People who claim they can’t figure out America’s Mideast policy are ignoring the obvious. Describing America’s goals requires just 2 words: “Beat ISIS.”
People who back the policy say it’s single-minded focus is what brings success, which is defined as: when the Islamic State is, in Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ word, “annihilated.”
Critics of the policy say what Washington’s obsession with ISIS really brings is irresponsible ignorance of reality. While the US insists it is fighting one big “us-against-them” war against the Islamic State, many if not most of our so-called allies are more intent on attacking one another. These little wars and diplomatic conflicts, like those between Kurds and Turks, or Syrian Kurds and Syrian Arabs, or Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi Government, or between Saudis and Yemenis, and now, Saudis and Qataris…all distract from the IS war effort.
But even more important, they predict an angry, hostile and deeply dangerous Mideast after ISIS has been defeated.
What does American Foreign Policy have to say about these dire probabilities? Not much, other than to tut-tut each new clash and ask everyone to play nicely together.
At heart, in Washington and especially at the White House the descent of most of the Middle East into a chaos of local wars and conflicts is considered – their problems. Our problem is ISIS. Case soon closed on that, and all the rest.
This isn’t just geo-strategically oblivious, it is morally blind, ignoring as it, as the Trump Administration does, the humanitarian disaster caused directly and indirectly by our war on the Islamic State.
Conventional reporting, unfortunately, has a tendency to follow the focus of the State, the government, the military. The war is against IS. The battlefronts are Mosul and Syria. The score is…well, we are way ahead, and soon we’re going to win.
Stick with the war you’ve got and don’t worry about the wars just starting or likely to break loose. The SDF and the FSA are regularly killing one another north of Aleppo? What is that, a war of anagrams? No, it is a deadly and deeply rooted conflict between our one-time Syrian Arab allies and our present Syrian Kurd allies. It is also more evidence that the ongoing fight for Rojava, an independent Kurdish state in Syria is going to be long and bloody.
And the more civilized fight of Iraqi Kurds to declare a state independent of Iraq, once it gets down to who controls the city of Kirkuk and the oil fields around it, could be many times longer and bloodier than the war in northern Syria. Bigger even than the awful ongoing war between Turks and Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq.
Then there’s the competitive rush to take Raqqa, The Islamic State’s Syrian capital. Credit for the conquest, and the military and political advantages that come with it are drawing armed proxies from Iran, Iraq, all sides of Syria, Lebanon, Russia and the United States into a crowded, violent, unpredictable vortex. This could be like dropping hand grenades into a blender.
Picking a winner is hard to impossible. The losers, on the other hand, are very predictable, always the same – the people.
Just the last 2 months drive of America’s chosen allies, the Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces, on Raqqa has cost an estimated 160,000 Syrians their homes and members of their families. Some of them have made it to refugee camps. Some are still living outside, on their own.
The American policy on these folks – we don’t want, or need to know. As the spokesman for the US Military told our guest Roy Gutman, “we work by, with and through our partner forces.” Col. Ryan Dillon didn’t actually say, “it’s their problem,” but that’s what he meant.
Roy Gutman has been a foreign affairs journalist in Washington and abroad for more than four decades. His reports for Newsday on “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including the first documented accounts of Serb-run concentration camps, won the Pulitzer Prize, the George Polk Award for foreign reporting, the Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting and other honors. He also was part of the McClatchy team that won the George Polk award for foreign reporting in 2013. His books include Banana Diplomacy, A Witness to Genocide, and How We Missed the Story: Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, and the Hijacking of Afghanistan. Roy’s recent reporting has been published by The Nation, Foreign Policy, Mideast Forum, and The Daily Beast.