Peace in Syria: Can we get there from here?

The recent ISIS attacks in Paris and the downing of a Russian plane by Turkey add new corridors to the labyrinth that we are lost in when it comes to peace in Syria.  But while these changes add complexity to the ongoing enigma, the way forward remains the same.

We must reach a diplomatic solution among the various factions in Syria which then would allow them and foreign powers like ourselves and Russia to focus our full attention on destroying ISIS instead of splitting our efforts trying to destroy each other.

If that were the case, the long unanswered question of:  Where are more boots on the ground to come from?    Would likely be answered:  From a lot of places.

At present they seem unlikely to come from anywhere, besides the Kurds, who can only do so much, and the Shia militias in Iraq who, while willing to fight ISIS,  are further alienating the Sunni’s in western Iraq in the process.   Ah, the Sunni-Shia divide.  A clue.

Also, my sense of the Kurds is they are  less enthusiastic to shed blood in Syria than in Iraq, their homeland, so while some are fighting in northeastern Syria, don’t expect the Kurds to supply all the boots on the ground necessary, even if aided by a few thousand  U. S. troops.

The Kurds, like every other nation, have their own agenda which only partially converges with our own.   Our top priority is to destroy ISIS, their top priority is to establish a Kurdish state free from Bagdad control, a goal we are likely helping them attain with our growing arms shipments.

The problem of finding peace among the Syrian factions as well as finding troops willing to fight ISIS goes back to the same issue, the fundamental Shia-Sunni Muslim antagonism that goes back centuries.   While Iran and Iraq have majority Shia populations, the rest of the Middle East is Sunni dominated.

Syria is an oddity in that the Assad government is backed by a minority of Syrians who are Shia in the sense they are an offshoot of that sect.   A large majority of Syrians are Sunni.

What has mushroomed into the Syrian civil war is, in a general sense, a proxy fight between Sunni and Shia Middle East nations.   The key point in all of this is that while our top priority is to destroy ISIS, the top priority of the Sunni nations in the region is to defend against and weaken Iran, including its influence in Syria and Iraq.

As such, Sunni nations like Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have shown no willingness to put together a Sunni ground force to fight ISIS.  Besides having other pressing agendas to deal with (Saudi Arabia with Yemen and Egypt with terrorists at home), these nations are more concerned with ridding Syria of Assad than in fighting ISIS.  In fact, ISIS was initially funded by the wealthy in these nations as a Sunni answer to Assad’s dominance and probably still gets some support from them.

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio has suggested that the “right” boots on the ground should come from Sunni nations, which makes sense since ISIS has Sunni roots, so it would be Sunnis cleaning up their own mess so to speak and would avoid inflaming tensions both between the Shia and Sunnis and those between the West and the Middle East.

But from what I have read, there seems no likelihood that such a force could be formed until some sort of deal is worked out in Syria in which Assad gives up power and a process to include Syrian Sunnis in the government is developed.   As long as Sunni ISIS counterbalances the power of Assad, the Sunni states cannot be counted on for much support (even their air campaigns have fizzled to nothing ).

So, you got all that?     If you have trouble imagining a diplomatic solution coming to pass, like I do, its happening anytime soon received a setback when the Turks shot down that Russian plane.    The Turks want Assad gone, while Putin remains his loyal ally.

It seems the Turks thought that plane was heading to bomb anti-Assad forces it supports, while Russian media portrays it as an act of Turkey helping ISIS, when most likely the Turks are right since Russian media has pushed the narrative that Russia is fighting a holy war vs. ISIS, despite most of their attacks being aimed at Syrians Turkey and we support.

Of course, since that bomb blew up the Russian plane, Russia probably is bearing down on ISIS more now.   I haven’t checked.

The labyrinth grows while the enigma remains.

 

 

 

The Cost to Our Humanity to Defeat ISIS

Since those savage attacks Friday in Paris I hear more than ever how President Obama still has no strategy to defeat ISIS.   This implies that at least some of his critics do.

Most of the criticisms come not because he lacks a strategy, but because it is contingent on events and is working slowly.  Critics argue we should do more bombing and send more of our troops over there and work harder at developing our coalition.  Some of that may be true, but it isn’t radically different from what Obama is already doing.

Here I only want to deal with the bombing.   It could be more effective if used more broadly and less discriminately, but it would also kill many more innocents trapped under ISIS rule.

Our air attacks in Syria and Iraq have been called a  joke because there are so relatively few of them.  Why?  Because President Obama has placed tight restrictions regarding collateral damage to civilians.

I heard yesterday morning that truck columns carting oil were not bombed out of concern for the drivers of those trucks who seem more likely innocents than terrorists.  I think that is admirable in the president, but perhaps too admirable given the situation.

