the region’s leaders and elites were eager to disrupt a regional order that suited them so well. Recent public power plays by Israel and the Gulf states to extract more support from Washington reflect their uncertainty about their place in the new order.

It remains to be seen whether Obama’s policies will represent a transformational moment in the United States’ approach to the Middle East or merely a temporary aberration. Obama’s successor, whether Democratic or Republican, will likely try to correct his alleged failings with interventions. Much of the U.S. foreign policy establishment would like to see a resurgence of the U.S. military presence in the region, especially in Iraq and Syria. And so the next president will almost certainly rush to distance him- or herself from Obama, only to discover that the structural realities of the region justify Obama’s vision.

This article was originally published in Foreign Affairs.


Putin and Politics Are Behind Obama’s Decision to Send Troops to Syria

David Rothkopf

October 30, 2015

Источник: http://carnegieendowment.org/2015/10/30/putin-and-politics-are-behind-obama-s-decision-to-send-troops-to-syria/ikrw

Whatever stated anti-Islamic State purpose there may be for the involvement of U.S. forces in Syria, it also—and perhaps even primarily—has a political purpose.

Vladimir Putin ordered U.S. troops into combat in Syria on Friday. That’s not what White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said when explaining the decision to send as many as 50 special operations forces into a training, assistance, and advisory role in that country, but that’s the reality. If the Russian president hadn’t made his move into Syria, the United States would not have felt compelled to finally, belatedly, shore up support for anti-Islamic State and anti-Assad allies in that embattled, long-suffering country.

How do we know that? The past three years are how we know that. Those years have been a period during which the president’s own top national security advisors were unable to get him to take more decisive action to stop the decay in Syria — which gave way to the upheaval that now fuels not only the rise of the world’s most dangerous extremists but also the overflow of refugees into Europe and neighboring countries in the Middle East. But Putin, apparently, has more sway in the Oval Office than Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, Leon Panetta, David Petraeus, and a host of others whose counsel went unheeded ever did.

Putin’s decisiveness in engaging in Syria has shifted the balance of power in that country. It has not only unquestionably shored up President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but it has also sent a message that opponents of Assad (including some ostensible U.S. allies among the rebel fighters in Syria) were going to be the targets of the fiercest military attacks rather than the Islamic State extremists the United States and its allies were seemingly seeking to defeat. The Russians talked up their opposition to the Islamic State, but the pattern of their initial strikes indicated that the primary goal was protecting their man in Damascus. (Putin’s long-term motives in Syria remain misunderstood by many in Washington. They do not seem to understand that he does not seek to transform the country or do any of the things that would make Russia’s involvement a dangerous quagmire for him. He simply seeks to ensure that the regime in Syria’s capital is acceptable to him. That means keeping Assad in place or being involved enough to have a clear say in choosing his successor. That is all. If the rest of the country roils and sends refugees into Europe, shoring up nationalists and weakening support for the EU, all the better for Putin. In fact, it would be a win-win for the Russian Tarzan.)

Whatever stated anti-Islamic State purpose there may be for the U.S. forces involvement in Syria, it also — and perhaps even primarily — has a political purpose. (As a general rule, if a military action seems to be too small to advance a military objective then it probably is being done for political reasons.) Domestically, the move to send U.S. Special Forces into Syria helps the president address the perception of American inaction that was seen to have contributed to the Russian intervention while also helping to address concerns that the administration’s efforts to train the Syrian opposition have been a failure to date. As far as geopolitics is concerned, it lends credibility to America’s desired role in advancing the multiparty talks about Syria’s future taking place in Vienna this week. It says the United States is involved and also suggests to the Russians that the conflict in Syria may grow more complex for them (as we work toward not always overlapping goals) so it provides a little pressure on that front as well.

In fact, what it also ends up meaning is that for the foreseeable future in Syria there’s going to be a whole lot of “de-conflicting” going on. The United States and its allies, the Russians, the Iranians, and the Syrians will have to work to ensure that in the confused fog of the Syrian war — on which some battle zones contain scores of factions — the collateral damage does not include destabilizing otherwise stable relationships between major powers. A subsequent consequence that seems inevitable anyway, given the complexity of the Syrian conflict, is that the Russians or Iranians will be found increasingly attacking and killing fighters who are direct proxies of the Saudis, Qataris, and others. And when that happens, we will suddenly see the greatest geopolitical clusterfuck of the current era get even clusterfuckier.

I understand the White House’s decision clearly. It makes some political sense. It may help nudge political discussions regarding Syria’s future forward. Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing hard on this front, but at the moment there are too many moving parts to make real progress. And, as is the case in other conflicts, like that of Israel and Palestine, while the end deal is clear, getting politicians to admit that is going to be tough. (And the reality of that end deal looks like this: Assad stays for transition, leaves with immunity, is replaced by Assad-lite alternative acceptable to Moscow and Tehran, and the United States gets a fig leaf of promise of a more inclusive Syrian government — one that is soon forgotten because everyone values stability above niceties like democracy or respect for human rights — while much of the country will remain in turmoil because Damascus doesn’t, and may never again, control it.)

I also understand the decision to send in troops because of my extensive training in the field that is really the birthplace of geopolitics, which is to say “show business.” (My first half-dozen or so years after college were spent directing and writing for theater and television.) In show business, one of the most often quoted maxims is “acting is reacting.” It means that good actors listen to the other actors they are working with and respond to what they are given rather than anticipating their business or emotions simply because they are called for in the script.

In foreign policy, sometimes smart reacting is called for. As with theater, a performance is best when it comes naturally, quickly, and doesn’t seem forced or unduly delayed. But on the world stage, reaction is, of course, not enough. Leaders must lead. They must be willing to take the first step sometimes, show initiative, set the rules, and take risks. That is why canned (and let’s face it, tiresome and unconvincing) dismissals of Putin from U.S. officials and sympathetic commentators in the media aside, the Russian president has in Syria — as he did in Ukraine — really reset the terms of a situation in which his side had been losing ground. And he benefited because he did more than simply react. (Arguments that Putin has not benefited in Ukraine are unconvincing. He has Crimea. He has much greater influence in eastern Ukraine. Sanctions have hurt economically but not politically — his approval rating post-Ukraine and now Syria is near 90 percent. Or as Donald Trump would say enviously — “huge.”)

Will Putin’s gambit in Syria work exactly as he hopes? Maybe not. (Though I bet, as in Ukraine, he gets much of what he wants, even if not all of it and even if the cost is higher than anticipated.) But he is one of a breed of leaders who are looking at the last months of the Obama administration and seeing American passivity as an invitation for opportunism.

