1/9/16

Most pundits are united in their view that ISIS is the number one foreign affairs/national security story/issue of 2105 and that it will also dominate 2016.

Unfortunately, in their shallow, ADD, lazy approach to things, the vast majority of them (Charles Krauthammer is a notable exception, but then he almost always is), allow their obsession with ISIS to cause the real dominant issue/threat—the Iranian expansion and now well progressed bid for Middle East domination leading to a Shia-Islamic world superpower—to fade from public scrutiny and attention. The significant spat between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has erupted in the last few days is proof that Middle Eastern players understand that Iran is the big issue, not ISIS.

All the Presidential candidates are paying lip service to the ISIS issue by ostensibly proposing ways and means to defeat ISIS that range from the ludicrous, such as Trump’s suggestion to let Russia and Assad deal with it (even he changed his tune now) and the only slightly less ridiculous from Senator Cruz (bomb the hell out of them; let’s see if “sand glows in the dark”) to slightly more serious, but still nonsensical: let the Sunnis deal with it on the ground. The Sunnis will NOT deal with it because they do NOT see it as such a big threat. They do see Iran as a huge threat and they have their hands full in defending against that threat.

Very few presidential candidates admit that some US ground forces will be needed and NONE propose a really serious—and probably ONLY—way to deal with the Middle East.

I propose to try and do it here. It is not that complicated. Let me be clear, the execution of the plan will be VERY complicated, but given that we are with our back against the wall, we don’t have many options. Thus, designing the plan—the only viable plan—is not complicated at all. There are simply no other choices left after seven disastrous years of Obama. I believe that some of the candidates know it but they are too cowardly to present it to the American public. Or, maybe none of them know what the only viable way of doing it is, which is REALLY frightening!

First, a few introductory comments, which are important to understanding the issue:

  • The Middle East is in turmoil like it has not been since . . . ever. For centuries, the Middle East was ruled by outside influences. There was always an imperial, colonial, or superpower in control of events in the Middle East. Be it the Ottoman Empire, the British Colonial influence, the Soviet-US sharing of power or, over the last 40+ years, the US power. While the Middle East was not really peaceful, or shall we say “Switzerland-like,” it lurched forward. Some small local conflicts occurred; mostly during the time when the USSR and US shared power, which were to a large extent the result of these two powers using their proxies as a pressure valve to avoid a larger conflict between them.
  • Although the evil seed of the current disaster in the Middle East was laid back in 1979 during the presidency of Jimmy Carter and was absolutely avoidable if he had taken a more definite action to avoid the Iranian revolution and the toppling of the Shah, the real blame lies squarely on Obama. His twin policies of kowtowing to, even being suppliant towards, the Iranians and isolationism allowed the Middle East to run wild.
  • The result is a serious threat to the Western world way of life. The immediate threat is importation of terrorism to the West as well as social and economic instability (think refugees). The more serious, but longer-term, threat is Iran’s advancing control of the Middle East and all its resources (listening to some of the purported experts—Eurasia Group comes to mind—stating that the US is isolated from the turmoil in the Middle East is simply shocking; how naïve and short sighted they are).
  • The reason why there is no simple solution for the Middle East problems, the reason why all these “let the Sunnis do it” suggestions are all hollow and nonsensical, is the very complicated nature of the problem. As I said in prior posts: in the Middle East, your enemy’s enemy is not your friend, he is just your enemy too. There are so many conflicting situations and approaches that one cannot simply expect the Middle East Arab countries to solve it themselves. They are all too screwed up.
    • Take Turkey as an example. They are against Assad and are clearly enabling ISIS in many ways. “Why,” one asks. Because first their main focus is to destroy the Kurds. Turks see the emerging strength of the Iraqi Kurds and the strong showing of the Syrian Kurds as a huge threat. Also, do not under estimate the strong Islamist tendencies of the Turkish quasi dictator, Erdogan. Finally, they are worried about the Iranian domination and feel the need to create hurdles and restraints on Iran’s influence in the region.
    • The Saudis’ first and foremost concern/fear is with the Iranian domination, which is why they support the anti-Assad movement and why they are mostly focused on the immediate threat in Yemen and consider ISIS (which is an anti-Iran force to a large extent) as a secondary concern.
    • The Egyptians are fighting their own war against the ISIS cancer and they, too, are watching the Iranians with a very weary eye. They are also trying to fix the huge damage done to the economy and country by the stupid Obama/Clinton policy of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and the toppling of Mubarak in one fell swoop.
  • The Russians are now front and center in the Middle East, with a clear agenda to support the Assad-Iran axis. How could it get to this? How could the US allow the Russians back into the Middle East after over 40 years of shutting them out??? The answer is: Obama.

