A Slow-Moving Disaster

I don’t think the word “strategy” works for the US’ policy in Syria, unless there is some secret deep master plan, it’s just the futile thrashing of an imperial power that has failed to learn that military ‘solutions’ are not always efficient, hardly ever clean, and always expensive.

I’m sure that the wise heads in Washington are re-assessing the value of Turkey as an ally. Erdogan appears to be trying to turn the country into a putinocracy or a trumpenstät, and that’s a problem since the US stores about a dozen B-61 H-bombs at Incirlik Air Base, which has been a useful base of operations in the US’ gulf wars. Turkey hasn’t been an entirely well-behaved dictatorship: Erdogan has his own ideas and isn’t kissing the ring enthusiastically enough, and they’ve been fighting a decades-long counter-insurgency attempting to eradicate the Kurds, who fade back and forth across the Iraqi border. It’s probable that the Turks let the US use Incirlik the first time in return for the US’ tacit assent to the Turkish desire that there never be an independent Kurdistan. Subsequent to the American military camel getting its nose under the proverbial tent, Turkey has probably on and off regretted the decision, especially when Gulf War II allowed the Kurds to establish what is, for all intents and purposes, a well-armed Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraqi Kurdistan’s “safety zone” has expanded into the oil-rich areas around Kirkuk and westward into Syria. For all intents and purposes the northeastern corner of Syria has become a part of Kurdistan.

Continue that red dotted line up and across Syria, snipping off the tip, and you’ve got Kurdish Syria. Kurdish Syria is where the US’ secret air force base appears to be located. The US sent marines in to Manbij to help the [stderr] Kurds hold the area, when it appeared that Turkish forces were there not just to displace Syrian regime troops, but to prevent the Kurds from occupying the town.

All of that’s background for the latest announcement, the US has apparently decided to stop playing coy about supporting the Kurdish expansion. The Kurds are going to help do the dying and killing in Raqqa, and they’ll get US-made kill-shinies to do it with. [bbc]

Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would be equipped to help drive IS from its stronghold, Raqqa, a spokeswoman said.

The US was “keenly aware” of Turkey’s concerns about such a move, she added.

“Turkish concerns, LOL” the US said.

The People’s Protection Units (YPG), which has been fighting Islamic State with U.S.-led air support, says it now controls territory the size of Qatar and Kuwait combined. [business insider]

Raqqa is pretty far down into Syria, so the US probably has a deal with the Kurds that, when the fighting is over, they’ll pull back and defend their new border. Turkey’s objective to ‘free’ Raqqa with the assistance of anti-Syrian-government rebels is in whole or in part motivated by the desire to get there ahead of the Kurds.

I doubt Turkey is ‘concerned’ as much as frantic – they’ve recently seen their tank forces brutally munched by anti-Syrian-government insurgents using Russian-made ATGMs, now they’re expecting the US will be arming the Kurds to the point where they’ll represent a credible national army. Which is about right. And, the next step after that will be calls for an independent Kurdistan. That won’t be for a while, but the lines that the British and French drew on the map when they carved up the Ottoman Empire: they’re written in crayon.

------ divider ------

My main concern-point about all this is the degree to which the US Government pretends to its people that the military is under control of the civilian branch of government. Most Americans cling to this quaint idea that the President goes to Congress and asks for a declaration of war, and that Congress has – you know – a constitutionally-granted control over the deployment of military force. That is obviously a lie: Congress is busy side-showing about email hacking and government shutdowns, while the real government – the military – creates policy in cooperation with the President. The War Powers Resolution was an attempt to rein in the President’s ability to work with the military to bypass civilian control, but it’s basically being ignored.

If you want to do an experiment, ask an American if they are aware that President Obama deployed US troops into Syria, and that the US built a secret air base in another country without permission. It’s as if the US watched Russia annex Crimea and thought, “damn, let’s do that kinda stuff, too.” It’s more like, “huh, nobody cared, so let’s stop pretending.”


  1. Siobhan says

    If the political ideals informing the YPG structure is actually turned into a proper government, it might be a decent place to live!