Iran is seizing the initiative as much as Russia is — beginning with but not limited to the collaboration of the two sides in Syria and Iraq. Iran sees America’s swoon and the not entirely unrelated struggles in the region’s Sunni pillar states — Egypt and Saudi Arabia — as an opportunity to gain influence. And in this sense Iran is also doing exactly what Russia has done: gaining control where it can, putting pressure where it can, and extending its sphere of influence. In this case, it must be said that America’s lack of leadership is compounded by the absence of a positive “moderate” Sunni agenda in the region. Like the GOP candidates for president, Egyptian, Saudi and many other Sunni moderate leaders may know what they are against but not what they are for. The result is that anyone with a clear agenda in the Middle East — whether a pragmatic one like the Iranians or a positively demonic one like that of the Islamic State — makes headway in the intellectual, policy, and action vacuum they have created.

And it’s not just a behavioral pattern being played out in the Middle East, China has done likewise in the South China Sea. In each of these instances, calculating international actors have seen America’s inertness, made an educated guess as to where the real red line that would trigger significant U.S. reaction might be, and then taken an initiative that has gone as far as, but not past, the red line. And these actors are making big gains wherever they see zones of U.S. indifference around the world.

And the U.S. pattern of reaction is the same over and over. It’s only after these opportunistic actors seize the day that we are roused into action. The kind of action that might make us look engaged but that does not change the situation very much — a destroyer sails around some artificial islands, a few troops and Humvees are deployed in Poland, some special operations forces are deployed in Syria. It is the equivalent of squeaking “Oh yeah?” to a bully who has come up to you on the beach, kicked sand in your face, and walked away with your picnic basket. It’s the Obama special, the illusion of action.

Acting may be reacting on the stage, but it’s not enough in foreign policy and not enough for leadership. Sometimes, you have to know what you want and be willing to have enough guts and courage in your convictions to make the first move.

This article was originally published in Foreign Policy.

Wanted: a U.S. Strategy for Syria and Iraq

By Melissa Dalton

Nov 16, 2015

Источник: http://csis.org/publication/wanted-us-strategy-syria-and-iraq

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Fifteen months since the U.S.-led coalition began its campaign against the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), ISIS remains a formidable force in both countries. Although coalition airstrikes and local forces have taken back some territory in the northern regions, ISIS maintains military momentum, continues to lure recruits internationally, and retains control of substantial areas in Syria’s north and east and Iraq’s west.


The Arab-U.S. Strategic Partnership and the Changing Security Balance in the Gulf

Joint and Asymmetric Warfare, Missiles and Missile Defense, Civil War and Non-State Actors, and Outside Powers

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Contributor: Michael Peacock

Oct 19, 2015

Источник: http://csis.org/publication/arab-us-strategic-partnership-and-changing-security-balance-gulf-0

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The ongoing confrontation with Iran, the war against ISIL, the instability in Iraq, the civil war in Syria, and the conflict in Yemen have all caused major changes in the security situation in the Persian Gulf and in the regional military balance. The strategic partnership between Arab Gulf states, and with the United States and other outside states, must now evolve to deal with conventional military threats and a range of new threats, including ideological extremists, non-state actors and their state sponsors, and a growing range of forces designed to fight asymmetric wars.


This new report from the CSIS Burke Chair in Strategy provides a 2015 assessment of the Gulf military balance, the military capabilities of each Gulf state, the role of the United States as a security partner, and the priorities for change in the structure of both the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab Gulf military partnership with the United States. The assessment goes far beyond the conventional military balance and examines how force developments in the region affect joint and asymmetric warfare, missiles and missile defense, nuclear forces, as well as terrorism, the role of non-state actors, and outside powers.


Creeping Incrementalism: U.S. Strategy in Iraq and Syria from 2011 to 2015

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Nov 9, 2015

Источник: http://csis.org/publication/creeping-incrementalism-us-strategy-iraq-and-syria-2011-2015

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President Obama’s decision to allow up to 50 Special Forces to deploy in northern Syria has triggered an almost inevitable debate over crossing the threshold from train and assist into deploying combat personnel. So far that debate has taken three forms. One has focused on the president’s past statements about not sending “boots on the ground.” The second has focused on the risk this could be the start of a major combat presence and lead to serious U.S. casualties. The third has focused on whether this step—and the other small increments in the U.S. effort announced after General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of staff, visited the region in October 2015—will still fall short of the levels necessary to have meaningful results.

The first form of this debate is political and irrelevant in military terms. It does not judge the merits of the decision and implies that a president should not react to changing conditions – the kind of “gotcha” issue that suits the politics of what have become election years. It is totally dysfunctional in national security terms because it assumes that the president can predict the future and make pledges regardless of how things change and the need to act in ways that serve the national interest.

The second form of the debate touches on a valid strategic issue: whether the United States should send major land combat units back to Iraq and/or into Syria. However, it focuses on an option the United States rejected long ago—a decision that seems even more valid today. Thrusting U.S. land combat units into the middle of the sectarian and ethnic quarrels and fighting in either Iraq or Syria seems almost certain to create new enemies and more divisions in both countries, and confront the U.S. with having to take sides in their internal struggles.

The third form of the debate is all too relevant. Deploying 50 Special Forces forward in Syria is probably a useful step, but it is scarcely a meaningful game changer. Ever since 2011, the United States has failed to develop any grand strategy for either Iraq or Syria, to cope with the emerging civil war in Syria and growing sectarian and ethnic tensions in Iraq, or to take decisive enough military action to make a major impact. The United States has not shown strategic patience. It has instead reacted to events with creeping incrementalism that is largely focused on ISIS and almost exclusively focused on security.

Once one looks beyond the conceptual rhetoric that the administration has issued with each new crisis in Iraq and Syria, it is remarkably hard to see anything approaching an effective level of execution. U.S. actions have never addressed the key issues involved in any meaningful way or shown the United States has a credible overall strategy for Iran and Syria other than simply degrading and destroying ISIS.

Any grand strategic success has to bring lasting security and stability to both Syria and Iraq. It has to go beyond security, and deal with the fundamental problems in politics, governance, economics and demographic pressures that have made both Iraq and Syria failed states.

So far, neither the United States nor anyone else has given an indication it has a strategy for looking beyond security and the use of force. The Obama Administration has focused on fighting ISIS in ways that have done little more than partially contain the “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria. ISIS has had some reversals in Iraq and Syria but still advances in other areas, and increasingly competes with Al Qaeda on a broader regional level.

When it comes to the sectarian and ethnic conflicts in Iraq and Syria, the United States has not developed a clear path to creating a solution to either state’s worst security problems. And, as the later portions of this analysis show, it is far from clear that any measures that have come out of Chairman Dunford’s visit to the region – 50 Special Forces notwithstanding – will be anything more than another step in creeping incrementalism on a military level.

These issues are addressed in depth in a new analysis by the Burke Chair at CSIS entitled Creeping Incrementalism: U.S. Strategy in Iraq and Syria from 2011 to 2015.

The analysis includes the following major sections, as well as detailed maps, figures, and operational cost tables.

