2014 September 28 Sunday
What Can US Government Accomplish In Iraq And Syria?

The Middle East is full of tribal societies. Rulers of states therefore have a weaker hold on the loyalties the ruled than is the case where consanguineous (cousin) marriage is uncommon. The Shia tribes and Sunni tribes do not trust each other. The tribes within Sunni and Shia zones are less fair to each other the further away they get from genetic family ties.

In Iraq a larger Shia Iraqi Army force was easily driven from the Sunni regions. The Sunni ISIS have a hard time advancing into deep Shia areas. Saddam Hussein was able to hold most of Iraq together with a great deal of skill, brutality, and terror. Now Iraq has broken up into its ethnic pieces and so has Syria.

With air power and some advisers on the ground the US military can not hold territory. So what can US air power accomplish in Syria and Iraq?

In the Sunni Arab regions of Iraq and Syria the Shiite Arabs and Kurds are not going to capture and hold areas with Sunni Arab majorities. Neither the Shiite Arabs or the Kurds show signs of being willing and and to capture and hold towns and cities where Sunni Arabs will see them as the enemy.

Barack Obama's goal seems to be to reestablish the Sykes-Picot border between Iraq and Syria and to maintain at least the legal fiction of a state of Iraq ruled from Baghdad. But since that state is supposed to be democratic and Shias are the biggest voting block the Sunnis aren't going to accept rule from Baghdad. Frankly, the Sunni position is reasonable. The Shias won't be fair to the Sunnis. Similarly, the Kurds are obviously better off with their own Kurdish state. The Yezidis and Christians (not that our own rulers care about them) need their own safe havens as well.

In Syria it appears that Obama wants Sunni rule. Sunnis are the majority in Syria. So democracy in Syria means Sunni rule. That means shaft the Christians, Alawites, Shias, and Druze. They are not excited at this prospect. Aside: Lebanon is an interesting side story in this conflict.

So what is going to happen? Maybe ISIS can be so degraded that some Sunni tribes in Iraq can be offered semi-independence with the guarantee that Shia Iraqi soldiers and Shia government officials will have to stay out of the the Sunni zone. Maybe a confederation under a weak central government (which would really be the Shiite zone's government) could be created. So the Sykes-Picot border could be restored and Iraq could then pretend to be a single country.

As for Syria: Obama has to severely degrade the capability of some of the forces competing with Assad's government for control of Syria. Obama faces a much harder task in Syria because other Sunni fighting groups that might replace ISIS aren't likely to be terribly, er, moderate. Has US air power (with help from special forces on the ground to direct bombs) become sufficiently efficacious that it can cut ISIS down to a size that other groups can then defeat it? Will Obama then shift his attention toward overthrowing Assad? The sight of a severely degraded Assad regime could cause the remaining Sunni militias to turn on each other with, likely, a more un-moderate one coming out on top.

Obama probably ought to take his time in Syria so that he can be out of office before the remaining Syrian Sunni groups decide to battle to decide who becomes the new Syrian strongman.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2014 September 28 07:48 PM 

WCN said at September 29, 2014 1:30 PM:

Once the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS) is degraded and Assad is defeated, the neo-cons will then call for us to "keep the peace" - which laymen terms means boots on the ground to maintain security while we install democracy and engage in nation building. This will be an awesome task seeing as how there are many warring factions and tribes in Syria and we must construct a government from amongst them (including "moderate" Islamist groups like Ahrar Ash-Sham that want to establish a Saudi-like state in Syria).

Meanwhile the former IS members and other sympathizers will retreat into smaller guerrilla groups for suicide bombings and other attacks on our peacekeeping forces. And the quagmire will be in full effect. Another trillion dollar nation building mess.

Trying to hold those two countries together is a futile effort. We should push for dismemberment of those nations into tiny entities

Wolf-Dog said at September 29, 2014 2:40 PM:

Basically the new quagmire trap in a new Middle Eastern war will be very useful for the oil companies, since this will subtract funds from possible R & D investment in new kinds of technological breakthroughs that can compete with oil. It is true that the oil companies did not get even a drop of oil from Iraq after 2003, but the real gain for the oil companies was the misuse of all the trillion dollars spent in ineffective wars: after 9/11/2001, if the US had spent less than half that trillion dollars on energy research, we would have new types of reactors and many kinds of synthetic liquid fuels. Actually, if we include the cost of taking care of traumatized and wounded soldiers who have returned home as damaged souls, the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will be well over $2 trillion, not just the $1 trillion that you quoted.

WCN said at September 29, 2014 5:21 PM:

@ Wolf-Dog

Yes I have heard the $2 trillion figure, but wanted to be more conservative since some people balk at that number (as if $1 trillion is a bargain).

Two other groups that will benefit from this are the weapons contractors and private military companies (mercenaries) who are already seeing windfalls in stock prices. Once the nation-building begins, the other large contractors will likewise make handsome profits from the procurement/supply contracts. Billions to be made!

James Bowery said at October 1, 2014 8:51 AM:

The US government can impose the minimalist rules for sortocracy in that region and not only dramatically reduce the violence but also provide a haven from future pandemics.

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