The above sets the tone for the complexity of the situation and for the urgency in handling and resolving it. If allowed to go on like this for few more years, there may be no dialing back. I see a clear Russia/Iran alliance domination of the Middle East, which will result in much higher oil prices, as well as significant terror acts and possibly even wars against the West.

One thing is clear (following the rules established by my earlier post re: American Doctrine), IF something is to be done (and I absolutely believe that it should be done) it needs to be done on an all-or-nothing basis. It needs to be a comprehensive solution to ALL of the issues in the Middle East. It needs to deploy overwhelming force and include a long-term plan for “Nation Building” in the Middle East. The dollar-short-and-day-late Obama policy is a joke.

So what is to be done?

Goal
The first, and most crucial, element of any intervention—and this one in particular—is to set the goal/objective. In this case, the goal must be far-reaching. No half measures will work here. They could have worked in 2011 at the beginning of all the turmoil; they could have even worked in 2013 when Assad crossed the (in)famous red line set by the President; it barely, but just possibly, could have worked before the Russians became militarily involved in Syria—but it is too late now. The only way to get all the necessary allies on board is to have a far-reaching agenda, declare it upfront, and commit to it in a way that will be convincing to both friend and foe. Without it, the US will not be able to get its potential allies to come on board and its enemies to take it seriously.

The goal must be to:

  • Eradicate any and all statehood features of any Islamist groups, including ISIS, Hamas, and Hezbollah.
  • To significantly weaken and continue to pursue all active terror groups in the entire region. One can never eliminate terror groups on the battleground alone. But continuously pushing them and attacking them furiously weakens them and allows the other measures to slowly, over many years, eliminate them.
  • Contain Iran, fight any of its expansionary efforts, and commit in an obligatory manner (treaty passed by the Senate) to use military force and if necessary nuclear weapons to prevent Iran from obtaining anything close to a nuclear weapon.
  • Re-shape the Middle East and agree on a long, but clear, road map to democracy.
  • That last element is crucial. It is the key to achieving long-term stability in the Middle East and the key to getting many of the allies on board with this effort.

Geographic Range
Without question, the effort should include each and every country from Algeria in the west to Afghanistan in the east and Somalia in the south. I am excluding Nigeria on purpose here, but it may be necessary to add it to the list too. EVERY place where Islamist terror and extremism has gotten a serious hold MUST be dealt with. NO exception. Like cancer, if you do not eradicate it from the entire body—if you leave only one area for it to exist—it will grow and come back to defeat you.