The “Impossible” American Grand Strategic Objective: Iraqi and Syrian Stability and Security: Addresses the fact that U.S. strategy and action — as distinguished from conceptual rhetoric — has focused almost exclusively on the security dimension of degrading and destroying ISIS rather than the broader grand strategic objective of bringing stability and security to Iraq and Syria.
It has failed to address both the sectarian and ethnic divisions that have brought both states to civil war, and the political, governance, economic and demographic dimensions of the conflict.

Mission “Possible?” — Relying on Creeping Incrementalism for Security Aid: The mission of helping Iraq and Syria is less challenging, but as the following sections show, the United States has pursued a de facto strategy of minimizing most of its military efforts, reacting after the fact, and making each increment of additional action come too little and too late.
Strategic Incrementalism on the Ground: The United States has never attempted to create the kind of train and assist mission that is needed to develop effective combat capability, has put keeping costs and casualties before effectiveness, and acted in ways that may ultimately increase the level of tension between Arab and Kurd, and possibly sectarian tensions as well. It is unclear how the United States intended to come to grips with the fact that the land operation in Iraq cannot be separated from those in Syria.
Strategic Incrementalism in the Air: The United States has deployed significant air combat forces, but these too have made incremental increases in combat activity that seem largely reactive, and lacking in any public explanation of the strategic rationale for such operations, their impact on air-land operations, and how operations in Iraq and Syria are structured to produce some unified concept of operations.
The Lack of Meaningful Data on the Effectiveness and Ineffectiveness of Strategic Incrementalism: The administration and the Department of Defense have provide only limited largely meaningful data on the overall patterns and effectiveness of land and air operations. Some of these data are questionable at best and seem to deliberately exaggerate what has been accomplished to date.
No Land-Air Effectiveness Data: Just are there is no clear strategy for joint land and air warfare, there are no systematic effectiveness data tying air operations to program on the ground.
Creeping Incrementalism May Be Cheaper, But Is Anything But Cost-Effective: The cost data provided by the Department of Defense raise serious questions about their accuracy, and even more serious questions about the impact of limiting short terms costs in ways that may serious raise the total cost of operations.
The Need for a Broader Strategy for Defeating ISIS and Post-ISIS Security and Stability: This section highlights changes needed in the land and air aspects of U.S. military efforts, and the need to make a start at creating an international effort to help Iraq and Syria recover and build at the political, governance, economic, and demographic levels.
So far, a de facto U.S. strategy of creeping incrementalism has at best partially contained ISIS, has done nothing to reduce the growing internal divisions in either Syria or Iraq, has left Syria open to Russian intervention, and has failed to integrate U.S. security efforts effectively with those of Turkey and U.S. Arab allies. It has proved to be so reactive that events have consistently outpaced every new increment in U.S. military activity, and it at best addresses only part of the strategic challenge –leaving Iraqi and Syrian politics and governance to fracture, and corruption, the economy, and the impact of population pressures and the youth “bulge” to grow worse in both states.

If there are merits to creeping incrementalism, they largely consist of negatives. Creeping incrementalism is no worse than the strategies and actions of any of Iraq and Syria’s neighbors, it is less threatening to Syria’s people than that of Russia and Iran, and has been limited more by the internal divisions in Iraq and Syria than by the shortfalls in U.S. efforts.

One can also argue that it is far cheaper in the short-term than the cost of major military and civil intervention in Iraq from 2003-2011, or the ongoing intervention in Afghanistan. However, reducing the short-term cost of failure is no guarantee regarding future costs, and a cheaper form of failure is scarcely a metric of success.

This does not mean that leaping from creeping incrementalism to massive intervention and “shock and awe” is likely to be any more successful. Throwing massive amounts of U.S. ground forces into deeply divided Arab states, in the face of Iranian hostility, and in the middle of a major struggle for the future of Islam is no more likely to be successful in the future than it was in Iraq. The last few years have also made it all too clear are no good short-term solutions to the broader problems in Iraq and Syria.

The administration does not need to deploy major combat forces, but it does need to articulate a meaningful overall security strategy for air-land operations, for both Iraq and Syria, and for dealing with its allies in the region. It needs strategic communications to explain this strategy credibly and publicly to the American people, the Congress, and our allies. It needs to establish a clear level of conditionality for its military and aid efforts, but also to treat Iraq and its regional allies as real partners. It needs to accept the fact that the most it can hope for in dealing with Russia and Iran is a troubled coexistence and confront them as necessary.

Federated Defense in the Middle East

By Jon B. Alterman, Kathleen H. Hicks, Melissa Dalton, Thomas Karako

Contributor: Colin McElhinny and Richard Say

Sep 17, 2015

Источник: http://csis.org/publication/federated-defense-middle-east

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This study examines the potential for a “federated defense” approach to U.S. action in the Middle East, the constraints to closer military cooperation in the region, and specific capability areas that would benefit from federated defense. Stabilizing the Middle East requires continued attention and investment from the United States and its global allies and partners. Federated defense involves building partner capabilities in a way that shares the burden of providing security in a more effective and efficient manner. Federated defense would, over time, create partner capabilities that augment and complement U.S. capabilities. Doing so requires identifying discrete areas of cooperation between the United States and its allies and partners that would leverage partner capabilities in pursuing common security objectives. A more clearly defined strategic approach would improve communication, more effectively distribute the financial burden, better leverage complementary capabilities, and institutionalize senior-level dialogue on strategic goals and priorities.

Deconstructing Syria: Towards a regionalized strategy for a confederal country

By: Michael E. O’Hanlon

June 23, 2015

Источник: http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2015/06/23-syria-strategy-ohanlon

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U.S. policy towards Syria since the Arab spring uprisings of 2011 has been a litany of miscalculation, frustration, and tragedy for the people of that ill-fated land. The ascendance of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as the major element of the opposition to the Bashar al-Assad regime may not amount to an imminent threat to American security; indeed, very few Americans have died to date at the hands of ISIL or affiliates. But ISIL’s rise does place at much greater risk the security of Iraq, the future of Syria itself, and the stability of Lebanon and Jordan. It could jeopardize the safety of American citizens as well, given the possibility of attacks by “lone wolves” inspired in their western home by ISIL propaganda, or by westerners returning from the Syrian jihad to carry out attacks at home. Massacres on a par with the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, or worse, could easily occur in the United States. The potency of the al-Nusra organization, al Qaeda’s loyal affiliate, within the Syrian opposition is also of considerable concern.

This paper makes a case for a new approach to Syria that attempts to bring ends and means more realistically into balance. It also seeks to end the Hobson’s choice currently confronting American policymakers, whereby they can neither attempt to unseat President Assad in any concerted way (because doing so would clear the path for ISIL), nor tolerate him as a future leader of the country (because of the abominations he has committed, and because any such policy would bring the United States into direct disagreement with almost all of its regional allies). The new approach would seek to break the problem down in a number of localized components of the country, pursuing regional stopgap solutions while envisioning ultimately a more confederal Syria made up of autonomous zones rather than being ruled by a strong central government. It also proposes a path to an intensified train and equip program. Once that program had generated a critical mass of fighters in training locations abroad, it would move to a next stage. Coupled with a U.S. willingness, in collaboration with regional partners, to help defend local safe areas using American airpower as well as special forces support once circumstances are conducive, the Syrian opposition fighters would then establish safe zones in Syria that they would seek to expand and solidify. The safe zones would also be used to accelerate recruiting and training of additional opposition fighters who could live in, and help protect, their communities while going through basic training. They would, in addition, be locations where humanitarian relief could be provided to needy populations, and local governance structures developed.

