Published on 22 May 2015

With Syria and Iraq, there is no Plan B – and the omens are not good

It has been a bad week for “coalition” strategy against militants from so-called Islamic State. I write “coalition” in inverted commas, because in reality this is an American-led attempt to impose regional and international legitimacy upon a war which the US president himself views with great qualms and some reluctance.

The plan, in a nutshell, is air strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq – along with supplying arms and training for select Syrian rebel groups, the Iraqi army, and Iraqi Sunni tribes.

The training of Syrian rebel groups has only just begun in Turkey and Jordan. I don’t hold out a great deal of hope for it turning the tide, but it is too early to judge. The Saudis are not waiting around for the Americans to deliver results and have stepped up the arming of alternative Islamist groups. One of the under-reported  stories of Syria is not the territorial gains of IS, but the gains of their Saudi-backed rivals.

As for Iraq, the Americans have been assisting the Iraqi army for years – and Ramadi fell to IS at the weekend, nonetheless. It hasn’t worked before and I see no reason to believe it will work now. Arming the Sunni tribes may work in pushing back IS, as it has against al-Qaeda in the past, but it may also widen Iraq’s sectarian divide.

And yet no broader overhaul of US strategy is in the offing. The war-weary Americans do not wish to be further drawn into somebody else’s conflict and nor do the British. David Cameron’s new government is putting its diplomatic effort into EU reform ahead of a referendum on EU membership.

Both the US and UK regard President Assad of Syria as a barrel-bombing villain with whom they can’t do business, so expect no change of tack there. Just because the barbarians are quite literally at the gates of Palmyra is not going to make Assad’s regime any more palatable.

With both Syria and Iraq, there is no plan B. We are where we are. And while it is easy to write off that strategy at the end of a bad week, the omens are not good either.

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3 reader comments

  1. anon says:

    looking the other way as the Middle East bleeds to death is totally unacceptable. Please could you ask a military expert if it is true that nothing could be done to stop the IS armoured weapons? They could have easily being stopped from the air long before all this. Just replay previous footage from other wars to show how airpower can decimate armoured vehicles.

    the dreadful reality is that decisions have clearly being made to allow these countries to tear themselves to pieces,

    this has to stop, we can stop it..

    sorry if sent twice problem posting

  2. H Statton says:

    It’s always good to know that the architect of the “War on Terror” is still pumping out the perlocutionary line, and his acolyte is popping his head above the parapet to make a “chance” deluded comment.

    Nowadays it seems their legacy extends to people who write on sexist advertisements, or people that support the ‘Yes’ vote for equal marriage. Apparently, they too are terrorists and/or extremists.

    Terror, in effect, is not terrifying anymore. IS and its Caliphate truly embody the meaning of terrorism. But the dilution of the word in reference to real horror and persecution is making it alarmingly banal.

    Apr 26, 2015, Bloomberg View.
    Josh Rogin
    http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-04-27/george-w-bush-bashes-obama-on-middle-east

    Whilst attending a closed door meeting with Jewish donors after and general flirting with the condemnation of the Obama administration: “He [George W. Bush] then proceeded to explain why Obama, in his view, was placing the U.S. in “retreat” around the world. He also said Obama was misreading Iran’s intentions while relaxing sanctions on Tehran too easily. “

    This is a bit rich coming from someone who instigated the invasion of Iraq in 2003. I am pretty sure that I am not alone in finding the following comments rather worrying: “In order to be an effective president … when you say something you have to mean it,” he [Bush] said. “You gotta kill em.”

    “The rules of fair play do not apply in love and war” ~ John Lyly’s ‘Euphues’ (1578). Agree or disagree, in this case it doesn’t matter because the Iraq debacle was not a war, it was an invasion.

    This is the invasion that saw 196+ coalition personnel killed and Iraqi casualties and deaths, both civilian and military, number into the tens of thousands. The true number is unknown.

    At a News conference at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan (March, 2002), US General Tommy Franks is quoted as saying “we [US] don’t do body counts” regarding enemy casualties (during the Afghan invasion). I imagine that paves the way for making sure you bomb the s*** out of someone, just to be on the safe side.

    It seems that Bush is still harbouring a freakish desire for world domination and keeping Israel and Jewish donors happy and reinforcing his own brand of Republican ideas.

    March 4, 2015
    Stephen Collinson, CNN (Washington)
    http://edition.cnn.com/2015/03/02/politics/netanyahu-speech-iran-obama-congress/

    “Benjamin Netanyahu warned Tuesday that a proposed agreement between world powers and Iran was “a bad deal” that would not stop Tehran from getting nuclear weapons — but would rather pave its way to getting lots of them and leave the Jewish State in grave peril.”

    He arrived at Congress to a rapturous applause, all in the absence of Obama. Is this is the same Netanyahu that accused Obama of interfering with Israeli politics? Yet another case of the pot calling the kettle black?

    “I am going to the United States not because I seek a confrontation with the President, but because I must fulfill [sic] my obligation to speak up on a matter that affects the very survival of my country,”

    In a late announcement, Netanyahu’s visit was deemed a breach of protocol and a snub. I find it hard not to agree on that one.

    Frankenstein really has created some monsters, and on all sides. Should we have let it be a case of ‘better the devil you know’? Is Assad now not so much of a Bad-Ass?

    The disease of IS spreads as insidiously as a cancer, and right now I struggle to see the cure for it. Plan B? I don’t fully understand how plan A was supposed to work.

  3. Norma says:

    How many people like me, believe these barbaric groups have no idea what the Muslin Religion teaches, they go around in their Nike trainers, mobile phones etc, but hey, while spouting all Westerner’s are Infidels. They should be named, WEAK {we envy all kinsman} I am a Wife, Mother, grandmother & great grandmother who has travelled and worked abroad, we have an amazing and beautiful world, that never ceases to amaze me, We all have a choice of Religions, this should never be used as a weapon against others.

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