Allies/Resources

  • The US must LEAD the coalition by committing first and foremost command and control, then much more serious airpower, potential nuclear power in extreme cases (see the Iran goal), logistics, intelligence, and significant number of Special Forces. It must also commit resources of a more civilian nature to the Nation Building program that will come after the major military operations are over.
  • The Europeans will need to commit three types of resources. The French and the British can probably commit some military force, but I do not believe that much will be needed from them in that respect. Both countries’ airpower is limited and between the airpower available to the US and the other allies in the region, it is not that critical. The British can contribute a small unit of their famous and excellent special forces, the SAS. Mostly, Europeans will have to commit “treasure,” i.e. money! They will need to take a BIG part in the financing of this war. Given that stabilizing the Middle East will also stabilize Europe and avoid them having to deal with very costly issues such as refugees, internal strife, etc., they should be happy to do it. Europe will also need to commit significant resources for the Nation Building project.
  • Egypt will need to contribute a significant element of ground troops—the majority of the ground troops. Egypt has a large army, but not a very sophisticated one. As the most populated country in the Arab world, Egypt used to be considered the leader of the Arab world. It is time for them, with the help of the US, to regain this mantle. They are Sunni, they are Arabs, and no one is better placed than Egypt to carry the flag of stabilizing and secularizing the Middle East. Egypt seems to now have a leader who can and will be willing to carry this flag if he will get help and support from the US and other countries to extinguish the terror movement risks to his regime in Sinai and Egypt proper.
  • Jordan will provide a small additional element of ground troops. They have a good, but very small, army.
  • Saudi, UAE, and other Gulf states will need to provide first and foremost money. They need to finance the largest part of this war. It is true that their oil riches are taking a major hit these days, but they all have significant reserves that they can draw on and, without doubt, they would be the biggest beneficiary of the ensuing stability and, most important, the containment of Iran. Symbolically, and in some limited geographies, these countries can also supply some military efforts but it will be limited.
  • Other Arab countries will need to commit their national military and other resources to fight their own fight with the help of the coalition formed here. So that, as an example Algeria, with the help of this formidable coalition formed here, will need to launch a strong military effort to eliminate the Islamists group in Algeria.
  • Japan and other wealthy Far East countries will need to provide money and Nation Building support.
  • The Kurds will be a reliable fighting force on the ground but only in their areas. The notion that the Kurds will do the work required in the entire region is poppycock contrived by politicians that are either ignorant and naïve, or think that their audience is.
  • Turkey, in my view, will not do or contribute much to the proposed plan. While some of their goals are met, they would be in deep conflict with some of the other plans for this mission (see below). Turkey is also led by an unreliable person with strong Islamists tendencies. The beauty of this plan is that they are not necessary, especially due to the one last ally mentioned below. A side benefit of this strong show of force and unity led by the US is to bring Turkey back in line to become a more reliable member of NATO and give it a jolt to hopefully put it back on course to become a real European-style democracy.
  • The last ally, in my mind, is probably as important an element of ensuring success as any, and is going to be very controversial. It is Israel. Most Western politicians assume that Israel should not be part of any Arab-based conflict because of the tension and hostility between it and the Arabs. It is my belief that this is an old fashioned and out of date view of the power equation scene in today’s Middle East.
    • Egypt and Israel already cooperate heavily on security in the Sinai and other places.
    • Jordan has had an unwritten and unspoken security guarantee from Israel for years. Indeed, 40+ years ago that was the only thing that prevented Assad’s father from invading Jordan.
    • Saudi and Israel have had discussions on containing Iran and, given the recent developments, it is likely that these discussions are intensifying.
    • Israel has a HUGE interest in the outcome of the proposed all-encompassing war in the Middle East and in achieving long-term stability there following such a war.
    • Israel has, barring the US, the strongest military in the region. Adding Israeli airpower, intelligence, logistics, Special Forces, and some targeted ground forces will be invaluable for the success of this mission. In fact, I do not think that this ambitious plan can succeed without the Israeli military.