The strategy would begin by establishing one or two zones in relatively promising locations, such as the Kurdish northeast and perhaps in the country’s south near Jordan, to see how well the concept could work and how fast momentum could be built up. Over time, more might be created, if possible. Ultimately, and ideally, some of the safe zones might merge together as key elements in a future confederal arrangement for the Syrian state. Assad, ISIL, and al-Nusra could have no role in such a future state, but for now, American policymakers could otherwise remain agnostic about the future character and governing structures of such an entity.

Beyond Partisan Bickering: Key Questions About U.S. Strategy in Syria

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Sep 17, 2015

Источник: http://csis.org/publication/beyond-partisan-bickering-key-questions-about-us-strategy-syria


The second debate between Republican presidential candidates, recent testimonies by the Administration, testimony to bodies like the Senate Armed Service Committee, and statements by more neutral voices like General John Allen, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, and General Lloyd Austin III, the Commander of USCENTCOM, at first appear to have little in common. In fact, however, they all find ways to ignore the key issues shaping U.S. strategy in Syria.

The Administration ignores the issues by putting a positive spin on a steadily deteriorating situation. Republican candidates and members of Congress ignore them by blaming the Administration for problems that are now beyond its control and by offering half-defined solutions that cannot work. General Allen and General Austin focus on parts of the problem with few public specifics and no clear picture of an overall U.S. strategy and the issues it raises.

So what are the issues that U.S. strategy in Syria should address? They are not the issues covered by the media, nor are they addressed in the questions raised by members of Congress from either party. The most critical issues raise far more serious questions about the options available to the United States with regard to one of the worst civil wars in recent history, and one that will soon enter its fifth year.

A War of Four Major Factions, Not a War Against ISIS

There is something inherently absurd in the different ways in which the Administration and its Republican critics – along with far too many media reports and think tank comments – focus on ISIS or finding some easy and simple political solution to the fighting. The key question is not defeating ISIS or negotiating some exit for Assad or compromise between Assad supporters and outside exile movements that no serious set of fighters in Syria now care about.

ISIS is only one of four major factions shaping the war in Syria. The Assad regime, which has its own divisions and Alawite militias, is one. The Syrian Kurds are a second, and a group of some 26-30 other largely Islamist factions that include the Al Nusra Front, which is still tied to Al Qaida make up the third. All are fighting for their own space and areas of control. None at this point show any signs of becoming strong enough to achieve the objective of taking over all of Syria, being able to govern, or being able to establish any form of stability and popular security.

The Syria that existed in 2011 no longer exists today, and no one can recreate it. Only the Kurds have some natural boundaries within Syria, but they cannot be separated from their ties to Turkish and Iraqi Kurds. ISIS has taken advantage of two civil struggles – in both Syria and Iraq – and has no natural boundaries to its ambitions. Assad claims to govern all of Syria, but is fighting both ISIS and the loose coalition of other rebel movements for control of the heavily populated areas in western and central Syria. The other rebel movements are fighting both the pro-Assad forces and ISIS.

There are no natural boundaries or viable economic areas that separate enough Alawites from Sunnis to create stable entities without a stable peace, just as the Syrian Kurdish areas have their own mixed populations and links to Kurds in other countries. More than that, more than 4 million refugees have shrunk Syria’s population from over 22 million to around 18 million, and there are well over 7 million internally displaced persons who have lost their homes, jobs, businesses and access to schools and effective medical care.

The Syrian economy probably has about a quarter of the income flow to the Syrian people that existed in 2011, and was badly underdeveloped, and had badly distributed income, and high levels of corruption even then. Much of Syria now lives on aid, or in gross poverty. No one can measure just how bad the situation is, but it is clear that it will take years of peace, stability, and massive foreign aid to rebuild any major conflict zone in the country, and little of Syria’s social structure, governance, or economy will be anything like what it was before.

Put bluntly, any statement – by Republican or Democrat – that focuses largely on ISIS, is inherently dishonest and/or incredibly ignorant. A working strategy has to focus on Syria as it now is, and the factions that actually have influence and power. It may well have to wait until the various factions exhaust themselves and can agree on zones of control, or one comes to dominate, and it may then have to take account of the fact that no agreement will be stable, there will be no security that permits effective reconstruction, only limit numbers of refugees will return, and the displaced will stay displaced on return to cities, homes and jobs that have been largely destroyed. Syria will at best be the land of least-bad options, and least bad is likely to be really bad for at least the next half decade.

Real World Military Options

Given this background, there is a certain absurdity to some aspects of the current debate over military options in Syria. Far too much attention has been paid to the fact that the United States has made so little progress in training some 5,000 Syrian volunteers. The real issue is what on earth would such a force do if the United States succeeded? What would happen if the United States could magically train overnight all of the 15,000 that were supposed to be trained over three years? What are they supposed to do? Where are they supposed to go? Who are they going to be aligned with? What moderate political faction could they back that has enough real world influence to matter?

The only real moderate elements that were fighting in Syria were largely defeated by other rebel factions tied to the al Nusra front in late 2014 and early 2015. A total of 5,000 to 15,000 U.S.-trained forces would still be a token force with no clear moderate political faction with real influence over any of the existing groups of fighters. The only one of the four factions we have been successful in backing has been the Syrian Kurds, and this backing has now run in to major problems because Erdogan has chosen to start a new round of fighting with the Turkish Kurds as part of his effort to dominate Turkish politics. Basing rights in Incirlik has come at a serious cost.

It is also rather striking that no one involved in the public debate over U.S. strategy has asked how our policies and training efforts interact with Turkish, UAE, Saudi, Kuwaiti, Qatari, and Jordanian support of various elements of the other rebel forces that oppose both Assad and ISIS. This is a bloc of fighters that is taking on both Assad and ISIS, but has its own Islamist extremists and sometimes has serious local clashes between its own elements. It is clear, however, that some of these elements are getting outside arms, money, and some training. Unlike the U.S. efforts to train vetted moderates, these other efforts really matter, and discussing U.S. options as if they did not exist is ridiculous.

It is also ridiculous, for that matter, to talk about deploying U.S. troops or U.S. advisors without stopping to think about where they will enter the border areas, how they will be supported, and above all, what factions they will oppose and what factions they will back. At present, the only faction that might support a U.S. presence seems to be the Kurds and they would only do so to achieve some form of autonomy or independence – something that might do even more to alienate the other Arab rebel factions. This is no longer 2012. That real time window to support the moderates is not only closed, it is bricked over.

