Speaking of Unwinnable

The news about US troops engaging in Syria has been pretty low-key. Probably because, you know, it exposes some government lies about the degree to which the military is/was going to get involved in the fighting in the area.

Per Andrew Bacevich, [stderr] we might do well to be wondering out loud what “winning” means in the current situation.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, on Monday said the U.S. troops are on the western outskirts of Manbij to “reassure and deter,” and are making themselves visible by flying American flags. It is neither an offensive nor defense role, he said, but a mission designed to keep a lid on tensions that risk creating new levels of violence in northern Syria.[star]

How does one “succeed” in such a mission?

I am genuinely puzzled: it sounds to me like the US forces deterrent value is something like: “if you kill us, more Americans will come.”  A rational enemy might a) want that, b) believe it’s going to happen anyway or c) not care because that’s what’s already happening – d) all of the above. This show of force seems to me to be a bad idea born of desperation, because:

Manbij is a flashpoint because Turkey claims that Syrian Kurdish fighters it considers a threat to Turkey are operating in the city, despite U.S. denials. Also in the area are Syrian regime forces backed by Russia as well as American-supported Syrian Arab fighters.

So, the problem is that there are too many different opposed interests converging on Manbij, therefore stability will be ensured by adding another opposed interest to the mix.

That's "fewer than a dozen" Americans [rt]

That’s “fewer than a dozen” Americans [rt]

The US is engaging in the same kind of strategic genius that brought ISIS in the first place: if you rewind your memory back to when Iraq was overthrown, the US kept trying to interpose itself in the middle of a Sunni/Shia territorial war, by allying with, uh, everyone (especially the Kurds) and well, that didn’t work. Then the US tacitly supported its proxies transferring huge amounts of weapons into the region to overthrow Syria, but now those weapons have perfused thoroughly through the region, having a significant effect (as intended) on the power-balance. So now the US is trying to cooperate, once again, with pretty much everyone on the battlefield – the Turks are allies, and so are the Kurds except neither of them wants to cooperate with the other so the US drives in the middle with flags waving and hopes nobody shoots.

How does one “win” such a situation? Does the US intend to remain in position there indefinitely? Because the Turkish/Kurdish split is not going to resolve itself in our lifetimes unless there’s some serious high-level diplomacy between parties that have shown no willingness to engage in diplomacy for a long time.

The spokesman said the new U.S. presence is meant in part to “reassure that ISIS has been driven from Manbij,” adding, “Manbij is liberated and there’s not a need for further fighting there.”

Mais Oui,

“French soldiers arrived in Kobani along with US troops to take part in liberating Manbij. They are primarily tasked with coordinating airstrikes of the [US-led] coalition, consulting and providing training to Manbij’s Military council and the Syrian Democratic Forces,” [sputnik]

France admitted that its special forces were deployed to northern Syria last week. “We are helping with arms, we are helping with aerial support, we are helping with advice,” France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

Because that’s what the situation needs: more arms and airstrikes. I can’t come up with the proper acronym, but this sounds like a Joint ISIS US French Russian Syrian Kurdish Turkish Fuck Up in progress. This is actually not about ISIS, it’s about Turks and Kurds – it’s difficult when your allies want to resume killing eachother during the middle of the civil war you started.

It’s too much to hope that some genius would declare peace. I hate to sound naive but if the US is putting troops in as bullet-catchers, maybe it would be best to just declare “Pax Americana” in that area and ask everyone to stand down.


  1. Dunc says

    Yeah, I’m sure that nothing “keep[s] a lid on tensions” in that part of the world quite like the sight of the American flag flying from an armoured vehicle.

  2. AndrewD says

    [sarc mode on] I am sure this is a good idea. if you want people to stop fighting each other, what better way is there than giving them an enemy that they all hate, like US troops. This is a wonderful idea.(unless you are one of the sacrificial lambs)
    {sarc mode off]

  3. says

    There are obviously ad many differing clouds of motivation here as there are decision-makers, and I assume there are a *lot* of decision makers. “Because none of us is as dumb as all of us”

    That said, ideas like “winning” and “success” are, I think, literally off the table. That’s old school thinking, not new school. New school is built around the doctrine that American Troops and Gear always makes things better than it would have been if we hadn’t rolled up. This is conveniently impossible to disprove, and aligns perfectly with everyone’s paychecks.

