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Words from Winterbilt

A Strategy - What are the choices?

Shannon Bohrer

(11/2014) Our involvement in the Middle East seems to be an ongoing event. We go in, we defeat someone, we leave and we need to go back. And yet we are being told by the experts, once again, that the new threat is a threat to us – so we must do something. It does appear that we seem to take a short term perspective of our involvement in the Middle East with a lack of understanding of the longer term consequences.

Before the President came out with a strategy to deal with ISIS, the news was overrun with experts that could not stop lamenting the issue, "The President does not have a strategy" to deal with the current terrorist. To reporters’ credit, there were those that questioned these experts about what strategy they would have, and each and every one responded by talking in circles. From the perspective of many, the problem of having or not having a strategy defined the problem. Maybe, just maybe, a strategy that could resolve the issue, without having unintended consequences, doesn’t exist. One of the things that seem to make America exceptional is that we believe we should have a solution for every problem. We create the solution, implement it, and then the problem is supposed to go away. We want the problem to be resolved and gone – and usually in a very short time span.

Some problems, like the ones we face in the Middle East, have multiple complexities, interdependencies and numerous unknown consequences. An analogy is when an individual takes medications for medical reasons, there can be side effects and sometimes the side effects are harsh. There are medications that have severe side effects, but without the medications the person’s life will not continue. Going to war with ISIS is like taking medication with unknown results. Yes, we need to defeat ISIS, but what happens then? Looking at the ISIS problem and developing a strategy, a strategy that will solve the problem – probably can be done. However, there will be side effects and some side effects can be worse than the problem. At very best, our choices we make (the strategy we take) may have two choices. One choice is bad and the other is worse - and sometimes worse may be the better choice.

Before implementing a strategy maybe we should examine our past involvements in the region. I am waiting for someone to write a book about our involvement in the Middle East with a title; "Where are Our Old Friends." President Bashar al-Assad Assad of Syria was once our friend. When we were involved in renditions (Taking bad people to other countries for interrogations), President Assad allowed us to use Syria. Now we oppose him. President Assad is being supported by Russia and Hezbollah; an Iranian backed group fighting in support of the Syrian army. The free Syrian army, opposing Assad, is supported by the Islamic front, which is part Taliban and ISIS. A United Nations report described the war as "overtly sectarian in nature." Syria’s Alawite Government is supported by other Shia Groups and they are fighting Sunni rebel groups.

Another former friend was Saddam Hussein. You remember him. When Saddam Hussein was president of Iraq and Iraq was fighting Iran, he was our friend. Of course Iran was once our friend also, but that’s another story. When I say he was our friend, our relationship changed in 1990 when he attacked Kuwait. According to Saddam, Kuwait was slant drilling and stealing oil from Iraq. Another issue was that Iraq owed Kuwait $80 billion in financing for the Iraq Iran war. Imagine that.

After the U.S. involvement in the first Gulf War, the Northern Kurds tried to separate themselves from Iraq and in doing so they started a war. An argument could be made that the separatist movement was the result of a speech by President Bush, (The first Bush). However, the Kurds supported the Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan, also referred to as the PKK, which was considered to be a terrorist group by the U.S. The PKK wanted their own homeland which would consist of part of Iraq, part of Turkey and part of Syria, which is similar to what ISIS wants. There could be a pattern here. In any event, the U.S. supported the Kurds by operating a no fly zone over Northern Iraq, keeping Saddam’s Air force at bay.

Another good friend was Hosni Mubarak, at least until Egypt was part of the Arab Spring. We supported him and he supported us, until Egypt had a little demonstration. Then we supported the free election - that was until the Muslim Brotherhood won, then we… I don’t think we knew what to do. There is that old dilemma; do you support the dictator you know – or the election results you don’t like? Quandary – quandary?

I do think our government is going in the right direction, regarding the strategy for dealing with ISIS, but the right direction may not include the answer. Supporting the moderate free Syrian Army and the Kurds to fight ISIS - could be a good thing. But, how do we identify the moderate free Syrian Army? If, and that’s a big if, it works, what happens? Fighting and degrading ISIS would be supporting President Bashar al-Assad Assad. It also, in an indirect way, is supporting Russia and Hezbollah. If the Assad government is defeated, what form of government do we expect to replace it and who will run that government? The major players on both sides are past and present enemies.

Not that long ago we had many people that supported the rebels fighting Gaddafi in Libya, and some wanted us to do more. Libya is currently in a civil war with no one faction in the front. Eliminating a king and/or dictator seems good, until they’re gone. The vacuum that’s left then becomes the next problem. Who and/or what government then fills the space, is the issue. That is not just a question – it is the problem that includes every change of governance in the Middle East.

Creating an assemblage of countries to deal with the problem is a good start. But just because everyone in the group agrees that ISIS is bad, does not mean the assemblage will be successful. Saudi Arabia is on board with the group of countries that want to see ISIS eliminated. However, they demanded that the U.S. not include Iran. The King considers Iran more of a threat to his country than ISIS. Oh, he also wants the U.S. to do more to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

It’s like we are standing in the woods with two ways out, a hornets’ nest is in one direction and a yellow jackets’ in the other. Having a strategy is nice, however the choices we face are bad and worse and worse may be our best bet. And we don’t even know what worse is?

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer