Another Ground War in the Middle East?
There is a country in the Middle East ruled by a secular authoritarian regime — a state sponsor of terror — that has reigned for 44 years under the leadership of a father and then his son who belong to a minority Shiite-derived religious sect.
For four years, this regime has been the target of a brutal civil war. In that civil war, the regime’s two leading antagonists are the al-Nusra Front, which is the local al-Qaida affiliate, and the Islamic State, which has supplanted al-Qaida as the most aggressive Sunni Islamist terror group.
Should the United States take a side in the Syrian civil war?
President Barack Obama has effectively taken both — while rejecting both.
He has called for the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad and he has now sent about 50 U.S. Special Operations troops into Syria to help non-Assad forces in their fight against the Islamic State.
What happens in Syria — and the region around it — if Assad is removed from power?
On Sept. 29, President Obama suggested at the United Nations that he was ready to work with Russia and Iran — both of which are allied with Assad — to replace Assad with “an inclusive government” in Damascus:
“In Syria, as I said yesterday, defeating ISIL requires — I believe — a new leader and an inclusive government that unites the Syrian people in the fight against terrorist groups,” Obama said. “This is going to be a complex process. And as I’ve said before, we are prepared to work with all countries, including Russia and Iran, to find a political mechanism in which it is possible to begin a transition process.”
The Sunni Islamist radicals in the region have another vision, which as this column has noted before, was expressly stated by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a 2012 video.
“Oh, Arab lions, Oh, Kurdish lions, Oh, Circassian heroes, Oh, brave Turkmen, unite under the flag of ‘There is no god but Allah,’ with which Salah ad-Din led you to the victory, conquering and liberation of Bayt al-Maqdis [the area around the Temple Mount in Jerusalem],” Zawahiri said. “You will not be victorious unless you are under this flag. And remember that Salah Ad-Din’s liberation of al-Quds [Jerusalem] began with Nur Ad-Din’s liberation of Damascus and Salah Ad-Din’s liberation of Cairo.”
Zawahiri was referring to 1187 A.D. — the year Salah ad-Din marched into Jerusalem.
Then there is Sen. Lindsey Graham’s, R.-S.C., solution: A U.S. ground war in Syria.
“Fifty people is not going to turn the tide of battle. You need a ground force,” Graham said Monday on CNN. “The air campaign is not working.”
“Here’s what I would do,” Graham said. “I’d have a no-fly zone in Syria to better train people, to stop the flow of refugees. I would enlist regional armies who have the same goal as we do, to destroy ISIL, and I would be part of that ground force.”
“There’d be three groups of ground forces, people inside of Syria, regional armies and American troops,” said Graham. “We’d be about 10 percent of that force. I’d go in on the ground and destroy the guys. What Obama’s doing is not going to work.”
What would Sen. Graham do after his Syrian ground war?
Would he lead whomever made up the other 90 percent of the army that defeated the Islamic State in setting up the “inclusive government” in Syria that Obama, by contrast, hopes the Russians and Iranians will help us negotiate into power?
Graham and his allies ought to study the history of the Iraq War. In 2003, when the Bush administration made its argument for invading Iraq, it noted that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was in Iraq. Zarqawi was the founder of the terror group that now calls itself the Islamic State.
The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq managed to remove Saddam Hussein from power. But it did not eradicate Zarqawi’s terrorist group. Nor did it establish an “inclusive government” in Iraq that was capable of containing that terrorist group.
If it had, the Islamic State would not be occupying parts of Iraq and Syria today. Nor would it be likely to have affiliates in Egypt, Libya and Algeria, as the Defense Intelligence Agency noted in its most recent Worldwide Threat Assessment.
What the United States needs is not another ground war in the Middle East, but a policy of containment that prevents the Islamic State and its ideological allies from going to Damascus — or anywhere beyond it.
That starts with continuing to support Arab governments — including authoritarian regimes and monarchies — that do not threaten us or our allies and that resist Islamist radicals both inside and outside their borders.
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