Yes, I’m saying there must be a degree of accepted collateral slaughter in war.  However, unlike a character in the TV show Homeland, I don’t think the answer to ISIS is to turn its stronghold “Raqqa into a parking lot.”

Yes, we could wipe them off the face of the earth, but for how long and how would that leave us?  Leaving aside the likelihood that this action would only spawn more of a Muslim jihad against us, which is exactly what ISIS wants.  How about where it would leave us as a people, what it would do to our souls and how would the rest of the world view us?

It is not simply because of our military and economic power that we are viewed as the world leader.

To defeat ISIS we will undoubtedly make deals with the devil.  Just this morning I heard that Russian and U. S. air forces are now “cooperating” in attacks on ISIS and I would bet the Russians are not as finicky as we have been about collateral damage.

War is hell and many innocents have died and are going to die in the battle with ISIS.   I’m just saying we need to take moral responsibility for our actions and take a measured approach, realizing this is not a video game, but landscapes filled with flesh and blood like our own.

From this perspective Obama does not seem nearly as feckless as his critics portray.  I want to see those who argue for sterner measures and more of them to be pressed to answer what degree of slaughter are they actually proposing with their grand plans?

Donald, since your strategy for dealing with ISIS has been:  “To bomb the sh_t out of them.”  Are you proposing a totally  indiscriminate slaughter?  Or if not, what are you proposing?

 

OOPS! Mea Culpa Ted Cruz

(I wrote this post this morning before all hell broke loose in Paris, which is being covered on TV behind me.  That makes what I write below pale in significance, but I still want to send this out to tie up a loose end that bothers me.)

I have a passionate dislike for the way that information has become spun or twisted out of context or simply lied about to fit an ideology or cause.   What was called the “age of information” in my youth has become, at least in the realm of politics and all it touches, an age clearly marked by misinformation,   Gandhi said:  “Truth is God.”   I may not go that far, but I can relate.

So, I feel compelled to confess I was careless when I wrote:  “While the candidates touted their various economic plans and directed viewers to their web sites for details, the most important point seemed a sin of omission:  none indicated where they would cut spending, despite often wanting to spend more on one or more areas, national defense being the prime example.”

What failed to register in my mind is Ted Cruz’s saying he wanted to eliminate:  “..the IRS, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce and HUD.”  Yes, he did mention Commerce twice, but on his web site indicated the fifth department was the Department of Education.

Certainly those would be some major budget cuts, but they didn’t register as such with me at the time.   Perhaps subconsciously I marked it down as Ted throwing more red meat to his base.  But, in any case I was plain wrong in my statement about no indications of cutting spending.

On the other hand, Cruz has a whole tax plan that according to a Vox analysis ” will cost trillions upon trillions of dollars and lead to an enormous tax cut for the richest Americans.”  True, Vox would have to be seen as liberal leaning and more conservative analyses would undoubtedly be kinder to Cruz.

I just want to indicate a more balanced sense of Cruz’s vision.

The 4th Republican Debate was more Informative than the Other Three: Boring

The general consensus of the media regarding last night’s debate was that it dealt more substantially with the issues, a phrase I have come to equate with “boring”.   The Donald didn’t even spice things up, partially because he has elected to present a lower profile in the debates  while remaining his old outrageous self on the campaign trail.  And partially because he wasn’t attacked much.

As such I could only stand watching for a few minutes at a time, so I switched back and forth most often to a recording of the TV series Fargo, which is not brilliantly funny like the movie but is grimly gripping.

During the last presidential race I often heard complaints that a key issue to most of us, the economy, was seldom really talked about.  It wasn’t but then, truth be told, most of us don’t want to hear about plans for the economy, even if we indicate we want to in polls.  We all want a better economy, but we don’t want to hear about detailed plans that will only be pilloried by various “experts” and we laymen won’t really be able to figure them out because it would require a major devotion of time and energy which would likely confuse us more than anything else.

AND WE DO HAVE LIVES.  Even me.

And even if it is a great plan, it will die on the desiccated vine of congressional politics, so……what’s the point?   This is a good part of the recipe for Donald Trump’s and Ben Carson’s success thus far.  They have no plans.  They just want us to believe in them as trustworthy successful individuals who can parley that success into making government work better.  Given the frustrations we all feel about government, a good share of us are willing to put our faith in their being able to do just that.  At least at the moment.

While the candidates touted their various economic plans and directed viewers to their web sites for details, the most important point seemed a sin of omission:  none indicated where they would cut spending, despite often wanting to spend more on one or more areas, national defense being the prime example.  This implication of greater spending is a weak spot for a party whose identity is based on fiscal conservatism to a large degree, something Rand Paul pointed out.  But the others were mostly content to emphasize their spending would be less and serve us better than Hillary Clinton’s would be.