Non-thinking “No Fly” and “Security” Zones

It is equally dangerous to talk vaguely about “no fly” or “security” zones. A security zone in an unpopulated desert offers no security for any of the displaced, and no meaningful role for rebel forces. The zone the Turks seem to favor is a conflict zone with little capacity to absorb the displaced or refugees, seems designed to help contain the Syrian Kurds, and also designed to help shift the fighting from its present focus on ISIS to one that would affect the Assad forces and other rebel factions.

“No fly” can mean either fixed wing or both fixed and helicopters, and helicopters and barrel bombs are one of Assad’s primary killing and terror mechanisms. It can mean engagement with Assad’s land-based air defenses, and Syrian and possibly Russian fighters. “No fly” does not mean “no move,” and a limited security or “no move” zone would still give Assad missile and rocket attack options. “No move” also would not easily exclude the other rebel factions and forces – creating the risk that the zone becomes a safe area for Al Nusra or other non-ISIS extremists.

None of this means that the United States cannot support other rebel factions or that “no move” or “security” zones can’t work. But any politician, policymaker, senior officer, op-ed writer, or think tanker that does not precisely define what they recommend when they talk about such ideas is spouting vacuous nonsense.

The Air Campaign Must Look Beyond ISIS

The air campaign raises equally serious issues. It does seem to be having a very real impact. General Austin described this impact as follows in his September 16th testimony to the Senate Armed Service Committee,

“Today, despite some slow movement at the tactical level, we continue to make progress across the battlespace in Iraq and Syria in support of the broader USG strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL. We have achieved measurable effects against this enemy; and, looking ahead, we are postured to continue to make progress on multiple fronts across the combined joint operations area. Key to the enduring success of the military campaign is sustained pressure on ISIL, both from the air and on the ground; and, using indigenous forces to help create and sustain that pressure, while also curbing the flow of foreign fighters and cutting off the enemy’s ability to resource himself.

Today, although ISIL is still able to conduct attacks and incite terror, the organization’s overall capability has been disrupted. While Iraq’s security forces have experienced some setbacks, they continue to make progress, enabled by Coalition airstrikes and our advise and assist and building partner capacity efforts. They have executed a number of Coalition-enabled operations against the enemy. In northern Iraq, the Kurdish Peshmerga have performed exceptionally well. The Kurdish-Arab Coalition in northeast Syria also is achieving substantial effects.”

This statement is fine as far as it goes. An air campaign that flew some 7,000 strike sorties in 2014, and more than 15,000 more through the end of August in 2015, has to have had a serious impact. The monthly total of munitions has risen from a low of 211 in August 2014, to a high of over 2800 in July 2015, and there have been some 2,200 additional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (IS&R) sorties in 2014, and over 6,000 through the end of August in 2015.

The actual impact on any given land battle is less clear, but it certainly seems to have been of major aid to both Syrian Kurdish and Iraqi government forces. The “body count” data on fighters killed issued by a few U.S. and British officials seems to have no credible source or methodology, but the claims striking some 10,600 physical targets as of August 8, 2015 do seem credible. Many are vaguely described and this total included over 10,000 generic “staging areas, buildings, fighting positions, and other” but this seems a valid way to count strikes on a widely dispersed, heavily sheltered, and largely infantry force.

It has also been an air campaign where extraordinary care has been taken to avoid civilian casualties – although no credible estimate of such casualties seems to exist. The level of restraint is indicated by the fact that only some 1,400 of the strike sorties delivered actual munitions in 2014, and 4,700 in 2015. This is some 25% of the total strike sorties in 2015, and less than a third in 2015 – and this ignores the fact the strikes were supported by a total of well over 8,000 additional IS&R sorties.

But, the air campaign is largely an “Iraq first” campaign that is largely decoupled from any clear strategic objectives to bring stability and security to Syria. It is largely directed at containing ISIS while waiting for the unknown day when some combination of Iraqi government forces and the various Iraqi Shi’ite, Sunni, and Kurdish militias become strong enough to liberate most of Iraq. There is no clear picture of what will happen then if Syria is still unstable and ISIS is operating on the Iraqi border.

No U.S. official or officer has ever addressed these issues, and it is unclear that any member of Congress or other outsider has really questioned what the air campaign is doing in Syria in meaningful strategic terms.

Negotiating Some Form of Peace Agreement

This failure to ask hard questions has been equally apparent in reports on negotiating efforts. Russia and Iran seem to be the only outside country involved that have clear goals: They back Assad or the Assad-faction – although most Russian statements only talk about Assad and ISIS and ignore the Kurd and the other Arab rebel groups that are actually doing more to defeat the Assad forces in heavily populated areas than ISIS.

The United States, its allies, and the UN seem to take the position there is some moderate Syrian rebel group that has real standing in Syria. It is far from clear that the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces , Syrian National Council, or any feasible mix of outside political bodies now have major support from the factions actually fighting, broad support from the Syrians still inside Syria, and needed political skills and ability to govern.

Even if Assad is eventually willing to step aside, it is equally unclear that any negotiated settlement reached on the outside will survive engagement with reality, bring stability and security at the local level, and be backed by the massive aid and reconstruction effort that will be necessary. Difficult as reaching any agreement will be, an agreement will be pointless if it cannot resolve the sectarian and ethnic differences in Syria to the point where the fighting actually ends, a half-way effective government is created, and some form of normal life and economy can be created.

So far, the negotiating efforts do not seem to meet any of these criteria. Case after case of failed peace attempts over the last half century are a warning that hope rarely triumphs over experience. Any meaningful U.S. strategy must address these issues as well, and so far, no aspect of the U.S. political debate over Syria really addresses these issues. The U.S aid effort is vital in helping Syrian refugees and IDPs, but the negotiating effort seems to be an increasingly hollow exercise in good intentions at a purely political level.

Administration, Congress, and U.S. Strategic Interests

It is probably an equal exercise in letting hope triumph over experience to suggest that U.S national interests require a far more honest and informed debate, and that waiting until a new Administration comes into office in 2017 to seriously address any of these issues on a bipartisan basis will be incredibly costly to the Syrian people.

It may be equally futile to point out that it will be just as costly to America’s reputation and standing at a time when Putin and Iran are certain to keep up the pressure in support of Assad, and when Israel and our Arab allies have critical questions about the quality and competence of our leadership. And, when the struggle in Syria cannot be separated from key policy challenges to U.S. interest in dealing with Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and the broader U.S. confrontation with violent extremism.

It would be nice, however, if at least one Administration voice, and even one Republican candidate, actually did come to grips with the realities involved. It would be equally nice if the Congress could at least focus partisanship around the real issues necessary to have a meaningful debate.


Obama the Carpenter

The President’s national security legacy

Michael O’Hanlon, May 2015

The Brookings Institution

Источник: http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports2/2015/05/obama-carpenter-national-security-legacy-ohanlon

By the standards he has set out for himself, President Barack Obama’s foreign policy has fallen considerably short of expectations and aspirations. By the standards of his critics, of course, the performance has been even worse—with the American commander-in-chief now accused of fecklessness and irresoluteness as global crises multiply on his watch. Even two of his former secretaries of defense have written fairly harsh verdicts on what they saw while serving in his administration.