    Interestingly, I think we are currently locked in the following death spiral:

    Promotions in the US military will be driven for the next decade or so by degree of actual combat experience in the previous decade. Officers on the ground are therefore constantly trying to ensure they have as much as the other guys, because they know that taking a desk job in California right now is career death. As long as there are hot-spots, there will likely be competition to go there and “fight”

    A knew a guy who was bullied into a high risk “combat jump” into Panama onto an airfield that had been secured hours before. The kept dropping guys in and declining to declare the combat over under everyone who wanted a combat stripe, or whatever it is, had one.

    I theorize, I admit without much evidence, that this is part of what’s driving much of America’s interest in deploying troops basically everywhere.

  4. obscure1 says

    Career military men live for battlefield decorations, ribbons, and shiny medals. The enlisted men rise through the ranks faster and the officers get quicker promotions because of their “heroics”. And the people who own the military-industrial-security complex reap gigantic fortunes war after war after war……

  5. says

    Bruce H@#3:
    The acronym you are looking is SNAFU. Hopefully, it will not become FUBAR.

    SNAFUS and FUBARs are pretty typical, yeah. I was referring to the JANFU (Joint Army/Navy Fuck Up) and other forms of Joint Fuck Ups (JFU also works for Just Fucked Up)
    In this case there are so many players on the field it might be possible to come up with a pretty good acronym. MLFU (Multi Lateral Fuck Up) … hm.

  6. says

    I’ve been reading more about the situation and it sounds increasingly like the US troops “mission” is to sit between the Kurds, which have taken over (“liberated”) the town and the Turks, who don’t want the Kurds to gain any territory. The ISIS insurgents who were driven out are, presumably, licking their wounds and trying to get more kornet ATGMs, while the Syrian army lurks in the wings wondering where their sovereignty went.

  7. komarov says

    Well, this can only work out great for the warhawks.
    1) Park troops in the middle of a warzone.
    2) Wait until Something Happens.
    3) Express righteous indignation. Someone shot at us/US while we were minding our own buisness in a foreign country! No doubt this is Ideological Enemy’s doing! We must act at once!*
    4) Spend a few years, a few trillions and a few thousands to millions of lives** fighting another war.

    All in the name of Protecting American Interests Lives, Peace and Democracy.

    Finally, I’d like to submit the following acronyms:
    MNFU – Multinational …, goes well with multinational corporations (a potential synonym?)
    ODFU – Omni-directional …, although that sounds a bit like it might involve nukes.
    Although going by your description I’m tempted to call it a brawl – well, a brawl of nations. And in any good brawl its everyone against everyone else, alliances be damned. Sure, I’ll hold this guy while you deck him with a chair. But don’t be suprised if I shove a splintered chair’s leg in your eye straight after…

    *No time to think.
    ** without / with civilian casualties.

  8. Owlmirror says

    We need to introduce “clusterfuck” into these acronyms. But “CF” lacks pizzazz. Maybe vowels to make it pronounceable?

    OCFU: Operational ClusterFuckUp
    JOCFU: Joint Operational ClusterFuckUp
    JANOCFU: Joint Army-Navy Operational ClusterFuckUp
    MUNAFOCFU: MUlti-Nation Armed Forces Operational ClusterFuckUp

    (Thinking about fractal wrongness):
    FROCFU: Fractal Recursive Operational ClusterFuckUp
    (This is not just a clusterfuckup. This is a clusterfuckup at every conceivable level of resolution. Zooming in on any part of this operation finds clusterfuckedup-ness exactly as clusterfuckedup as the operation as a whole.)

  9. multitool says

    What would be the right thing to do?

    Is there an alternative to just letting the Turks massacre the Kurds?

  10. says

    Is there an alternative to just letting the Turks massacre the Kurds?

    I think that in order to answer that question, we’d have to seriously entertain replacing the current international system. Ultimately this is a territorial dispute about ethnicity and national sovereignty: the Kurds want to achieve the status of being a nation, but the Turks don’t want that happening because Turkey gets smaller (and has an enemy on its border) if it happens. Short of Leviathan coming along and making everyone sit down and shut up, I don’t see how it gets resolved. I don’t see how sticking a bunch of Marines between the opposing forces is going to help, either – eventually they will have to go away.