The Plan/Timing

  • Periphery: Countries that have decent functioning governments, such as Algeria, Mali, Somalia, and Tunisia, will be given general and relatively low level logistical, ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) type support plus some foreign troops (France in the Maghreb and African Union in Somalia) to aggressively combat and conduct ongoing offensive operations against their local Islamist groups. This action should commence immediately and will probably last for years, as the terror groups there are few and far between and thus do not provide a good target. On the other hand they are not very active either.
  • Libya, Sinai, and Yemen: An aggressive push to eradicate the Islamist organizations in these areas will be led by Egypt with strong support of airpower, logistics, and ISR from the alliance. In Yemen, Saudi, and other Gulf emirates, ground troops will be involved too. This action will start immediately and hopefully can produce relative stability within 6-9 months in all these areas and countries.
  • Gaza/Hamas: A final push into Gaza to eliminate Hamas totally and completely as a statehood-type entity will be led by Egyptian ground forces with heavy support from Israeli ground troops and, of course, collation airpower, logistics, and ISR. Commencing immediately this will not take more than 30 days or so.
  • Palestine: While I do not foresee an armed conflict there, the Palestinian issue needs to be brought to an enforced end. The contours of a two-states solution between Israel and Palestine has existed for years and, contrary to popular belief in the Western media, it is the Palestinians who are the obstacle to an agreement along these lines. It should be forced on them by the coalition. Contentious issues like Jerusalem need to be solved by a lip-service type compromise. Israel will not, and should not, be asked to surrender sovereignty in Jerusalem.
  • Lebanon: BIG issue. Hezbollah needs to be confronted. This will be a bloody and difficult conflict but, given that they are heavily involved in Syria and that Syria will be engaged with coalition forces at the same time, Hezbollah will be confronted with the need to fight on both fronts. It needs to be done. Hezbollah as a quasi-state type entity needs to be demolished. The main fight has to be undertaken by the Israeli military, assisted by US air and ISR efforts. Most important, Israel needs to be supported diplomatically so that it is given the time and leeway to pursue Hezbollah to the bitter end. Israel can do it. It will not be easy, it will be costly in lives, both military and civilians, on both sides, but it needs to be done once and for all and there will not be a better time. It should commence immediately and should not take more than 60 days at most. To be clear, Hezbollah as an underground terror group will continue to exist, as will some of the other groups mentioned here, but they will cease to exist as a political burden hanging over Lebanon and, over many years, will be dissipated.
  • Syria: This is the boiling center of the moment. Make no mistake. Left to its own devices there will be other boiling centers. The operation here is simply against everyone. Egyptian/Jordanian ground forces with huge support from US and Israeli air force, logistics, and ISR as well as US Special Forces and possibly other small elements of ground forces should commence an all-out offensive to remove Assad, eliminate ISIS, and bring peace to this war-torn country. Done right that, too (given the engagement of Hezbollah and the resolve versus Russia and Iran; see below), should not be very challenging. It will be costly in life and in damage but the result is pre-ordained. A coordinated ground attack by an overwhelming force supported by massive air strikes will simply sweep Syria in 60-90 days. I repeat that here, too, terror will not be squelched. It will be abolished as a state entity, but it will remain as terror groups. It will need to be continuously pursued and fought and defended against as one does with terror organizations. The post war political solution will be complicated; see below.
  • Iraq: It seems that given the huge pressure that ISIS will be under in its core in Syria, the relative progress of Iraqi forces already, and the strong support of the Iraqi Kurds, that the job of eliminating ISIS in Iraq can be left to the current formula: Iraqi and Kurdish forces on the ground and US air support. The post-war situation is another story; see below.
  • Russia: Of course, all this is hugely more complicated due to the Russian military involvement in Syria. Russia will need to be confronted head on and the US will need to make it clear to Russia that it has two choices: be quite and let it happen, in which case its interests will be considered in the post-war resolution; or be part of the enemy and confront a huge US air power. Putin is essentially weak and, faced with a new resolve by the US backed by overwhelming air superiority, he will rather take a weak promise for future consideration of Russia’s interest as a face saving formula rather than risk a military stand-off against a vastly stronger opponent in the form of the US Air Force. It will be a fit of brinkmanship and may involve a test or two of the resolve of the US to not allow Russian airpower to intervene, but ultimately here, too, the result is not in question due to the US still overwhelming air superiority once it deploys enough power to the region.
  • Iran: The US will need to issue Iran an ultimatum.
    • Stand down on ALL your imperialistic ambitions, your malignant and malevolent intervention in other countries in the Middle East, stop your support for terror groups around the region and the world, and immediately cease your nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development activity, or face the wrath of the US backed coalition in an obliterating air war.
    • Any test of the US and coalition resolve should be responded to with overwhelming force. A missile test should result in bombing of the missile launching base, a rocket test close to US naval ships should result in an attack on the rocket firing equipment/unit, a terror act even remotely connected to Iran should result in a debilitating air strike on Iran’s military infrastructure. Any prolonged effort at interference by Iran should result in a total blockade on oil exports and oil product imports (Turkey will be critical here due to the pipeline that supplies Iran with a big portion of its products’ needs), etc.
    • Such a tough ultimatum should be backed by an AUMF resolution passed by Congress and a formal mutual defense treaty approved by the Senate obligating the US to come to the defense of its Middle Eastern allies should they be attacked by Iran, directly or indirectly, openly or covertly.