Gauged by more reasonable and normal standards, however, Mr. Obama has in fact done acceptably well. Both his critics and his defenders tend to use unrealistic benchmarks in grading his presidency. If we use the kinds of standards that are applied to most American leaders, things look quite different.

I do not mean to overstate. Obama’s presidency will not go down as a hugely positive watershed period in American foreign policy. He ran for election in 2007 and 2008 promising to mend the West’s breach with the Islamic world, repair the nation’s image abroad, reset relations with Russia, move toward a world free of nuclear weapons, avoid «stupid wars» while winning the «right war,» combat climate change, and do all of this with a post-partisan style of leadership that brought Americans themselves together in the process.[i] He ran for reelection in 2012 with the additional pledges of ending the nation’s wars and completing the decimation of al Qaeda. Six years into his presidency, almost none of these lofty aspirations has been achieved.[ii] There has not been, and likely will not be, any durable Obama doctrine of particular positive note. The recent progress toward a nuclear deal with Iran, while preferable to any alternative if it actually happens, is probably too limited in duration and overall effect to count as a historic breakthrough (even if Obama shares a second Nobel Prize as a result).

But the harsh verdict of many of the president’s critics as well as his supporters goes too far. Most of today’s problems were not Obama’s creations. Others were mishandled, but generally in ways that could have been far worse. He also managed to avoid a second great recession.[iii]

Most of all, Obama has been judicious on most key crises of the day. His caution and care have been notable—and underrated. He has sometimes taken the notion of strategic restraint too far, as with a premature U.S. military departure from Iraq, excessive nervousness about any entanglement in Syria’s civil war, and ongoing plans for a complete military withdrawal from Afghanistan next year. But Obama’s discipline has often been quite wise and quite beneficial to the nation, especially in regard to Russia, China, and Iran. As his presidency begins to wind down, the country’s fundamentals of national power as measured by economic growth, high-technology, industrial entrepreneurship and productivity, fiscal and trade deficits, and military power are generally no worse and in some cases modestly better than when he entered the White House.

A more thorough assessment of Obama’s foreign policy legacy requires an issue-by-issue examination of the most important foreign policy matters of the day, a task to which I turn below.

Obama’s no-drama strategy

The lofty goals have proved elusive. Barack Obama may not be able to heal the planet, rid the Earth of nuclear weapons, or stop the oceans’ rise as his signature legacies.

But, in fact, there is a strategy, even if it is often implied more than accurately stated, and even if it falls short of the president’s own preferences of what writers and historians might say about his two terms in office. It is more mundane but nonetheless important. Obama is attempting to be strategic in the most literal and relevant senses of the word—defining priorities and holding to them, even when that makes him appear indifferent or indecisive in response to certain types of crises or challenges. Yet he has shown himself willing to employ significant amounts of force when persuaded that there is no alternative. Often, he has made mistakes along the way—not least in his non-intervention in Syria, his premature departure from Iraq, his plans to pull entirely out of Afghanistan, and his failure to help piece Libya back together after the 2011 NATO-catalyzed conflict that overthrew Moammar Gadhafi. But the basic effort to be patient and careful in the employment of American national power, especially military power, has been quite reasonable.

Consider especially the big issues, where by my count he is doing reasonably well on three of the top four:

The Asia-Pacific rebalance

The so-called pivot or rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, a centerpiece of President Obama’s first-term foreign policy in particular, has been generally very sound. Indeed, it enjoys a remarkable degree of bipartisan support. Obama’s theory of the case here is that a reaffirmation of America’s enduring commitment to Asia is strategically wise—especially in light of China’s rise, but also considering India’s dynamism, other countries’ economic progress, and North Korea’s dangerous ways. The fact that it is a long-term, patient policy designed to shape a key region rather than respond to a specific crisis means it often fails to make headlines. But that fact does not lessen its importance.[iv]

There is a «Where’s the beef?» question associated with the rebalance. It is modest in most of its characteristics. Thus, it does not deserve the other name occasionally given to it—the pivot. The military centerpiece of the rebalance is a plan for the U.S. Navy to devote 60 percent of its fleet to the broader region by 2020, rather than the historic norm of 50 percent. But that is 60 percent of what is now a smaller Navy than before. So the overall net increase in capacity for the region is quite modest (indeed, some of those ships may wind up deploying to the Persian Gulf rather than to the Asia-Pacific). The economic centerpiece of the rebalance, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, is now being actively pursued by the Obama administration—but it may or may not prove achievable at home or abroad.

That said, the rebalance is a smart way to reassert U.S. interests in the region, reassure allies, recognize the importance of new players like India, and remind China and North Korea that Washington is paying attention to what is happening there. It is a signal of commitment without going so far as to be needlessly provocative. It provides a welcome antidote at least rhetorically and diplomatically to what had been a sustained American obsession with the Middle East for the previous decade. And while some of his cabinet secretaries may have lost a bit of focus on the region, Obama himself got there twice in 2014 and conducted a good summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in November of that year. China’s ongoing assertiveness, particularly in the South China Sea, is concerning. But it does not threaten vital U.S. interests severely enough to warrant a forceful American military response; Obama’s approach of monitoring, working calmly with regional allies, and making Beijing know there could be some proportionate price to pay for excessive pushiness strikes the right balance.

Russia and UkraineIn 2014, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. It then stoked and aided an insurgency in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russia separatists that continues to this day. Putin’s goals are unclear. Is he trying to chop away gradually at Ukraine’s territory, challenge and embarrass NATO, ensure that Ukraine never joins NATO by creating a «frozen conflict» that he can always rekindle, or simply improvise in some silly game of geopolitics more evocative of the 19th century than the 21st?

Regardless, it’s hard to blame Obama for this behavior, any more than one should blame George Bush for Putin’s attack on Georgia in 2008. Neither Georgia nor Ukraine is part of the NATO alliance, whose members the United States is sworn to defend. So the failure to deter the conflict is hard to lay at Obama’s doorstep. Obama’s approach to handling the Ukraine crisis—make Putin pay an economic price for what he has done, while signaling that the United States and its allies can increase the economic costs further if need be—strikes a good balance between indifference and risky escalation over a less-than-crucial national security matter.

Obama has resisted arming Ukraine to date, recognizing that Russia enjoys escalation dominance in the region. Thus, any American move could simply elicit a greater and stronger Russian counterplay. Obama is under increasing bipartisan pressure to do more as of this writing in the spring of 2015, and if the latest ceasefire collapses, odds seem fairly high that he may rethink his current approach. But so far, the strategy has had a solid logic.

Obama’s theory of the case has been to keep the crisis in perspective, work closely with European allies, employ significant but non-military instruments of national power in response to Russia’s aggressions, and provide off-ramps for Putin at every turn. This strategy is reasonable, even if it lacks a clear endgame, and even if it remains a work in progress.