  2. says

    I agree. The Kurds have done a pretty good job. I sure hope the US doesn’t throw them under a bus some day, because some dictator offered a better location for an air base, or something. The Kurds have offered the US air bases already, so they’re on the game.

    I do love seeing the US Air Force flying air strikes for YPG while pretending that it’s totally not related to PKK which is a “terrorist” organization. We ought to just get it over with and rebrand them as “freedom fighters” and then we can say they’ve always been our friends and allies. (flashy thing)

  3. jrkrideau says

    I don’t think the word “strategy” works for the US’ policy in Syria,

    I have been asking myself for years if the USA had any real policy objectives other than producing failed states in the Middle East. I still have not seen one.

    At times it seems more like the Keystone Cops in action than a major world power with actual policy objectives.

    Totally annoying Turkey seems daft. I cannot see the advantage of infuriating a major NATO ally for some minor short-term gain, if gain it is. The Turks regard the Kurds as an existential threat, and probably with good reason.

  4. says

    I have been asking myself for years if the USA had any real policy objectives other than producing failed states in the Middle East. I still have not seen one.

    Me either. “Blow shit up” would make more sense.
    I have a conspiracy-searching friend who thinks there is a deep-cover christian dominionist plot to destabilize islamic regimes wherever possible. I’m skeptical because that would make sense.

    Totally annoying Turkey seems daft.

    I agree. But it may be that Erdogan is looking too friendly to Putin, or something. I have no idea. It seems to me that they’re just looking for stuff to blow up, honestly.

  5. jrkrideau says

    @ 4Marcus
    It seems to me that they’re just looking for stuff to blow up, honestly
    That sounds like a good explanation

    it may be that Erdogan is looking too friendly to Putin

    The US arming the Kurds is not likely to make him hate Putin I believe the Turks suspect that failed coup may well have had US support. It’s almost as if the US “policy” people are trying to drive Erdogan into the Russian camp.

    I often wondered if George W. Bush was an Al Quadi agent so I suppose there may people in Washington who are Russian agents :) Not the orange one.

  6. springa73 says

    From what I’ve read, Erdogan and Putin, despite past clashes, have been getting friendlier. The US backing the Kurds could drive them even closer.

    I suspect US policy has been so unsuccessful at least in part because it has been so inconsistent. It changes as the elected and appointed officials change and is driven by several inconsistent desires plus a considerable amount of knee-jerk emotional reaction.

  7. cartomancer says

    The cynic in me says that messy, inefficient and expensive “solutions” are exactly what the American military-industrial complex is after. Arming insurgents and supporting corrupt dictators creates demand for their products – both among the militants themselves and (more importantly) among the politicians whose job it is to re-route ever more of the federal economy down their throats. The US never really took its economy off of a war footing following the end of the Second World War, so it has had to keep finding new wars to justify the economic status quo. Preferably ones where oil is readily available for stealing, but any old spat over a bit of desert will do to keep the tensions high and the money flowing.

    That all the fighting and slaughter is utterly counter-productive on a strategic level is rather beside the point.

  8. keithb says

    And none of this is new. I am currently reading “The Apache wars” https://www.amazon.com/Apache-Wars-Geronimo-Captive-American/dp/0770435831/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1494459530&sr=8-1&keywords=apache+wars
    And even though the Mexican’s forbid it, the Cavalry would often hunt down the Apaches in Mexico. They didn’t care much if the Apaches raided in Mexico and came back to the US with the spoils, but let them raid in the US…

    The Mexicans killed one of our officers. Geronimo was close by and it was reportedly one of the few times he LOL’d

  9. polishsalami says

    One problem for the US is that so many of its “allies” have serious military deficiencies right now.

    The Saudi military is just a money-making scheme — its army could barely fight its way out of a paper bag.

    The Israelis have nukes and air superiority, but also have ground forces that have grown flabby from beating up on Palestinian civilians. The IDF would probably lose a ground war with Hezbollah.

    Erdogan’s purge of Gulenists has robbed its military of some of its most talented members, and seems more of a liability than an asset to NATO.