A US Ground War in Syria? 'You'd Have to Have Your Head Examined'
December 10, 2015
Just Foreign Policy & Robert Naiman / The Huffington Post
There is widespread agreement among world powers that (a) ground forces are necessary to defeat Daesh and (b) world powers don't want to send them, both because their citizens don't support it and because foreign ground forces can't solve the region's long-term problems. There probably isn't a piece of territory on Planet Earth that the US military couldn't occupy on a short-term basis. The question is: what happens after that? Are we going to stay there forever?
Special to Environmentalist Against War
A US Ground War in Syria?
What Would Robert Gates Say?
Just Foreign Policy
(December 9, 2015) -- Remember Republican Defense Secretary Robert Gates 2011 "farewell address" at West Point?
"In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as General MacArthur so delicately put it." 
But here we go again. Republican candidates who claim to represent the mainstream of their party -- including Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio -- have argued for American ground troops in the fight against the Islamic State, according to the Washington Post. 
CNN recently reported that a majority of Americans now support sending US ground troops to fight ISIS. 
The New York Times notes that this is exactly what ISIS wants -- to draw the US into a ground war.  But if the Syrian civil war is not resolved diplomatically before President Obama leaves office, a US ground war in Syria is the "alternative" that is waiting in the wings. The current diplomatic process must succeed; a much larger war is the likely alternative.
At Just Foreign Policy, we have been building support for and drawing attention to the diplomatic alternative to military escalation and we will continue to do so in the New Year.  And if you haven't signed our petition urging Secretary of State Kerry to press for a ceasefire in Syria by New Year's Day, you can do that here: http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/new-year-syria-ceasefire
Thanks for all you do to help make US foreign policy more just,
Avram Reisman, Robert Naiman, and Sarah Burns at Just Foreign Policy
Against ISIS in Syria, Secretary Kerry
Has a Plan that Can Save Lives
Robert Naiman / The Huffington Post
(December 4, 2015) -- Following the UK parliament vote to support airstrikes against Daesh [ISIS] in Syria, many are reminding us that airstrikes alone are not going to defeat Daesh.
The question of the hour is: "Who are the local anti-Daesh ground forces acceptable to world powers and the local Sunni population in the current Daesh control area who can control territory in Syria taken from Daesh?" Near the Turkey-Syria border, cooperation with Syrian Kurdish fighters is working. But the further the fighting is from Kurdish areas, the more acute the question of the relationship of anti-Daesh ground forces to local Sunnis becomes.
There is widespread agreement among world powers that a) ground forces are necessary to defeat Daesh and b) world powers don't want to send them, both because their publics -- justifiably -- don't support it, and because -- relatedly -- foreign ground forces can't solve the long-term problem.
There probably isn't a piece of territory on Planet Earth that the US military couldn't occupy on a short-term basis. The question is, what happens after that? Are we going to stay there forever?
Obviously not. If we are not going to stay there forever, then we have to hand off the territory to someone else. If we're going to hand off the territory to someone else, we have to have a plan for who that is and how they're going to hold it. If we don't have a plan for that, we face the prospect of being endlessly bled in another counter-insurgency war, eventually withdrawing and being back to square one -- or worse.
So it is reasonable to propose: before we take any territory, let's agree on a plan for what happens afterwards; at the very least, let's have a rough draft of a plan for who's going to hold the territory when we leave and how they're going to do it.
The Washington Post notes that even in Iraq, it's not clear that the US could significantly escalate its ground presence even if it wanted to, given the widespread hatred of the US in Iraq. The case against sending US ground troops to Syria needs no argument besides a single word: "Iraq."
Even if Saudi Arabia and Turkey would accept the Syrian Army as presently constituted to be the anti-Daesh ground force in Syria -- which they won't -- from the point of view of much of the local Sunni population in the Daesh control area, the Syrian Army, as presently constituted, is just another foreign force, just as the Syrian Kurds are just another foreign force. That, to be necessarily crude, is what a sectarian civil war is. People who were formerly fellow citizens now look like foreigners.
Among other things, the November 14 Vienna agreement between the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and others is an agreement to create an anti-Daesh ground force acceptable to world powers and the local Sunni population.
By January 1, talks are supposed to start between the Syrian government and opposition groups acceptable to world powers on a transition government. Saudi Arabia is in charge of facilitating the opposition delegation, and Jordan is in charge of the closely related task of deciding which Syrian opposition groups are "terrorist" and which are "not terrorist."
A group that is "terrorist" is not going to be allowed to participate in the talks, and a group that refuses to participate in the talks is much more likely to be designated "terrorist." So, there are strong incentives to get on the train before it leaves the station.
As soon as the talks start, world powers committed themselves to supporting an immediate UN-monitored ceasefire between the Syrian government and all groups involved in the talks and not on the terrorist list. Groups designated as "terrorist" will not be protected by the ceasefire -- another incentive to get on the train before it leaves the station.
The ceasefire means there is going to be much less killing and less displacement of civilians outside of the Daesh control area, and that alone justifies it.
The political process raises the twin prospect of 1) re-legitimizing the Syrian Army as an anti-Daesh ground force acceptable to world powers and the local Sunni population because it's going to be serving a government seen as more legitimate by world powers and the local Sunni population, and because the Syrian Army is not going to be killing and displacing people outside of the Daesh control area due to the ceasefire and 2) legitimizing the Syrian Sunni forces which are participating in the political process to shape what happens in the current Daesh control area.
That's who will control the current Daesh control area when Daesh is displaced from it: some combination of the Syrian Army serving a different government and Syrian Sunni forces that are legitimized by participating in the political and diplomatic process.
That's not a magic wand that's going to make Daesh disappear. But whatever else the world is doing against Daesh is going to work much better in the context of the ceasefire agreement and political process outside of the Daesh control area, as Secretary Kerry has said, because there's going to be a horizon of restoring legitimate government acceptable to world powers and the local population in the current Daesh control area, and because there's going to some level of anti-Daesh cooperation between people who are currently fighting each other outside of the Daesh control area.
And, whatever the agreement accomplishes in the Daesh control area, it's going to immediately and dramatically decrease killing and displacement outside of the Daesh control area.
What's at stake for Syrian civilians? Here's a little math. President Obama wants to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees to the US Martin O'Malley wants to admit 65,000 Syrian refugees to the United States.
On December 1, Agence France-Presse reported a deal between the Syrian government and opposition forces to end the fighting in the Waer district of Homs. About 75,000 people currently live there.
So, this one deal in one place is going to allow more Syrians to stay in their homes and not be bombed than would be protected by the most ambitious Democratic proposal on the debate stage to welcome refugees. Imagine how many Syrian civilians would be protected by a ceasefire in all of Syria outside of the Daesh control area.
You can encourage Secretary of State Kerry to press forward with his efforts to achieve a ceasefire in Syria by New Year's Day here.
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