On Iran, President Obama has sought to use various “smart sanctions” and patient diplomacy to induce Tehran to agree to a deal on its nuclear programs. As of Spring 2015, he appears to have a good chance of success. Obama’s theory of the case here also begins with an appreciation of the power of economic tools of statecraft, together with an awareness of the pitfalls of the use of military force to prevent the Islamic Republic from gaining a nuclear weapon.

The Iran effort represents the culmination of a decade of applying the economic screws against Tehran—first by George Bush and then by Barack Obama—through a creative international sanctions campaign. The approach has involved traditional measures applied via U.S. law or U.N. Security Council resolution, as well as new and “smarter” sanctions against certain individuals within Iran or certain special sectors of the economy.[v]

Obama has made two key mistakes on Iran. First, he failed to give the Bush administration and Republicans in general, enough credit for the overall approach. His predecessor was the one who first opted for trying to use economic rather than military power to address Iran’s nuclear aspirations, and if the Obama administration had framed the talks as a bipartisan accomplishment, domestic support for this policy might have increased.

Second, Obama did not try hard enough to make the deal of indefinite duration. He should have tried to keep the world’s other powers aboard an approach that would make all key elements of the nuclear deal of much longer duration as a condition for comprehensive sanctions relief. That might not have worked, but should have been attempted. So the prospective nuclear deal will be only a marginal accomplishment, if it sticks, but still will be preferable to the use of force or to the continued course of gradual nuclear buildup that Iran had previously been on.

ISIL and the broader Middle East beyond IranIn regard to the rest of the Middle East beyond Iran, unfortunately, Obama’s disciplined approach has often failed him, and his critics have a stronger case. Luckily, he has begun to make amends in regard to Iraq, and one hopes that there will be further headway in his remaining year and a half in office.

On Iraq, at least, Obama has had a relatively good last year. U.S. and coalition airstrikes have limited ISIL’s progress. Washington has successfully coaxed Iraqis to replace Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with a new leader, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Obama has overcome his allergy to Iraq and redeployed nearly 3,000 American military personnel to help rebuild and retrain the Iraqi army as it prepares a general counteroffensive.

But the ascendance of ISIL was partly a result of America’s complete military departure from Iraq in 2011—a decision that was largely Obama’s choosing, even if the Iraqis also had an important hand in the outcome.[vi]That exit deprived Washington of leverage over Maliki as he pursued an increasingly sectarian agenda. It further deprived the United States of intelligence on the state of Iraq’s military and on the preparations ISIL was making in 2013 and early 2014 to mount an attack in the country’s Sunni heartland. Moreover, for all the progress since June of 2014, the prognosis for Iraq is uncertain. ISIL’s days in control there are probably numbered, but the process of driving it out may rely so heavily on Iranian-sponsored Shia militias that the seeds will be planted for future worsening sectarian conflict.

As troubling as the situation is in Iraq, it is far worse in Syria. There, the theory of the case has failed utterly. The hands-off approach Obama chose in 2011–12, when he opted not to provide any significant military help to the opposition, has clearly fallen short. Contrary to initial expectations, Bashar al-Assad is still in power, with firm backing from Moscow, Tehran, and Lebanese Hezbollah—and Russia has shown no serious interest in helping push Assad out of office through its influence with Damascus. More than 200,000 Syrians are dead and an astronomical 12 million displaced from their homes. ISIL has become the strongest element of the anti-Assad movement. Moderate factions are largely displaced, fractured, or decimated. Or they have joined with the al-Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate, out of the simple desire to survive on the battlefield (ensuring that they will not receive U.S. weapons and thereby further continuing the downward spiral).

The United States needs a serious, sustained program to strengthen the moderate factions of the Syrian insurgency. It needs to get off the fence on providing arms to groups that may have some shady members and questionable connections because, this far into the war, there are few saints left in Syria. No-fly zones and limited numbers of U.S. special forces on the ground in certain relatively safe parts of the country may prove necessary as well, in what could be viewed as an «ink spot» strategy designed to defeat ISIL while limiting Assad’s control in many other parts of the country. But Obama seems to have little appetite for this or any other new approach.

Libya has been a major disappointment, as Obama himself has conceded, even if the stakes there are much lower. The real issue in regard to Libya is not Benghazi. Four Americans were tragically killed there, and it was no one’s finest hour. But charges that the Obama administration launched a major conspiracy to cover up what had really happened simply fail to hold water. Beyond the human tragedy, the strategic consequences for the United States of that terrible night in Libya in September of 2012 were modest. The real problem, rather, is not Benghazi but the anarchy that resulted from Gadhafi’s overthrow. The country is now in chaos; there is no effective central government; ISIL and affiliates are gaining influence and control. The United States and allies need to deal with this through a much more muscular NATO effort to train and equip new Libyan security forces—though that task is now harder than it would have been in 2011 or 2012. A similar morass now confronts the United States and international community in Yemen, even if the path to that crisis has been different, and less of Obama’s direct doing.

In Egypt, there are big problems as well, though of a different type. The United States has lurched from one policy to another. And at this point, Washington’s coddling of the new strongman, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has gone too far. In the same country where Obama gave a moving and inspiring speech in June 2009 about the need, among other things, for Arab political reform, Washington has fallen back on cynicism. The United States has gotten in bed with a new autocrat, failing to convey any sense of conditionality in its aid or security cooperation with Cairo. The poor turnout in the May 2014 Egyptian presidential elections should remind Americans that, even if Sisi is a necessary and lesser evil right now, the country still badly lacks a political system that reflects the aspirations and expectations of the Egyptian people.

What to do? It is hard to say at this point. But something closer to the old Turkish model, in which the military enforced reasonable limits on political discourse and otherwise tried to stay out of the fray as much as possible, would be preferable to what Sisi appears to be doing now. American influence and aid policies need to seek to promote a more inclusive Egyptian political system in the future, not simply fall back on old habits that predate Tahrir Square.

And finally, there is Afghanistan. Although it is far removed from the Arab world in most ways, Afghanistan is still important in the broader war on terror. Here, President Obama’s plan to pull out all U.S. combat forces by the end of 2016 makes little sense. It not only introduces huge anxiety into a fragile Afghan nation that has been at war for a generation and that has just navigated a difficult democratic transition of power. But it also deprives the United States of operational bases from which to carry out possible strikes against future al Qaeda, ISIL, and other extremist targets in South Asia. There is no viable alternative location from which to monitor and if necessary attack America’s enemies throughout the Afghan-Pakistani Pashtun belt.

To his credit, Obama has gone slow on Afghanistan overall, and avoided any precipitous plan for departure. He has shown considerable commitment. But now he risks losing his cool at a crucial juncture. Obama has confused the need to limit America’s overseas military engagements—a worthy goal—with his desire to end the Afghan war next year. That latter objective is unattainable, since the war as well as terrorism’s enduring threat in the region will continue whether the United States remains or not.

