Don’t escalate the fight against ISIS.

 

President Trump has identified ISIS as his highest priority and, acting accordingly, has deployed 1,000 Marines to Syria, pledged future support to Iraq, and requested an additional 5 billion dollars to help escalate the fight.

 

There are good reasons for the United States to be concerned with ISIS. At its height, some estimated that ISIS controlled approximately 35,000 thousand square miles including such major cities as Mosul, Ramdi, Falluja, and Raqqa. Outside of the Middle East they have inspired similar style caliphates, such as Boko Haram, as well as terrorist attacks against the west.

 

Yet, it is still not clear that it is in America’s interest to get furthered involved in this fight. This is because there are other groups in the region who have a stronger incentive to defeat ISIS and, by most metrics, appear to be doing just that.

 

According to IHS Conflict Monitor, ISIS lost approximately a quarter of its territory in 2016. Ramdi and Falluja were recaptured and ISIS is on the verge of losing Mosul and Raqqa. Their reduction in territory was accompanied by an estimated loss of 50,000 fighters.

 

Their financial problems are mounting as well. It has been reported that the Caliphate’s monthly revenue and oil production are down 30 percent and salaries have been cut nearly in half.

 

All of this has resulted in a lowered morale, an increase in infighting, and a rise in desertions.

 

American air strikes certainly played a role in creating this situation, yet it is probably not in America’s interest to get furthered involved in the conflict. ISIS is already battling a long list of enemies in the region that include the Assad regime, the Russian, Iraqi, Jordanian, Iranian, and Turkish governments, the Kurds, various Sunni rebel groups, Hezbollah, and basically most of the Muslim population at this point. All of these groups have different reasons for getting involved in the conflict, and at times their regional interests conflict with one another, yet all have an interest in defeating ISIS. Despite the complicated politics of the region, they have been working together to do this. To give just a few examples, Russia and Turkey have fought together in Al Bab, Iran has deployed its military to support the Assad regime and Iraqi government, and a variety of local militias which include Arabs, Syrian Christians, Turkmen, and Kurds are working together in taking back Raqqa.

 

ISIS poses the biggest threat to the region, not America. Therefore, it should be the regional forces that take the lead in defeating them, not some country on the other side of the world. Despite not always being well coordinated, this is what is happening. The Turkish, Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian governments as well as the various local non-state entities have all made serious advances into former ISIS territory and have seriously reduced ISIS ranks. With the momentum for an ISIS defeat growing, the United States may be tempted to rush in and tip the balance, but it would be wise not to interfere. Further American involvement would reduce the incentive of the local forces to continue their fight against the organization as well as possibly producing unintended consequences. It was after all the American invasion of Iraq and the de-Ba’athification of the Baathist regime that lead to the creation of ISIS in the first place. There is no way to know how an American escalation of the fight will complicate the current conflict and with ISIS on the ropes, the United States would be wise to leave well enough alone and continue to let the local powers take the lead in defeating ISIS.

 

Brian Clark is a foreign policy researcher living in Beijing, China. He blogs about international politics at www.managinghistory.com

Putin and Erdogan’s Marriage of Convenience

Excellent read at the Wilson Center on the evolving and odd relationships between the United States, Turkey, and Russia. In late 2015 Turkey was shooting down Russian fighter jets. In August of 2016, Erdogan was praising his dear friend Putin. This turnabout was largely a result of America’s intervention into Syria.

Here is one bit from the article.

Overnight, America had transformed the Syrian Kurds into a legitimate actor, enabling them to consolidate territorial gains adjoining Turkey. For Ankara, however, this was nothing short of a victory for the hated Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which had been instrumental in the creation of the YPG and waged a decades-long guerrilla war against the Turkish state

Yet, like most American allies, Erdogan is more than happy to free ride on American security treaties.

Still, it would be foolhardy to suggest that Erdogan would contemplate abandoning NATO. Turkey lives under the shadow of the Russian giant — its anger at the United States and its Western allies notwithstanding, it needs the protection the alliance offers. Without it, the Russians would be able to intimidate Ankara at will. Erdogan correctly calculates that he can be a free rider in the alliance, cozying up to Moscow and antagonizing Washington, all the while knowing that the U.S.-Turkish relationship is deeply embedded in NATO.

Do read the entire thing.

The author is Henri Barkey.

Who are “key allies?”

Over at Duck of Minevera Phil Arena has a piece discussing information failure and the possible outbreak of war under a Trump presidency.

 

He writes…

…Trump’s electoral victory is so alarming. Trump has famously questioned what the US is getting out of its military presence in South Korea and Japan and indicated that the US should no longer serve as the world’s policeman (source). He has expressed admiration for Putin and indicated that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are legitimate – when he’s acknowledged that they’re even occurring (source). One could hardly blame Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un for thinking that the United States would not respond if they chose to attack traditional US allies in the Baltics or South Korea.

