Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Foggofwar Short: Arab (Mostly Sunni) Coalition Forming Against ISIS

US, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Qatar all sent fighters, drones (US only) and cruise missiles (US only) to bomb ISIL/ISIS/IS/whatever-you-want-to-call-these-assholes targets in Syria. Really a show of political unity more than something particularly tactical, but holy smokes--it's actually a really big move for all of these countries to more-or-less violate the Westphalian notion of sovereignty in Syria.


Here are the really interesting/relevant points to take away:

  • Syria probably didn't give any explicit permission for the strikes--not clear if Assad agreed in private. If not, then there is a somewhat-dangerous precedent being set of US/its allies hitting countries whose current governments aren't on board (see: Pakistan). The Westphalian model of territorial sovereignty might be breaking down, and the long-term consequences for global stability are a bit disconcerting.
  • It's Sunni-majority or Sunni-led (Bahrain) countries, exclusively, carrying out these strikes. Not too surprising, but it's a sign that the more Western-style (Westphalian, really) governments that are in the Middle East are resisting the idea of a unified Sunni state in principle. Also not surprising: those in power want to stay in power, and that general inertia means there won't be a great Arab/Islamic unity movement (a la Nasser or the Ottoman empire) any time too soon unless it's grass-roots/revolutionary (this mirrors anti-Muslim Brotherhood behavior in most of these countries).
  • Airstrikes have had mixed results in the past. It's not clear whether they're working in Pakistan/Afghanistan, but in that Pashtun region, the Taliban has major local support. It's worked better in support of competent ground forces in places like Somalia, Libya, northern Afghanistan. ISIS doesn't have a whole lot of local support in most of these places--they're just too awful. 
  • The US risks a new "quagmire." 
  • Democrats are becoming much more hawkish.
  • Obama is effectively building an Arab coalition and leading it--rather than, for example, Turkey, Russia, Egypt, or someone else.
  • Egypt and Turkey are also notably absent from this coalition.
  • NATO is probably not going to join strikes against Syria, but will stay in Iraq. This needs to look like an Arab local policing thing, rather than "Western aggression."
  • The realllllllly complicated part if figuring out what ground forces will come through after these strikes and "take over." Iraq and Syria are a terrible mess and are fracturing into more localized, non-official government groups doing the local governance. The Kurds seem to have their act together more than pretty much anyone else, and may fill a lot of the void, but they really don't want to (and shouldn't) govern outside of Kurdish territory. 
  • The US will try to support the "moderate rebels" in Syria, but they're of course fighting a war on 2 fronts, which makes the whole thing a truly terrible mess, and it will be hard helping them focus when they're being pressed by Assad. Assad is definitely looking to take advantage of getting some relief from ISIS to go after the moderate rebels. This will undermine anti-ISIS efforts.
  • In Iraq, the new prime minister Al-Abadi has to bring "reconciliable" Sunnis (the "Sunni Awakening" types) back into the fold to go after ISIS in its western areas so the army can focus on Mosul. Taking back Fallujah would happen last--it's going to be the tough nut to crack.
  • This is all going to take a very long time.