Tuesday, November 4, 2014

President Barack Obama should terminate his war against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria.

The Obama plan for victory has had a 90-day trial.

It has proven a stupendous failure — like Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s plan to defeat the Indians at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

As reported in The Washington Post, so-called moderate rebels in Syria armed and trained by the United States either defected or surrendered to the al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra group in the northern province of Idlib.  Other moderate fighters were racing toward Turkey to elude Islamic extremists.

The defeated Free Syrian Army forces were to be the ground game necessary to destroy IS.

U.S. attacks on Jabhat al-Nusra also backfired because its fight against the widely execrated Alawite regime of President Bashar al-Assad is wildly popular among fellow Sunnis. Other Assad opponents rallied to al-Nusra’s support.

Few, if any, Syrian rebels (who are virtually all Sunnis) believe destroying IS (composed of fellow Sunnis) is more urgent than ousting Mr. Assad.

Yet the Obama plan pivots on convincing them of the opposite.

The plan additionally assumed Turkey would act against its self-interests by supporting Syrian Kurds allied to the Turkish PKK terrorist organization to defend against IS; and to permit U.S. combat operations from its soil. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan predictably punctured both expectations. The PKK endangers Turkey’s security and sovereignty, and would be strengthened indirectly by strengthening Syria’s Kurds. Additionally, Turkey’s priority is the defeat of Mr. Assad, not the destruction of IS.

The Obama plan also assumed the United States could attack IS — a formidable opponent of Mr. Assad — without indirectly bolstering the Assad government. But that is as absurd as thinking you could destroy the Capulets in “Romeo and Juliet” without aiding the Montagues. And in fortifying the Assad regime, the United States is fast winning the enmity of Syria’s Sunni rebels, who are supposed to do our bidding in destroying IS.

The Obama plan further assumed the existence of a threshold of moderate fighters against IS that could prevail if properly armed and trained. But finding such moderates has proven as fruitless as Diogenes’ search for an honest man.

The Obama plan features many moving parts: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates,Turkey, Iraqi Kurds, Iraqi Shiites, Iraqi Sunnis, Syrian Kurds, and Syrian Sunnis. But only Iraqi’s Shiites share the Plan’s priority of destroying IS (and indirectly strengthening Mr. Assad’s Shiite-dominated government). That U.S.-Shiite convergence has inflamed Sunnis in the region against destroying IS to the benefit of Shiites. The United States is now on its own with air power but no ground troops. We cannot afford an alliance with Iraq’s Shiites without alienating the companion moving parts of the Obama plan. But without ground troops, destroying IS is no more than a hope and a prayer.

Accordingly, the Obama plan should be abandoned.

The long-headed precedent was set by President Ronald Reagan in Lebanon.

He had impetuously dispatched 1,800 Marines to Beirut as non-combatant peacekeepers amid a vicious sectarian civil war. When a few Marines were killed, Reagan authorized the USS New Jersey to launch attacks against the Druze militia and Syrian land forces. Hezbollah-linked militants responded with suicide bombings of the Marine barracks, killing 241 military personnel on Oct.  23, 1983.

Reagan was initially defiant. On the day of the bombing, he insisted that the Marines would stay because “our actions in Lebanon are the cause of world peace.” One month later, he maintained that the Marine presence “is making it possible for reason to triumph over the forces of violence, hatred and intimidation.” On Feb. 4, 1984, the president trumpeted that if the Marines were withdrawn, “we’ll be sending one signal to terrorists everywhere: They can gain by waging war against innocent people.”

The Marines were withdrawn three days later.

Reagan understood at that moment that his duty was to defend the United States from attack, not to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.

Mr. Obama should learn by that example, and shelve the Obama Plan.

For more information on Bruce Fein, visit brucefeinlaw.

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