 

The bold text is original.

he concludes with…

As horrifying as the prospect of a return to warfare on a scale not seen in decades is, I cannot hope for the abandonment of key allies. That is why I am so troubled; if Putin and Kim respond to Trump’s comments the way leaders have often responded when the US signaled that it was unwilling to check aggression, there is no best case scenario.

My issue with his post is that he doesn’t want to “abandon key allies.”

We have almost 30k troops in South Korea so I don’t expect the scenario described to occur in Asia. And either way, I actually lean towards supporting the American hub and spoke alliance system of the Far East as it dampens the security dilemma. There are probably too many historical grievances in Asia to allow for multipolarity to emerge.

But what about Europe?

What exactly is a “key ally” in this region? Like everyone else, I’ve written about the lack of military spending by those the United States is obligated to protect. It’s a standard post and you can read it here. But look at this lineup of “key allies” I pulled from wikipieda. You can sort them into basically three different groups. (1) Most are utterly meaningless for American security. Does anyone think that if Russia annexed Slovenia and Slovakia that this means anything for the defense of American sovereignty? (2) Some are actually not just meaningless but pose a serious threat to American interests and, in a rare but worst case scenario, could drag us into conflict. Turkey is an obvious example. The last group (3) can actually defend themselves and are free riding. This includes states such as Germany, and France.

Military personnel[edit]

Country Active personnel Reserve personnel Total
 Albania 100,500 5,000 105,500
 Belgium 24,500 100,500 125,000
 Bulgaria 46,712 302,500 349,212
 Canada 68,000 27,000 95,000
 Croatia 18,000 180,000 198,000
 Czech Republic 21,057 2,359 23,416
 Denmark 20,003 63,000 78,000
 Estonia 3,209 60,000 63,209
 France 222,215 100,000 322,215
 Germany 180,676 145,000 325,676
 Greece 180,000 280,000 460,000
 Hungary 29,700 8400 38,100
 Iceland 210 170 380
 Italy 180,000 41,867 220,867
 Latvia 6,000 11,000 17,000
 Lithuania 15,839 4,550 20,389
 Luxembourg 1,057 278 1,335
 Netherlands 47,660 57,200 104,860
 Norway 26,200 56,200 82,400
 Poland 120,000 515,000 635,000
 Portugal 44,900 210,930 255,830
 Romania 73,350 79,900 153,250
 Slovakia 16,000 16,000
 Slovenia 7,300 1,500 8,801
 Spain 123,000 16,200 139,200
 Turkey 620,473 429,000 1,041,900
 United Kingdom 205,851 181,720 387,571
 United States 1,369,532 850,880 2,220,412
 NATO 3,585,000 3,745,000 7,330,000

The United States has far too much “free security” offered by two oceans to consider NATO essential to its security. My suspicion is that the US insists on maintaining NATO because being the “leader of the free world” is a public good. NATO doesn’t have any real meaning for America outside of generating pride for the uninformed. Either way, we shouldn’t refer to any of these countries as allies but dependents. An ally helps pursue the national interests and I’m not sure what interests any of these “allies” help us pursue.

It’s Nato that’s empire-building, not Putin

That is the headline of a piece written by Peter Hitchens.

Here is one bit here.

Just for once, let us try this argument with an open mind, employing arithmetic and geography and going easy on the adjectives. Two great land powers face each other. One of these powers, Russia, has given up control over 700,000 square miles of valuable territory. The other, the European Union, has gained control over 400,000 of those square miles. Which of these powers is expanding?

Obviously there is a difference between annexing territory through hybrid wars and joining a common market via some sort of democratic process, but the zero-sum description above is how Russia interprets EU and NATO enlargement.

He then goes on to point out the contradictions of the Western alliance patterns and liberal morals.

…we have a noisy pseudo-moral crusade, which would not withstand five minutes of serious consideration. Mr Putin’s state is, beyond doubt, a sinister tyranny. But so is Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, which locks up far more journalists than does Russia. Turkey is an officially respectable Nato member, 40 years after seizing northern Cyprus, which it still occupies, in an almost exact precedent for Russia’s seizure of Crimea. If Putin disgusts us so much, then why are we and the USA happy to do business with Erdogan, and also to fawn upon Saudi Arabia and China?

This article is dated, by the way. It was written in March of 2015, prior to the authoritarian backlash following the failed coup.

Do read the entire article.

Turkey and NATO

Good article by Aaron Stein in War on the Rocks documenting the growing divergence of interests in Turkey-US relations. Our alliance with Turkey is well beyond its usefulness and it makes no strategic sense for the United States to extend its nuclear deterrent to Turkey. I would make this argument even if the only reason to rethink the alliance was because its original purpose was dated. But today Turkey is pursuing its own foreign policy in Syria and is becoming more illiberal domestically each day. Yet, Turkey made no hesitation to convene NATO when it shot down a Russian aircraft in November of 2015. This seems to me as if the benefits of the alliance runs one way and the costs another.

States have interests that are permanent. Alliances form while pursuing these interests. It’s obvious that Turkey and the US no longer share the same interests so the alliance should be updated.