From what I’ve read since the debate it seems all eight presenters at the main debate were judged to have performed reasonably well, even Jeb Bush, who I’ve come to think of as “dead man walking.”   Chris Christie is said to have won the preliminary four candidate debate and you may have noticed he has a heart felt video on drug addiction that has gone viral, so his campaign seems to be picking up.

But I would rather not dwell on how anyone is doing in the Republican race as it seems that the chances of each candidate will go up and down like the stock market in upcoming months (for example, in Christi’s case there are still trials pending on bridge gate which still could damage his campaign).

The one thing that does seem clear is that the party is divided enough that most of these candidates will be sticking around for a few months at least, most betting that over time the believe-in-me candidacies of Trump and Carson will gradually lose steam and the race will become wide open at that point.  When the music stops who knows who will be in position to crab the one remaining chair?

For those interested in knowing more about the debate, google:  We’re finally seeing the deep fault lines at the heart of the GOP nomination battle   It’s the title of an article in the Washington Post which I’ve tried to link you to, but the link doesn’t work..

The next Republican debate is five weeks from now.   I hope something will attract my interest by then.

ONE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING DONALD TRUMP

Yes, I am back to Donald Trump.   Not because of him exactly but because of what his success in this presidential primary so far says about us.  Not that I  know, but the question intrigues me.

What I do know is how off base I was when I dismissed him simply as an attention craving “clown” in a post last July.   My excuse is that he appeared clownish during the last presidential race when he insisted that Barack Obama may well have been born in Kenya.   All I could see then was an attention monger who was willing to do or say anything to attract more of the spotlight.   Given events since then, I surmise there is much more than met my eye.  Back then I thought it easy to understand Trump.  Now it has become a project.

Though I have never read it, I imagine Trump’s The Art of the Deal gets to the heart of how he operates.   When negotiating a deal you don’t begin with what you are willing to accept (unless you are Barack Obama).  You begin far short of that, so you have room to bargain.   I view Trump’s demand to deport all illegal immigrants to be his starting point for a deal.  If the Donald were to be elected president he would start there and work his way to a more reasonable alternative.

If he then accomplished immigration reform he would admit:  You think I would actually try to deport 11 million people?  That’s crazy.

The people who seem to know him best insist that Donald is really smart and he has obviously been very successful.  I infer from that he does not believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya, nor does he plan to deport millions and build a huge wall.  I  look back at the birther issue and wonder whether it was a trial balloon to see what would happen if he asserted something outrageous and stuck with it.  What he got was lots of media attention and the beginning of a base of political support.   What I saw as clownish, he saw as field testing.

In making his birther argument Trump often indicated he had people investigating the matter and discovering information that raised questions as to where Obama was born.   If he ever produced a shred of evidence, I missed it.   He was testing the media and they failed the test.   He could say whatever he wanted and it would be covered not confronted.   Employing that technique he has taken a political race and turned it into a bigger reality TV hit than his Apprentice.

As he reminds us  daily, he’s what is drawing the big TV audiences for the Republican debates.   Now the star wants to dictate to the debate organizers some new terms otherwise he will boycott.  For example, he wants the channels to donate some of their profits on the show to charities.  Or he walks.

How good is that?  It is a show of both strength and heart, very attractive traits in a president.  Add to those traits the sheer fact that he has parlayed what initially seemed like a joke to many  into a front running primary campaign.   In short, he tells us he is a winner and up to now he is demonstrating it.

By now you may think that I’m doing a lot of speculating, even if you can appreciate my points.  Here’s something more concrete.

Years ago, I can’t recall when, in an interview with Larry King, Trump revealed a key to his make up.  King noted Donald often seemed to get the edge when interacting with others and asked how he did it.  Trump’s response was something like this:  Before I go there, Larry, has anyone ever said you have terrible breath?   Really Larry, I mean it. I’m not trying to be mean but it really is terrible and I am surprised you don’t know.”

Years later I saw Trump on TV dissecting the exchange, pointing out that the terrible breath comment was him demonstrating to King how he got the edge on others.  I think King missed his point.

Now I think it is the rest of us who don’t get the picture.  While his responses aren’t the usual poll tested political pablum that irritates us (mostly the reverse actually) , they are not exactly authentic, either.  Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders are authentic.  They speak their minds and have been saying the same sorts of things for years.

Trump, on the other hand, has said various things over the years and, since the media never presses for details (such acts could make the star boycott them), I have no idea what he really thinks.  All I know is that he has impressed me with his ability to fashion a political race into the THE DONALD SHOW.

I now think of him as more of a Svengali than a clown.  And he looks like a winner until proven otherwise.