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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.             


No, Pulling Out Of Iraq Didn’t Create ISIS

And don’t let anyone tell you it did. This is the latest republican talking point, and every time a republican delivers it, the sentence mysteriously starts with "the Obama Clinton foreign policy". Huh. It almost seems like they were all told what to say. Unfortunately for them, we have entered a period of time when their revisions of history fall within the parameters of the existence of the internet.

I didn’t know when and where ISIS was formed. I had heard conflicting reports on whether they formed in Iraq or Syria. There’s a meme going around that claims it was formed in 2004. I decided to do something bizarre; rather than forwarding the meme and advancing the notion that ISIS formed in Iraq (because the idea of blaming Bush sounds just swell) without knowing if it was true, I researched. I know it’s a strange concept, but that’s just how I roll.

Here’s what I found; strictly speaking, ISIS was formed in about 2003 in Iraq. Why did I throw in the "about" qualifier? Because it looks like the name "Islamic State" and all of the subsequent derivations, "Islamic State of Iraq" and then "Islamic State Of Iraq And Syria" started in 2006. They were referred to as "the al-Masri brigade" before that. 2003 is the first year I can find any reference to them. That’s not to say that they weren’t definitely brewing before then. I don’t have access to high level intelligence, so I’m relying on all of the information available to the general public. When I say "all", I mean all. I spent days on researching this. 

I’m not going to go into great detail on al-Masri’s biography because I’ve read a lot of conflicting information up to, and including when he died. I’m going to share what is generally agreed upon about him. He was from Egypt, and was involved with the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot that assassinated Anwar al-Sadat in 1981. He spent the 90s forming al qaeda cells in Africa.

It looks like he knew Bin Laden even before the CIA involvement in training and arming the Mujahadeen in the 80s. In 2001, he became related to Bin Laden, when his 14 year old daughter married Bin Laden’s son, Abdullah. He was actually indicted (in absentia) by a US court in 1998 for his involvement in the embassy bombings in Africa. He was directly involved in 911. So the US has been aware of him and his activities for a long time. So this guy had been in the terrorism business for a long time. He just didn’t have the unstable environment he needed to get a foothold and to spread the batshit until we destabilized Iraq and Syria destabilized itself (more on that later in the post).

I’m going to go off on a minor tangent for a minute. During the Clinton presidency, our intelligence community appeared to have a pretty good grip on who the big terrorist players were, and what they were doing. And yet, the Bush administration claims that 911 was a failure of intelligence? Remember when Condi gave this pathetic performance before congress?


Yeah, those PDBs (the one they’re referring to in this hearing wasn’t the first, it was the last in a series that began 5 months earlier) were "historical" and not really a warning. So while Clinton was mounting legal cases against, and indicting these guys Bush was ignoring the intelligence and torturing the wrong guy. OOPSIE.

Sorry, I had to take a moment out to demonstrate how fucking incompetent the Bush administration and their posse of neocons were. 911 truly might not have happened under a Gore administration. The Bush administration were fucking clowns and anyone who denies that is a fool.

Okay, back to al-Masri. In 2006, he was tapped to take over as leader of al qaeda in Iraq, when their leader was killed. Now AQI (as they’re known) was a particularly brutal offshoot of al qaeda. Once al-Masri took over, they appear to have been rolled into ISI (they hadn’t moved into Syria yet). You know how you keep hearing that ISIS is too batshit, even for al qaeda? That’s technically true. The more accurate way of describing the situation is that ISIS is so brutal, that they’re not "winning hearts and minds" in any region they go into. As we learned during our tenure in Iraq, not winning hearts and minds isn’t good for business so al qaeda is separating themselves for the purpose of recruitment.

So ISI had been busy working away in terrorizing Iraq since 2006. In 2011, when the Syrian civil war began, ISI saw an opportunity.

Just so that you are clear on the events, I’m going to take a minute to explain what happened in Syria. The Syrian civil war began over famine. Syria had been going through a devastating drought period that shrank the wheat crops significantly, and killed 85% of it’s livestock.Since there was a massive drought in the middle east, the cost of wheat went up precipitously. Assad being Assad saw an opportunity to cash in so he put some of the wheat on the open market. This left Syria starving, and the world community knew it. From the article;

The international community, however, failed to effectively counter this crisis. A confidential cable sent from Syria explained the dire situation, with the Syrian minister of agriculture stating publicly that the economic and social fallout from the drought was beyond their capacity as a country to deal with.

The cable explained how Syria, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, U.N. Development Programme and the World Food Programme requested roughly $20 million from donor countries and donor organizations to provide emergency food aid, restore food production and safeguard agricultural livelihoods. In a direct appeal to Washington, an FAO representative in Damascus even expressed his hope that "improving relations" between the U.S. and Syria might encourage the U.S. to become a donor to the 2009 Drought Appeal.

And the response from the US (from the article);

The U.S. government balked at the appeal, saying: "Given the generous funding the U.S. currently provides to the Iraqi refugee community in Syria and the persistent problems WFP is experiencing with its efforts to import food for the refugee population, we question whether limited USG resources should be directed toward this appeal at this time." In light of America’s lackluster leadership, the world’s response was insufficient: Donor countries only ponied up around $5 million, a quarter of the total need.

That decision would befall congress. I don’t know if the Obama administration attempted to get the money, but I can guarantee that congress wouldn’t have appropriated the funds. We’ve already spent more in Syria than what they were asking for. 

Do you hear that isolationists, libertarians, and Randroids? The Paul family have no pearls of wisdom for you so stop listening to them because they’re idiots who don’t think anything through. Doing nothing is an action that can be as devastating as doing the wrong thing. 

I explain this so that you understand two things;

  • The Syrian civil war is the first of the wars over climate change. Have you ever heard someone say that the next world war is going to be over water? Well, it’s true.
  • The problem that started this whole thing will have to be addressed in order to really clean up the mess in Syria. As long as the Syrian people are starving, there will be no stabilization to be had.    

So when the civil war started in Syria, it created a power vacuum and ISI became ISIS. And that’s how we got here. You now have all the information to combat the bullshit.

And here are some more materials for you to read. I’d never been to this site before, but here’s a fantastic (it even held up to hindsight) analysis of (then) ISI. I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely adding The Long War Journal to my list of go-to places. Here’s a great timeline of ISIS from Stanford. Here’s a 2003 report from The Guardian.

I saved the best for last. Here is a 2007 story about ISI from Fox fucking News. That one is for the willfully ignorant, blindly faithful dumb dumb that you all know. They won’t hear anything else you say, but you can end the conversation by throwing that gem at them.

And here’s one that I’ve posted several times and will no doubt, post several more. Here’s Dick Cheney in 1994, telling you what would happen if we took out Saddam. Here’s a hint; it’s exactly what happened when we took out Saddam.       


That one is also a good one to shut up the stupid sycophant in your life. Enjoy!