Done right, this plan should take between 9-12 months to plan, prepare and execute. A new president should task his national security team to prepare the detailed plan along these lines on day one of his presidency. The longer one waits, the harder the task. The aftermath of the military operations is another story . . . For that, see below.

Cautionary Notes

  • To be clear, nothing in this plan is simple, but strong leadership and commitment from the US can make it happen.
  • Terror acts will continue. As I said before, you cannot eliminate every single individual terror act by military battle. The war on terror will last for decades, if not longer. But defeating these groups on the ground, consigning them to act underground, continuing to pursue them aggressively, and developing civil society on a democratic basis will, over many years, work to reduce their appeal and, at the end, make them a blip and a small interference rather than a major world disruptor.
  • While the above plan is achievable and the final outcome is not in doubt, it will take significant resolve, the ability to withstand casualties to our side, and significant civilian casualties as collateral damage. When fighting terror groups that purposely embed themselves within civilian population and use them as a shield, one cannot avoid serious harm to such population. The choice, however, is more civilian casualties over many years if the terror is not defeated. So it is not really that we are saving lives by not fighting terror. It is horrible and unfortunate, but it is a choice that one must be prepared to make. Courtesy of Obama’s feckless and irresponsible policies, there are no easy choices here.

The New Middle East Map
Subsequent to the military campaign a new map of the Middle East will need to be drawn. It may sound preposterous to break existing countries and create new ones at the whim of some person or another, but it is not more preposterous than the process that created these countries in the first place (the Sykes–Picot agreement of 1916), especially given the fact is that these artificially drawn borders and artificially created countries are collapsing.

Here is what the new Middle East should look like:

  • Palestine: A new sovereign state of Palestine to be created in what are now the areas of the “West Bank” under the control of the PLO and Gaza. Land swaps with Israel will provide for the large Jewish population centers in the West Bank to remain in Israel. Jerusalem will stay in Israel. The Palestinian state will be a demilitarized state, with control of borders in the hands of the coalition with veto power by Israel.
  • Syria will be broken to pieces and disappear as a state. The Sunni majority areas in the south of the country will be merged with Jordan. The Allawi areas on the west will become part of Lebanon that has a long tradition of diversity, tolerance, and multiculturalism (that is until Hezbollah demolished this tradition). The Turkman enclave in the north will be merged with Turkey. The North-East Kurd majority areas will become part of the new nation of Kurdistan, which will encompass the Kurd majority areas of northern Iraq too. The Kurds will disavow any claims on Turkey, itself, and will cease any support to the Kurdish independence groups in Turkey.
  • Iraq’s Kurds will also become independent as above. Iraq Sunni provinces will be given the option to join Jordan, which will become a federal type nation with three elements: the ex-Syrian Sunni areas, the ex-Iraqi Sunni areas, and the Jordanian center.
  • Iraq Shia parts will make their own choice whether to remain independent or become part of a federation with Iran. One way or another, they will clearly be heavily influenced by Iran.

These changes will secure long-term cohesion and be an important element of stability and peace. Solving the Kurdish issue is long overdue and is a well-deserved and just solution to a long persecuted minority that deserves their own country. Their commitment to not have any demands on Turkey and the additional areas that Turkey will obtain (the Turk enclave in what is now Syria) should hopefully secure Turkey’s grudging support for this solution. Iran’s ability to influence the Shia parts of Iraq and the oil riches in this part of Iraq will help Iran swallow the bitter pill of having to forgo their imperialist aspirations; although, to be clear, they will never give up on those as long as there is no major regime change in Iran. Iran will need to be forcefully and aggressively contained for generations to come. The fundamentalist religious extremist sect that is currently in control of Iran will use any relaxation in the containment regime to re-start their caliphate dream (it was very rewarding to see a major media outlet, the NYT, for the first time EVER that I can tell publish a reference to the Iranian constitution’s imperialistic covenants via op-ed by Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia. I noted that in my post many, many months ago.

Nation Building
One must dispel the notion that this plan—or ANY plan—can work without the appropriate second phase; that of Nation Building. I am using this phrase purposefully. This is a term that gained its negative connotation by President George W. Bush. He campaigned in 2000 against what he called “Nation Building” by the Clinton administration. Ironically, it came back to haunt him when he discovered that the world is not that simple and that, without Nation Building, US power is meaningless. Unfortunately, his lack of commitment and resolve on this one element resulted in a failure of the whole anti-terror effort that he launched, and made the term toxic. History, logic, and fact prove that Nation Building it is anything but toxic.

