The Political Solution Against ISIS
by Deacon Blues
Hillary managed to let Jeb beat her to the punch today over sending ground troops to fight ISIS. It is a mistake she will live to regret, and her caution in distancing herself from Obama’s failed policy will cost her in the long run.
Placing ground troops into Syria cannot work unless it is part of a larger political solution that carries incentives for the major parties. Russia will not commit to really being part of the solution unless they can control Assad’s exit from Syria and maintain access to the Tartus naval base. Turkey will not shut its border to ISIS and commit to the solution unless they see a path leading to Assad’s exit, and until their NATO membership is threatened. You won’t be able to get Sunni states to commit to eliminating ISIS if it means preserving the status quo inside Iraq and Syria. So what to do?
With regards to Syria, we need to get Russia, Turkey, and Iran at the table to hammer out an Assad exit and transition within 18 months. This gives Russia the stake in the outcome they want which ensures their continued use of their naval base, and gives Turkey and the Sunni states what they want, all under UN supervision, eliminating any further Turkish backsliding. If Turkey still refuses to seal its border to ISIS, then its NATO membership should be suspended and the US should inform Erdogan that we now support full Kurdish statehood.
With regard to energizing the fight inside Iraq and Syria, the only way to get the Sunni tribes and the nearby Sunni states to take on ISIS is for the US to immediately support three federal states inside Iraq, whereby the Kurds get their state and unlimited American support and the Sunnis get their state and local control. Nothing will incent the Sunnis and nearby Sunni states more to take on ISIS than if they have real skin in the outcome. Right now, they are being asked to fight fellow Sunnis just to keep the status quo in place inside Syria, and the fiction of Iraq alive, a Shiite-run fiction at that. Give the Sunnis a stake in the outcome from eliminating ISIS, and give the Sunni states a buffer zone from Shiite and Iranian-controlled Baghdad, and watch things change.
As for domestic politics, Barack Obama is only committed to running out the clock in Syria and leaving the problem for his successor. As evidenced by the sudden swing in public opinion now firmly behind placing US ground troops back in the Middle East to go after ISIS, the longer Democratic candidates tether themselves to Obama's failed policy, the more likely it is Democrats lose the White House next year.
Update, Thursday: Hillary stated her approach today in a speech and Q&A at the Council on Foreign Relations:
Ultimately, however, the ground campaign in Iraq will only succeed if more Iraqi Sunnis join the fight. But that won’t happen so long as they do not feel they have a stake in their country or confidence in their own security and capacity to confront ISIS.
So the task of bringing Sunnis off the sidelines into this new fight will be considerably more difficult. But nonetheless, we need to lay the foundation for a second “Sunni awakening.” We need to put sustained pressure on the government in Baghdad to gets its political house in order, move forward with national reconciliation, and finally, stand up a national guard. Baghdad needs to accept, even embrace, arming Sunni and Kurdish forces in the war against ISIS. But if Baghdad won’t do that, the coalition should do so directly.
On the Syrian side, the big obstacle to getting more ground forces to engage ISIS beyond the Syrian Kurds, who are already deep in the fight is that the viable Sunni opposition groups remain understandably preoccupied with fighting Assad, who, let us remember, has killed many more Syrians than the terrorists have. But they are increasingly under threat from ISIS as well, so we need to move simultaneously toward a political solution to the civil war that paves the way for a new government with new leadership, and to encourage more Syrians to take on ISIS as well.
I fully understand her hesitancy to committing US ground forces to Syria and Iraq, because once we do that, neighboring states will wait until we do before they do anything, something Jeb and the rest of the GOP armchair generals can't comprehend. However, that doesn't mean we won't eventually need to do so.
Like Hillary, I'd like to believe that an expanded air war with reluctant allies, more Special Forces, arming the Sunnis and Kurds, and a No-Fly zone over northern Syria would get it done. With a political agreement first, it could work. At least she and I agree on those points.