December 5, 2014

Operation Incoherent Resolve

The administration’s efforts against ISIL continue to be haphazard.

Operation Inherent Resolve, Barack Obama’s haphazard and half-hearted effort to degrade and destroy the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant, got a little more bizarre this week as it was made known the Obama administration is close to a deal that would bring Turkey into the fight against the terrorist group. From the beginning, Obama’s only “inherent resolve” is to avoid doing as much as possible and let others take the lead. One might even call it Operation Incoherent Resolve.

The plan calls for a buffer zone along a portion of the 500-mile western border between Syria and Turkey in which Syrian rebels could move freely. In exchange, U.S.-led air strikes originating from Incirlik Air Base would execute pinpoint strikes on ISIL forces in that zone.

Allowing the U.S. over-flight rights from inside Turkey can make for a more effective air campaign against ISIL forces on the ground. To this point, aircraft had to fly their sorties from the Persian Gulf, nearly 1,000 miles away. Now, planes can stay in the air up to an additional six hours, remaining “on station” to locate and strike targets called out by drones or from the ground.

However, Turkey’s inclusion doesn’t necessarily signal a positive turning point. In fact, things are likely to get even more complicated. Turkey’s relative indifference to ISIL’s rise helped create the situation in the first place. The Turkish government was eager to see the fight against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad succeed, so it was content to see ISIL fighters launch attacks against Assad from positions along the Turkish border.

To this point, U.S. forces have been walking a fine line between supporting Syrian rebels in their fight against ISIL while trying not to engage with Assad’s forces, which are also fighting against the rebels. Some in Washington worry that this new deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could lead to direct confrontation between U.S. and Syrian forces. U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIL targets inside Syria constantly run the risk of setting off Syrian air defense forces against U.S. planes, forcing the air campaign to operate within guidelines too strict to lead to success. Erdogan heralded his talks with Joe Biden for leading to a new level of cooperation, but he has also railed against Western leaders who “like the conflicts, fights and quarrels of the Middle East” because they work to Western advantage.

It’s difficult to judge just how much Turkey can be trusted as an ally in this fight. Israeli intelligence recently indicated that Hamas has moved its outside-Gaza headquarters from Damascus to Istanbul. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon warned in a meeting with former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that Turkey has close ties to Hamas. If that is true, and the Turkish government remains complicit in Hamas launching terrorist attacks from its new Istanbul base, then Turkey could officially be considered a state sponsor of terrorism.

Further complicating matters is the involvement of Iran in the fight. Eager to see the destruction of ISIL to prevent a greater Sunni presence in the region, Iran has engaged in a number of airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq, in proximity to the U.S.-led campaign. Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed U.S. knowledge of the Iranian campaign, but insists there is no cooperation with Iran. Essentially, Kerry says, we’re fighting on the same side with Iran, but we’re not fighting alongside them.

In fact, the Iranians have had better success in their proxy war against ISIL than we have to this point. Iraqi forces scored notable victories against the Islamic State with Iranian air support and military aid. Even Iran’s terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, may have pitched in to help win the fight.

Furthermore, Russia has gotten in on the act. Long a supporter of the Assad regime, Moscow has been prodding Assad officials and some rebel leaders to cobble together an agreement to leave Assad in power and effectively neutralize anti-Assad rebel groups. This would create an alliance of forces against ISIL, but it would do so on Russian terms.

Russian and Iranian actions could sideline American attempts to lead the fight against ISIL – which would seem to suit Obama just fine. So far, the U.S. coalition has amounted to pretty much what Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called it: “empty, shallow and biased.” Obama’s actions in the Middle East throughout his presidency – the so-called “red line” against Syria, foolish back channel talks with Iran, pulling out of Iraq only to send forces back in – have led many to question America’s stance like never before.

The Obama administration destroyed U.S. credibility in the region because it doesn’t have a coherent policy. Obama has gone back on his word and contradicted himself too many times. He has allied with known terrorist supporters to fight other known terrorists, all of whom, with the exception of Turkey, America has been in conflict with at some point in the last 15 years. The situation is so confused, and the payoff so far away, it’s worth questioning just what exactly we are trying to accomplish in the Middle East. The White House doesn’t seem to know.

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