Just think of the big wins that America had in the first part of the 20th century: the period when America emerged as the world superpower. It was NOT the wining that made America great. It was the POST-war commitments that made it so; be it its 70-year presence in Europe in the form of NATO, its similarly long presence in Japan, and just a few years short of that in South Korea. ALL of these areas stabilized, became rich and democratic (Europe returned to democracy and enhanced it) ONLY because of the continuing American presence and support/encouragement.

Why in the WORLD would ANYONE think that you could succeed in ANY war without an element of Nation Building? Not only is it the absolutely necessary ingredient for success, but it is also what allows the US to recoup its investment. The US has been enriched gigantically by its trading and investment with its allies and protectorates in Europe, Japan, and Korea. And while they did not necessarily face terror threats while remaining in these regions, US forces did and do face significant threats in Korea and used to in Europe too. No Middle East war—no war anywhere—will succeed without a significant post-war Nation Building effort.

Here are the main elements of Nation Building that will be required:

  • The US and coalition will guarantee all the new borders and undertakings of various countries and groups.
  • US/coalition/maybe even UN (after the end of major military operations it just may be possible to get a UN resolution supporting all of the above) “peace keeping” forces to remain on the ground in these countries in a significant show of force. Whether it will take 30,000 (like Korea) or 65,000 as in Europe (to this day!!) I do not know, and conditions on the ground will dictate it.
  • The US will specifically undertake to contain Iran and counter any Iranian efforts to undermine other countries in the region or develop nuclear weapons; all on a binding basis, as mentioned above.
  • Egypt, Jordan (the new federation of Jordan), Saudi, and Gulf Emirates will sign on to a long-term plan, 10-15 years, to become democracies. That plan will include FIRST establishing the institutions of free society, free media, human rights, equal women rights, establishments of parties, free speech, etc. Only after that will it move to elections—local first—and only in the final stage to full free democratic national elections. The road map to democracy will be established upfront and agreed upon with the rulers of these nations. It will become public and progress will be monitored. The exiting rulers of these countries may get a special status and role for a generation but, ultimately, they will need to move to a constitutional monarchy and democracy. If this sounds too ambitious, please remember that the US wrote the Japanese constitution after WWII. Why not now?
  • Lebanon, Palestine, and Turkey will be pressured to improve their democracy and offered full membership in the EU if they get there. This will be a challenge as many EU countries do not trust Turkey and rightly so. But it can be overcome in the spirit of new beginning and if Erdogan will agree to retire.
  • The same applies to North Africa countries like Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia.
  • Israel will be immediately accepted as an EU and NATO member. Why not? Why is there this ongoing resistance to the only real democracy in the Middle East?? Shades of Anti-Semitism? I hope not. I think that the resolution of the conflict in the Middle East should remove any obstacles to this access.
  • EU, Japan, US, and others will deploy significant economic and civil resources—“soft power”—to help all these countries along the way to free market capitalistic economies.
  • This plan is very ambitious, but with a full commitment of the US and other members of the international coalition it can be achieved. It will take many years. I remind you again that the US is STILL present militarily in Europe, Japan, and Korea. To a large extent, it is a permanent state of affairs; and it works WONDERFULLY! It achieved ALL its goals and more. Why would it not work in the Middle East? If it works, there will be another mini-China boom for the world. The Chinese economic miracle of the last 25 years has had enormous positive effects on the world. Democratizing the Middle East and converting it into a free market capitalistic society will similarly have huge benefits for the world.

A few years ago, simpler, easier, more stage-by-stage solutions were possible. Unfortunately, the last 7 years of neglect and pandering to Iran brought the crisis in the Middle East to a level where only an all-or-nothing approach will suffice. The loss of the US’s deterrent power adds to the problem. In order to be believed, the US has to act. No one does, or will, take the US seriously until they actually act in a massive show of force and intent.

Do it now and do it right or live to regret the consequences of allowing this cancer to metastasize and become even stronger.