The President who once chastised his predecessor for trying to do things by himself in Iraq is now doing the exact same thing in Syria. The New York Times reports the grand coalition against ISIS is pretty much a coalition of one.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have shifted most of their aircraft to their fight against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Jordan, reacting to the grisly execution of one of its pilots by the Islamic State, and in a show of solidarity with the Saudis, has also diverted combat flights to Yemen. Jets from Bahrain last struck targets in Syria in February, coalition officials said. Qatar is flying patrols over Syria, but its role has been modest.
“They’ve all been busy doing other things, Yemen being the primary draw,” Lt. Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., who leads the air war from a $60 million command center at this sprawling base in Qatar, said of the Arab allies. He added that those allies still fly periodic missions in Syria and allow American jets to use their bases…
The United Arab Emirates last carried out strikes in Syria in March; Jordan in August; and Saudi Arabia in September, according to information provided by allied officials last week.
This really shouldn’t be surprising. The rise of ISIS really is more of a regional problem and if the Arab states decide not to fight it, that’s their choice. They should fight ISIS because of how horrific the group is, but if Arabian countries decide to stick their heads in the sand like ostriches then they’ll have to deal with the caliph when it reaches their doorstep. It’s not the U.S.’s job to try to clean up an Arabian mess (even if they may have caused it). But that’s not stopping Defense Secretary Ash Carter from telling ABC News there’s a chance the U.S. will increase its footprint in Syria.
“If we find additional groups that are willing to fight ISIL and are capable and motivated, we’ll do more. The president has indicated a willingness to do more, I certainly am prepared to recommend he do more, but you need to have capable local forces; that’s the key to sustainable victory.”
One group which does appear “capable and motivated” to fight ISIS is Russia. A group of Russian bloggers called Conflict Intelligence Team discovered soldiers in parts of Syria on Sunday. From Reuters.
“Although we still don’t have indisputable evidence of Russian servicemen taking a direct part in the fighting on the ground in Syria, we believe the situation observed contradicts the claims of Russian officials that Russian troops are not taking part and are not planning to take part in ground operations.”
Reuters also pointed out the troops are nowhere near where Russian jets are stationed, so it seems like Putin is starting to escalate in Syria. But the Obama Administration isn’t going to talk to Russia and, in fact, seems more willing to get into confrontations with them. Time pointed out a few days ago the military equipment Obama and Putin are sending into Syria have nothing to do with their actual promised mission.
Yet six F-15C fighters—which can only fight other warplanes—arrived in Turkey on Friday. The planes “were deployed after the Government of Turkey requested support in securing the sovereignty of Turkish airspace,” the U.S. Air Force said. While it added that the planes “will conduct combat air patrols in Turkish air space,” there’s also a fair chance they’ll be used to escort U.S. and allied warplanes attacking ISIS targets inside Syria.
On Thursday, a Russian general said his military has dispatched “anti-aircraft rocket systems” to Syria because “we took into account every possible threat.” The units deployed include Buk anti-aircraft missile systems, the same kind of weapon that brought down a Malaysia Airlines 777 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all 298 on board.
So much for that declaration from President Barack Obama that Syria isn’t going to be a “proxy war” between America and Russia. If the U.S. is going to go at it alone in Syria it’s only going to set it on the interstate to a conflict with Russia. Obama can avoid this by being willing to reach out and talk to Vladimir Putin about strategy in Syria and how the two sides can work together to fight ISIS. If he doesn’t do this then the situation in Syria is going to get worse and it’ll turn into something from a Jack Ryan novel, which is honestly what Obama’s foreign policy and some of his domestic policy is. There’s just no Jack Ryan to clean up the mess. The other viable option is to just get out of Syria. That will avoid a potential conflict with Russia and the entire “go it alone” perception. It’s also not the U.S.’s fight and another America-led war in the Middle East isn’t going to solve the actual problem. There’s unfortunately always going to be conflict of some kind in the region. The U.S. should just back away. If they don’t, then mission creep will just keep happening.