18 December 2015

Dâ'ish is being defeated

Recent Republican discussion -- a term more dignified than their histrionics deserve -- of the conflict in Syria and Iraq has taken it as a given that the current strategy to defeat Dâ'ish (ISIL) is failing and that a drastic change in US policy is needed.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Obama's approach -- limiting the Western role in the war to support and airstrikes while Kurdish and Arab forces do most of the actual ground fighting -- has been producing results.  It's just that many Americans are unaware of this because the American media tend to under-report war stories which do not feature Americans in a leading role.

When Dâ'ish attacked the Kurdish city of Sinjar in northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, most of its population (adherents of the Yazidi religion, which Sunni extremists such as Dâ'ish view as Satanic) fled to the nearby mountains, but ended up still trapped by enemy forces intent on massacring or enslaving them (as we know from what they did to those Yazidis they did capture).  After Obama ordered American airstrikes on Dâ'ish troops in the area, Kurdish forces were able to fight their way through to the besieged civilians and rescue them.  Thousands of lives were saved, without American casualties.

From September 2014 to January 2015 the Kurds successfully held off Dâ'ish forces besieging the Kurdish town of Kobani in northern Syria, inflicting substantial casualties on Dâ'ish in the process.  The Western role was limited to air support and pressuring Turkey to allow Kurdish fighters from northern Iraq to cross Turkish territory to get to Kobani.  The Kurds have held Kobani since the siege despite further attacks.

These were essentially defensive victories, but they invigorated our allies' morale -- the evacuation of Sinjar may someday be seen as Kurdistan's Dunkirk.  More recently they've gone on the offensive.  Last month the Kurds liberated Sinjar, a victory of strategic as well as symbolic importance, since it cuts the main highway connecting the Dâ'ish capital Raqqah with Mosul, the largest city under Dâ'ish control.  Again, the Western role was limited to support and air cover.  Right now the Iraqi army is in the process of recapturing Ramadi -- the capital of Anbar, Iraq's largest province -- from Dâ'ish.

In Ramadi, much of the Western support is being provided by Australia, which highlights another way in which the war is changing.  The recent wave of terrorist attacks by Dâ'ish outside its own territory -- the suicide bombings in Lebanon, the destruction of the Russian airliner over Sinai, the Paris killings, and the San Bernardino shooting -- represent the frustrated lashing out of an enemy which is losing the real war on every front and is desperate to show it still has claws.  Their main effect, however, has been to draw more and more countries into a bigger role in the struggle.  Russia in particular has begun striking Dâ'ish much harder, and US diplomacy has sought to narrow the gap between US and Russian goals in the region, to allow for better cooperation against the main enemy.  The US has escalated its own role, recently killing several more Dâ'ish leaders.

In view of all this, Republican politicians' premise that the US is doing virtually nothing against Dâ'ish and that the enemy is rampaging unchecked seems astonishing, until you realize that their lies and distortions are aimed at a party voting base made up mostly of the least-educated elements in the US, people who have no clue where Sinjar or Ramadi are even located, never mind about the complex relationships among the various ethnic and religious groups in Iraq and Syria or the roles of nearby state actors such as Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.  Anything above the level of clichés like "boots on the ground" or "bomb the shit out of" something or other, would be about as effective with this audience as efforts to explain climate science, and for similar reasons.

Republicans seem to want large-scale involvement of American ground forces and/or much more massive, indiscriminate bombing without regard to civilian casualties.  The former option would risk heavy American losses in a fight which is fundamentally not ours, while putting the whole effort at the mercy of unpredictable fluctuations in US public opinion, especially if Dâ'ish started posting videos of American prisoners being murdered in some horrific fashion, as would almost certainly happen.  The indiscriminate-bombing option would kill huge numbers of innocent people who are anything but Dâ'ish supporters, provoking an anti-American backlash all over the Middle East -- which is what Dâ'ish itself has been trying to do with its recent terrorist attacks and the anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence that followed.

Putting out a fire by spraying it with water may be a frustratingly slow process, but dousing it with gasoline instead, however temporarily satisfying, is not the answer.  Limiting our role to supporting Middle Eastern forces, who have by far the most at stake and who understand their region better than we do, is the correct approach.  By pandering to those who hunger for sound and fury but understand nothing, the Republicans show once again that they are not fit to lead a superpower.

[Image at top:  Liberated territory, probably Sinjar -- Kurdish woman soldier with Dâ'ish billboard dictating female dress code]


Anonymous Ahab said...

"In view of all this, Republican politicians' premise that the US is doing virtually nothing against Dâ'ish and that the enemy is rampaging unchecked seems astonishing..."

By claiming (correctly or incorrectly) that the U.S. is being passive in the face of ISIS's warpath, they cultivate fear among voters. By offering empty promises to subdue ISIS, they soothe that fear and win votes. It's a crude tactic, but it works on gullible voters, as you pointed out.

18 December, 2015 08:07  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

They pretty much have to push that line. They've long insisted that Dâ'ish is a huge, implacable threat and that Obama is a passive weakling, so how can they possibly acknowledge that the latter is defeating the former?

19 December, 2015 04:36  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

I've read on more than one uninformed far right blog that "Obama is doing absolutely nothing!" to ISIL. Their deliberate ignorance on what is happening in reality allows these cementheads to be easily duped by the clowns who hope to gain the GOP nomination.

Thanks for the informative post. I'm linking to it so that more readers become informed.

19 December, 2015 06:21  
Blogger Kevin Robbins said...

Very nice job, Infidel. It's to be hoped that this all becomes more widely accepted knowledge. Glad to see the residents of the Middle East doing for themselves. The less involved we are, the better for us and them.

19 December, 2015 11:16  
Blogger Dave Miller said...

Shaw... there is no reasoning about most of anything with that crowd.

A recent comment I made about what a currently serving US Major, who teaches at West Point, who wrote a public article about how our military is sending sub par troops into battle because we are understaffed was met with derision, be they apparently know better.

A great article is David Ignatius latest piece on how Pres Obama's approach will yield good results, but will not help feel better in the meantime, something that is more important, apparently, than results. Or facts.

19 December, 2015 12:33  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Shaw: Thanks for the link. It's an ongoing headache for the world that the government of the most powerful country is chosen largely by people who have no idea what's going on outside its borders.

Kevin: Thanks! I do what I can to get the realities of the Middle east out there, but obviously one blog can do only so much.

Dave: Obama is the supreme example of a substance-over-style politician. Unfortunately his ways are unsatisfying to superficial people.

20 December, 2015 15:14  

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