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The Winning Strategy For Iraq And Syria

Perhaps you noticed my conspicuous lack of opinion on Obama’s announcement that we’re going to bomb our way into peace in Iraq and Syria. There was an odd reason for my silence; I was thinking about it and considering all of the options.

Iraq may be the most complicated situation the world has ever dealt with. There are hundreds of factors that got Iraq to this point, and they keep getting more complicated every day. And they each point to a different solution. Actually, that’s not true. Nothing points to a solution. Each factor points to how a proposed solution won’t work. I’ve written on Iraq and Syria on this blog before Here’s my take in Iraq. Here’s my explanation of how ISIS evolved into what they are today. I ask you to refer to those posts, not because I want to increase my hits for the day, but to give you context on my thinking.

I like reading opinions of people who are smarter than me about any given topic. In other words, I have a few go-to people for middle east issues, economic issues, domestic issues, etc. Everyone I turn to is smarter than me when it comes to their particular area of expertise. In trying to formulate my opinion on Obama’s announcement, I noticed something about what the people who are smarter than me are all saying. No one who is knowledgeable on Iraq and Syria seems to have a solution. I don’t mean that there’s no consensus, I mean that no one I trust and admire has put forth a solution. Most have opinions on what they definitely think is the wrong thing to do, but no clear opinion on what the winning strategy is. Since I’m not as smart as the people I turn to for subject matter expertise, I definitely don’t have a solution. But my opinion is even more murky than not having a solution. I also don’t know what I definitely think is the wrong move.

Some people are against bombing. Some people are fine with bombing, as long as there are no “boots on the ground”. Some people (all happen to be republicans) want to put the Iraq war back into high gear. I’m not vehemently opposed to any of these things. I know what you’re thinking; bitchy must be out of her fucking mind if she’s not opposed to going full throttle back into Iraq. That might be true, but let me tell you my thinking.

I’m going to start with Syria. I’m inclined to believe that bombing is not going to solve the problem, especially when it comes to Syria. Who are we going to bomb? Whose side are we on there? Assad’s? The rebels? If so, which ones? And how is that going to solve the famine problem that started that civil war in the first place? Assad is ultimately going to have to go. Of that, I’m certain. His starving of his people to profit on elevated wheat prices (due to drought) isn’t something that’s going to be forgiven. Nor is there any reason to believe he won’t keep doing it. But nothing else about the Syria situation is certain. In the absence of leadership, anything can happen and ISIS knows it. Because Syria is so completely fractured, there’s really no one to “support”.

Iraq is in a slightly different situation. There’s more to work with in Iraq. Even though there have been splinters, those three factions that have always existed still largely exist. The Kurds, Shia, and Sunni are still distinct groups. And yes, ISIS is a Sunni splinter group, but they’re too extreme for most of the Sunni in Iraq. They’re too extreme for most people in Iraq. The local population isn’t exactly embracing them. I believe that mistake #2, after the granddaddy of all mistakes (killing Saddam), was that we didn’t try and create a three state solution. I don’t mean a three country solution. I mean a three state solution. A country where all three states are represented in the federal government, but with certain powers reserved for the states. Just like we have here. This would give each religious group some autonomy while incentivizing them to work together against outside groups. We fucked up by not ensuring that every faction was going to have a voice in their collective governance. By not doing that, we ensured that no one in Iraq really had something to fight for. The Iraqi military isn’t a mess because they’re incompetent. They’re a mess because they don’t have an actual country to fight for.

That’s why I’m not definitely opposed to going back in and fixing it. I’m not saying that I’m definitely for going back in either, but that would make more sense to me than bombing alone. I think there’s a valid argument for making an earnest attempt to stabilize Iraq by going back in and fixing what we got wrong last time. We really gave them no chance at stability when we left last time. I’m not interested in staying in Iraq in perpetuity, but I think that we should make an attempt to get it right before either killing civilians with our bombs, or walking away and hoping for the best.

I do not believe that Iraq and Syria are an imminent threat to the US. I think it will be years before we’re facing the inevitable imminent threat. They’re going to be too busy fighting each other for control of their respective countries to come after the US. But once they sort that out, I do believe they’re going to be a problem. So we can sit back and do nothing. That’s definitely an option. I’ve said this before; any side that we support is going to be delegitimized by our support. We’ve done so much damage in that area with the Shah in Iran, the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, Killing Saddam, and countless other fuck ups. They have a legitimate reason to hate us. We’ve been interfering in their business for decades. So even if we figured out who “the good guys” are, our support would by definition make them “the bad guys”. That’s why I believe that if we’re going to do something in Iraq, it must be to take three sides. We need to make it clear that we’re going back in so that we can ensure that all three factions in Iraq share power. 

Doing nothing right now may have disastrous consequences. What if ISIS, or an even more crazy group take control of one or both countries? We’re definitely going to get involved when that happens, right? And by then, the group that takes control will be stronger. They’re all in disarray, and therefore as weak as they’ll ever be right now. I think that if we pick the do-nothing route, we need to monitor the situation very carefully to make sure that no one terrorist group gets too strong to deal with later. So do-nothing definitely leads to do-something eventually. There’s a slight possibility that the people will rise up and emerge victorious against the extremist groups. As I said, ISIS is not popular in either Iraq or Syria. But who is going to arm and fund the people? We’re kind of back to the intervention problem that sounds so unappealing after thirteen years of war.

So yeah, I’m thinking lots of things. None of which I have a strong sense of certainty around. That’s not true, I’m pretty opposed to Obama’s bombing strategy. I just don’t see how that’s going to work. And at the moment that we put one US soldier into combat, I say we put a few hundred thousand into combat. We half assed it with no plan last time. Let’s employ the Powell doctrine combined with an actual goal this time; creating a three state solution. I find that a more palatable solution than slowly moving more troops in without a real mission.


Or we can wait. I’m positive I’m not smart enough to have the winning solution. Sometimes, knowing that you don’t know, is the smartest thing to do.             


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