American foreign policy is not in systemic crisis

Barack Obama has had a serious, strategic approach to managing American foreign policy for most of his presidency. Despite raising hopes too high for a transformation of global affairs early in his tenure, despite the distractions of huge adoring crowds, a premature Nobel Peace Prize, and the occasional Hail Mary letter to an Iranian leader, Mr. Obama has maintained discipline in his conduct of U.S. foreign affairs, keeping a clear sense of priorities and avoiding the all-powerful temptation to “do something” whenever and wherever trouble brews abroad. Yet he has been far from a peacenik. He has employed force robustly at times. He has also managed to keep the U.S. military strong, at roughly the size and the readiness standards he inherited, despite being buffeted by fiscal crises at home to go with foreign policy crises abroad.

All that said, Obama’s strategy of restraint has often been mistakenly applied. He left Iraq too soon, ignored the requirements of stabilizing post-Gadhafi Libya, and encouraged the overthrow of Assad in Syria but then unwisely placed his hopes almost exclusively in the Arab Spring and a Geneva-based peace process to achieve the task. He failed to come up with any big, bold diplomatic ideas that might have helped solve a major crisis—such as a new security architecture for Europe that might help point a path toward an ultimate resolution of the Ukraine crisis, or a vision for a confederal Syria that might be more realistic than the current U.S. approach of insisting that Assad go while doing little to achieve that objective. Obama’s promise to get all operational U.S. military units out of Afghanistan before he leaves the White House puts his own pursuit of a historical legacy ahead of the nation’s security needs.

As the presidential race of 2016 heats up, there is ample room for debate about the foreign policy legacy of Barack Obama. In the meantime, there is much that Mr. Obama himself should try to correct so as to leave the nation safer and to place his successor in a stronger position. But none of this should proceed from the premise that American foreign policy, because of the policies of Obama, is in systemic crisis. It is not.


[i] See Martin S. Indyk, Kenneth G. Lieberthal, and Michael E. O’Hanlon, Bending History: Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy (Brookings, 2012).

[ii] For a good analysis of many of the players in what became, in the second term, most of the president’s inner circle, see James Mann, The Obamians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power(Viking, 2012).

[iii] See for example, Alan S. Blinder, After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead (Penguin Press, 2013).

[iv] See for example, Jeffrey Bader, Obama and China’s Rise: An Insider’s Account of America’s Asia Strategy(Brookings, 2012).

[v] See Kenneth Katzman, “Iran Sanctions,” Congressional Research Service, Washington, D.C. (April 21, 2015), available at https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RS20871.pdf.

[vi] Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama (Pantheon Books, 2012), pp. 666-671.


Iraqi Stability and the “ISIS War”

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Aug 12, 2015

Источник: http://csis.org/publication/iraqi-stability-and-isis-war

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The events in Iraq over the last month have shown that any success in Iraq requires both the Iraqi government and the United States to go far beyond the war against ISIS, and makes any partisan debate over who lost Iraq as damaging to U.S. national interests as any other aspect of America’s drift toward partisan extremism.

The war against ISIS is a critical U.S. national security interest. It not only threatens to create a major center of terrorism and extremism in a critical part of the Middle East, and one that could spread to threaten the flow of energy exports and the global economy, but could become a major center of international terrorism. It is important to understand, however, that ISIS is only one cause of instability in the region, and only one of the threats caused by spreading sectarian and ethnic violence.

Iraq is a key case in point. No defeat of ISIS can bring Iraq security or stability, or give it the unity and independent strength to resist pressure from Iran and threats based in Syria and Turkey. No military course of action can—by itself – create a stable regime and economy, and reduce the tension between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites, and Arabs and Kurds, to workable levels. Like Syria, Libya, and Yemen, military action must be joined to political and economic action and the creation of some form of viable governance.

U.S. policy must also understand that nothing could be more damaging or pointless in serving American interests at this point than a partisan debate that focuses on whether President Bush or President Obama “lost Iraq” by mishandling the U.S. military effort.

The broader civil-military situation in Iraq is less dire than in Syria. It is all too clear, however, that Iraq cannot wait on such a “victory” to deal with its internal problems, and that any such “victory” might well make the tensions between Sunni and Shiite, and Arab and Kurd, worse if it is won in ways that do not offer Iraq’s Sunnis a clear future, and make the defeat of ISIS a real liberation rather than lead to further Shi’ite mistreatment of Sunnis, and a prelude to territory struggles over the size of the Kurdish dominated areas and the powers of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

Iraq also cannot create effective security forces or a meaningful rule of law without addressing the sectarian and ethnic divisions that are tearing apart. No form of U.S. air campaign, train and assist mission, or mix of combat advisors will have lasting success if Iraq remains divided into a Shi’ite dominated military and police, Shi’ite militias, separate Kurdish forces, and a weak mix of Sunni tribal forces that are only active in its west.

The Bush and Obama Administrations must share the blame for part of the political process that divided the country along sectarian and ethnic lines, and led Iraqis to resist continuing a limited U.S advisory and troop presence, as well as empowered Maliki in politicizing Iraq’s forces, dividing the country, bringing it to a state of low-level civil war by 2013, and creating the conditions where ISIS could successfully invade. A full history of these events, however, will show that Iraq’s problems began long before the U.S. invasion, were driven more by Iraqi divisions than U.S. mistakes, and are at least as much the product of the underlying civil causes of Iraqi instability as any fault of the U.S.

It is equally clear that only a far more stable Iraq can limit the role of Iran, create some kind of buffer against what seems likely to be continuing instability in Syria, largely decouple its Kurdish area from Turkish concerns over the Kurds, create favorable relations with the other Arab states, and end the risk of constant power struggles over the control of its petroleum resources and export revenues. Iraqis need to fully “dominate” Iraq if Iraq is ever to become a force for regional stability rather than a threat to it.

The last few weeks have also made it all too clear that the real challenge in Iraq is not to drive ISIS out of Anbar and Ninewa, but to help Iraq with some form of broader security and political and economic stability. It is critical to drive ISIS out of the Sunni areas in Western Iraq, but simply defeating ISIS will not matter if it is not part of a broader effort to find a stable political and economic relationship between Sunni and Shi’ite and Arab and Kurd, give them all security, create a structure of governance that all Iraqis feel serves their interest, and move Iraq back towards a broader economic recovery, and then towards broadly based development.

A new report by the Burke Chair at CSIS address the history that has shaped the civil-military problems that now threaten Iraq’s stability, and the list of security, governance, economic, and ethnic and sectarian issues that the Iraqi government and the U.S. must deal with. It shows just how limited the impact of any victory against ISIS will be unless Iraq adopts a far wider and more effective reform program than Prime Minister Abadi has yet proposed, and that the problems in governance, economics, and dealing with Iraq’s broader problems with its Shi’ites and Kurds are a more serious threat to both Iraq and the U.S. than ISIS.