You don’t really think I know do you?  I believe no one knows, which makes it irksome for me to listen to most of the Republican presidential hopeful pack talk as if they they had the answer, some combination of more leadership and more decisiveness and more American troops.  Easy peasy.

In the process of pretending they have the answer these wannabees ignore the basic realities that make this situation such a dilemma.   More leadership in the fight against ISIS?  What if the Sunni states don’t want to be led in the direction we want them to go?  The Sunni dominated powers Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the gulf states and Turkey have different agendas than we do.   Their actions and inaction show they are more worried about Iran than ISIS.  Is that where we want to lead them?  Into a war against Iran?

If the shaky nuclear talks with Iran fall apart, maybe it will come down to that, but a full out Middle East war between Sunni and Shia could have catastrophic consequences, not something to rush into.   There is endless talk of the need for more “boots on the ground” to fight ISIS, but where do we get them.  The Sunni nations aren’t eager to provide them.

I think Saudi Arabia, for one, would rather keep their boots safe and sound at home until maybe they need them vs. Iran.   Related to that is this question:  How do we know the Saudi ground troops are any good? They haven’t done much fighting.  And maybe they aren’t eager to risk their lives for the Saudi royal family any more than the Iraqi troops are willing to fight for a corrupt and listless government in Baghdad.  Maybe the Saudi princes aren’t eager to test their mettle.

Let’s say the Saudi’s were willing to send their troops into Iraq to help fight ISIS, do you really think the Shia dominated Iraqi government would welcome them?  I don’t.  And it gets tricky because the Saudis would also be fighting fellow Sunni’s, not to mention the inconvenient truth that ISIS took root as Sunni revolutionaries in a Syria ruled by a Shia sect, and they were originally largely funded by many rich Sunnis in Saudi Arabia and the gulf states.  Many of those contributors may have regrets now, but not enough to be eager to fight ISIS at this time which would only make the Shia in Iraq stronger.

And while perhaps a few thousand more of our own troops in special capacities might help significantly, more than that would leave us holding the bag as nation builders once again  The bag as in Baghdad.

Hey, what about arming the Kurds more and turning them into a super force?  They have shown the grit and desire necessary to fight ISIS.  And even though they are predominantly Sunni (a fact never mentioned), their heart felt ethnicity as Kurds makes them uniquely independent in the region.

But of course, that would make it all the more likely for the Kurds to secede from Iraq, something they may well do at any rate since they have a functioning government in a dysfunctional state.  But is that what we want to promote?  How would that fit into the bigger picture?  Certainly Baghdad would resist that to the extent they could.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of crap we’re dealing with in that region.  Anyone whose answer to the Mid-East crisis fails to address these unpleasantries is not to be taken seriously.

To add to this spotty picture I suggest you read a recent column in the Washington Post by Fareed Zakaria, my go to guy of late because I value his ability to capture the gist of complex issues.   It is titled:  Iraq exists only as an idea, not a nation.   His main point is that Iraqis have lost whatever national sense Iraqi’s had years ago.   They will fight for their sects but not for what’s left of a national ideal.


THE ISIS CRISIS: The American Dilemma of Involvement

I have been slow to post because my mind keeps spinning around trying to grasp how President Obama’s strategy to degrade and destroy ISIS will actually work.   The phrase “many moving parts” is often associated with the plan, but what makes me particularly uneasy is the feeling no one knows how these parts will assemble and then reassemble in the months and probably years to come.

One key problem with the grand strategy is that while many nations have pledged support, the degree of support or each remains largely nebulous or not all that much.   ISIS looks like it doesn’t have a chance on paper, but their fanatical warriors continue to capture ground in both Syria and Iraq.  The generally shared belief is that degrading and destroying ISIS will require “boots on the ground” to go along with air strikes, but other than the Kurds and the Iraqi government, no nation seems willing to provide those boots.

Bernie Sanders, U.S. Senator from Vermont

Bernie Sanders, U.S. Senator from Vermont (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the case of the Iraqi army, their boots have been largely useless, this despite years of training.   Now I hear talk of them needing more training.  Maybe, but they most need the will to fight against enemies quite willing to die for their beliefs, while my guess is most of the Iraqi army is largely fighting for a pay check.

So, we’re back to counting on the Kurds for the most part to supply boots that actually want to charge the enemy rather than run away from them.   And what I think 0f as a fantasy plan of training carefully vetted folks from the Free Syrian Army required to take a break from the action to get real good at fighting and then be inserted back into, well, who knows what and where by then?

Because we cannot  count on the fighting forces of other nations in this fight, there is a call by Senator John McCain and others  for more American boots on the ground as forward observers for the air strikes and as special forces, as well as more air strikes and a couple of other steps aimed at weakening Syria’s President Assad so he can’t take advantage of our weakening ISIS in Syria.

McCain argues that we are not doing enough to win right now, which may be true, but what is left unstated is  this very important question:  What do we do if his more robust plan doesn’t work, either?   Do we just pack up and go home?  More likely we get more and more deeply involved just as we did in Vietnam.   Talk of winning a war implies a willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed.

Senator Bernie Sanders, on the far left on the Democratic spectrum, shares McCain’s belief we should fight ISIS and is open to doing a little more than we are presently in this fight, but he is most concerned about us becoming bogged down in an endless war.  He makes the very sensible point: The more we are willing to do, the less the nations in the area feel they have to do?

Where are the troops from Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Turkey?  Where are their boots on the ground?  Do you realize Saudi Arabia ranks fourth in spending on arms world wide?   Behind only the U. S., China and Russia?    The Saudis have shown some support for the coalition in air strikes on ISIS and perhaps there has been money promised or more.  I don’t know.   But I recently saw photos of some of their pilots who are also Saudi princes and their involvement so far seems more likely a family photo shoot than a strong military commitment.  They don’t seem to be doing a lot in proportion to the danger ISIS poses to them.

But again as Sander points out, why should Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Turkey do more as long as we seem willing to do more than our share?


P. S. – Each of those three nations has other concerns that often trump our desire for them to do more versus ISIS.   In future posts I will expand on their agendas that only partially harmonize with our goal of degrading and destroying ISIS.