The pathetic performance of the U.S. State Department with regard to Syria makes America appear an international naif. Secretary Kerry bleats about starving women and children, Russia agrees to another ceasefire, and events go on as before. So disconnected from reality is the American Establishment that it seems to have lost even the most basic understanding of how wars are fought. The front page of the September 26 New York Times offers an example. It began a story on Syria saying,
Make life intolerable and death likely. Open an escape route, or offer a deal to those who leave or surrender. Let people trickle out. Kill whoever stays. Repeat until a deserted cityscape is yours.
That sounds to me like a normal description of how sieges work. But the Times is horrified. We have become the equivalent of the sort of stringy-haired, horse-faced, post-menopausal woman who goes to peace marches.
A realistic policy on Syria would begin with the understanding that cease-fires and the like only work when all the participants in a war are exhausted. We seem to be a long way from that point in Syria. Instead we are in the early stages of the Middle East’s Thirty Years’ War, with Syria playing the role of Bohemia.
There is one difference, and it is an important one: whereas the Thirty Years’ War began as a war of religion and ended up a war between states, the Middle East’s Thirty Years’ War began as a war between states and has turned into a war of religion. That in turn is part of the decline of the state and the rise of competing non-state primary loyalties.
Were the United States to do as Donald Trump has suggested and regard Russia as an ally instead of a competitor, we might be able to lower the temperature of the Syrian War. More is not possible; the decline of the state in the Middle East and the consequences flowing from it will continue. Local, partial success is the farthest reachable goal.
The key to that goal is an agreement among the Powers, exactly the thing Bismarck would have sought. One such agreement would see the U.S. join Russia in realizing that the best chance of re-establishing a Syrian state is to back what remains of that state, in the form of the Syrian government. With all the Powers supporting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, western Syria, where most of the population lives, could probably be united and pacified. In time, the government’s control could spread eastwards, although I think reuniting all of Syria is unlikely.
Were we to further ask ourselves that all important foreign policy question, “What would Bismarck do?”, a larger and potentially more stable solution might be possible, with the Powers acting together. Recognizing that the Sunnis in both Syria and Iraq are unlikely to accept Shiite rule, we would make a deal with the real ISIS to establish an independent Sunnistan carved out of eastern Syria and western Iraq.
The real ISIS? What is that? The Baath. The religious crazies do not run ISIS. They provide the front men and the cannon fodder. ISIS is actually controlled and enabled to function by senior Iraqi Baathists, formerly members of Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq. They know how to make things work. The religious fanatics do not.
The Baath is secular and rational. You can make deals with it. The deal would be, they get a Baathist Sunnistan and in return they cut the throats of the Islamist fanatics. That is, after all, what Saddam’s Iraq did. The Baathists and the jihadis despise each other. Theirs is entirely an alliance of necessity, brought about by George W. Bush’s insane and disastrous invasion of Iraq. Give the Baathists what they want and they will be happy once again to become our useful allies. With Hillary running for President as a “foreign policy expert”, it is useful to remember that when Saddam offered us an alliance against al Qaeda and the like during the Clinton administration, the White House refused to even consider it. Bright move, “experts”. When W. overthrew Saddam, al Qaeda applauded.
The reason many Americans, myself included, are supporting Donald Trump for president is that he offers at least a chance of a return to reality as a basis for policy at home and abroad. With Hillary and the rest of the Establishment (of both parties), that chance is zero.