Friday, November 27, 2015

Bomb in Syria? Don't bomb?

The weak point of all the arguments for extending UK bombing to the whole of Islamic State is generally agreed to be the lack of a ground strategy, essential to defeat IS and build some kind of replacement governance structure.

Patrick Cockburn writes:
"In Syria, allies on the ground are going to be the armed opposition who are supposedly fighting both Isis and Bashar al-Assad. These forces are dominated by the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, a Sunni hard-line group allied to Nusra. The one place where the “moderates” had some strength was in the south where they launched a much-heralded offensive called “Southern Storm” this summer, but were defeated.

"Mr Cameron’s explanation of his strategy is peppered with references to “moderates” whom he wisely does not identify because their existence is shadowy at best. It would, indeed, be very convenient if such a powerful group existed, but unfortunately it does not.

"Mr Cameron’s Government does not seem to have taken on board that it is intervening in a civil war of great complexity and extreme savagery. There is a supposition that, if Assad were to depart, there could be a transitional Syrian government acceptable to all Syrians. A more likely scenario is that the departure of Assad would lead to a collapse of the state and the triumph of Isis and the self-declared caliphate."
In truth, I do think those voting to bomb are aware that air power alone cannot win this one, and that identifying acceptable boots on the ground is highly problematic. Just as with the Iraq adventure (despite Blair's 'true believer' stance) it's clear that the UK establishment 'almost consensus' for bombing in Syria is composed of three elements:

  • The need - as always - to stay close to the Americans (who are doing most of the heavy lifting - or should I say 'dropping');
  • A desire to show some solidarity with the French (and not be upstaged by them militarily in Europe);
  • A desperate urge to be 'relevant' in this crisis in Europe's backyard, and not be consigned to the sidelines when solutions are eventually hammered out.

So realpolitik rules.

Since we know all the players in the region and what their general dynamics are, it should not be difficult - at least conceptually - to figure out the outlines of a plausible end-game.

  • The Alawites are never again going to control the territory of the former Syria - they will end up with an enclave at best.
  • The prospects of a Sunni-Alawite federation in the territory of the former Syria are precisely zero. We're talking of clan-societies with a 'never forgive, never forget' model of retaliation over the centuries. Remind me how long the Sunni-Shia schism has lasted so far?
  • A partition of Syria with the Alawites running their own bit, and vaguely 'acceptable' Sunnis running their bit is actually where this is going. If only we could find those 'acceptable Sunnis' ...

And can any solution endure without the dissolution of an already fictitious integral Iraq? The Kurds, Shia and Sunni are three genies which will not easily be put back into the bottle - and why are we even trying?

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