Thursday, October 30, 2014

Defeating ISIS - Is that the goal?

Why does everyone assume the current strategy regarding ISIS is to destroy them? I’ve heard “analysts” that are shocked that Turkey won’t get more involved in defending Kobani. Others, whether they be politicians or more “analysts”, declaring that the current U.S. air campaign will never fully defeat ISIS. “We simply must commit boots on the ground!” they say.

Geopolitics is cold and pragmatic. It’s never emotional. To quote Robert Strausz-Hupe, nation states are interested in “space and power”. As the German inventors of Geopolitik believed, a nation is either expanding or dying.  It’s a very imperialistic ethos but it’s a game that most of the world’s powers are engaged in. Yes, this includes the largest and most powerful empire the world has ever known...the United States.

So what then is the United States' ISIS strategy? If it’s not to defeat them outright what ulterior motives might be in play here?

Does history provide any kind of reference that we can gain insight from?

As I looked for a historical reference that might help us understand the current ongoing conflict with ISIS I decided to look for other ISIS like groups in the past. I didn’t want to focus on their obsession with establishing a caliphate. Instead I looked throughout history for smaller groups that employed similar tactics in the midst of larger more powerful empires. The use of extreme terror, beheadings, ideological, well funded, etc.

I came across a book of United States diplomatic correspondence from the 1700’s and 1800’s. Thomas Jefferson said this:

“That it was a law, that the first who boarded an enemy’s vessel should have one slave more than his share with the rest, which operated as an incentive to the most desperate valor and enterprise; that it was the practice of their corsairs to bear down upon a ship, for each sailor to take a dagger in each hand and another in his mouth, and leap on board, which so terrified their enemies that very few ever stood against them; that he verily believed the devil assisted his countrymen, for they were almost always successful.”

It was the bolded portion that got my attention the most - which so terrified their enemies that very few ever stood against them”.

Thomas Jefferson was talking about the Barbary Pirates. They were radical Islamists who attacked merchant vessels along the North African Barbary Coast. Today this area encompasses the modern states of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. Piracy was the main source of income for these nations...and business was good. North Africa sat on the busiest trade route in the world at the time. The Mediterranean Sea trade route saw commerce from every major player in the world. The newest of which was the United States who, after losing protection from The British Navy and later the French Navy, began to see ship after ship fall to the Barbary Pirates. Not only were the U.S. ships and their cargo being seized but their crews were being enslaved as well. Keep in mind that, while this was going on, British and French ships were sailing through the Med unmolested.

Jefferson traveled to London and called an official meeting with the Tripoli Ambassador. He asked him point blank why the Barbary people waged warfare on them. Why did they hate a nation and people that had done nothing to provoke such a reaction? The Ambassador from Tripoli didn’t hesitate in his response:

“The Ambassador answered us, that it was founded on the laws of their Prophet; that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority, were sinners; that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners; and that every Mussulman who was slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.”

You can find similar quotes today from ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. ISIS and the Barbary Pirates have so much more in common than people realize. From a geopolitical perspective their goals are/were to dominate a geographic location using terror and ideology as their foreign policy. The Barbary Pirates were operating in between a host of larger more powerful regional players. They played it safe and chose not to attack British and French ships.

From the U.S. State Department:
“The two major European powers, Great Britain and France, found it expedient to encourage the Barbary States’ policy and pay tribute to them, as it allowed their merchant shipping an increased share of the Mediterranean trade, and Barbary leaders chose not to challenge the superior British or French navies.

Prior to independence, American colonists had enjoyed the protection of the British Navy. However, once the United States declared independence, British diplomats were quick to inform the Barbary States that U.S. ships were open to attack. In 1785, Dey Muhammad of Algiers declared war on the United States and captured several American ships. The financially troubled Confederation Government of the United States was unable to raise a navy or the tribute that would protect U.S. ships.”

It wasn’t like there was any secret on the radical ideology that the Barbary Pirates followed. It was widely and publicly known. The British Navy was the most powerful naval force in the history of mankind. Why wouldn’t it eliminate a clearly defined evil threat? Likewise, the French had their own impressive navy. Why did they stand by and watch the Barbary butchery in the most profitable trade zone in the world?

George Washington contemplated the same in a letter he penned from Mount Vernon:
“Mount Vernon, October 10, 1796.
Sir: Your letter of the 5th instant with its enclosure, came to hand by friday's post.
The extracts therein produced both pleasure and pain: the former, at hearing that our citizens are at length released from their unfortunate confinement in Algiers, the latter, to find that others of them have fallen into a similar situation at Tunis, contrary to the truce, and to the arrangement made with Mr. Donaldson.

'Tis difficult to understand precisely what the French government design relative to this Country, from the accounts given by Mr. Monroe.”

Washington’s confusion mirrors that to the confusion the media has regarding ISIS today. Why didn’t the world’s powers of the time (Great Britain and France) simply just remove the threat?
The answer is that the Barbary Pirates were useful. They kept emerging powers in check. That included the United States whose merchant vessels were in direct competition with those from Great Britain and France. The Barbary pirates were a means to an end. Even though they represented an extreme, evil and dangerous ideology. It didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. 

The United States was backed into a corner. They either went to war to eliminate the threat or they suffered the losses and risked bankrupting their new nation. They would end up going to war, and the Marines would add a new line to their hymn.

So again, why is it assumed that the overall strategy is to destroy ISIS?

First of all from the Turkish perspective.

The Turks have been heavily criticized throughout the entire conflict. For not providing military bases to assist coalition strike aircraft, to not defending Kobani, etc.

Turkey is in a very awkward position. They have two immediate geopolitical goals that ISIS helps them achieve. The destruction of the Assad regime in Syria and the degradation of militant Kurds. The latter of which Turkey believes provide assistance to the PKK whom the Turks have labeled a terrorist organization.

The bigger picture reveals a much larger competition between Turkey and the Iranians. The ISIS threat to Assad is also a direct threat to Iranian influence. If Assad was no longer in power Syrian influence could be turned away from Tehran and toward Ankara. For this same reason, you’ll likely never see the other Arab nations fully commit to any kind of meaningful large scale assault.

Even though ISIS poses an eventual threat to Turkey and the rest of the Arab monarchies ISIS provides them all an immediate means to an end.

From the U.S. perspective.

Like Turkey and the Arab monarchies, the United States wants the eventual downfall of the Assad regime. In extension that leads to a smaller sphere of influence for the Iranians.

It’s obvious to everyone that airstrikes alone won’t stop ISIS. That’s not their goal. The airstrikes have two main goals.
  1. The first is to limit and specifically target radical groups that are looking to export terrorism. Groups such as al qaeda or groups within ISIS that want to take jihad away from the Levant region and go global. The United States is hoping to manage the growth of these cells and not allow the region to become a safe haven for terrorist groups to recruit and train in.

  1. The second is to make sure ISIS is pointed in the right direction. That means that they’re attacking Assad, Iranian assets, etc.

Also, like Turkey, the United States is in an awkward position. Taking sides is harder than it appears. Attacking ISIS leads to a stronger Assad which in turn strengthens Iran. Similarly, if the U.S. were to commit to fully supporting Iraq against ISIS the eventual outcome is familiar. A stronger Iranian influence in Iraq. All the current roads lead to a stronger Iran if ISIS were suddenly out of the picture.


Like the Barbary Pirates, ISIS today is a means to an end.The British and French couldn’t endorse the Barbary Pirates and openly support their behavior. To do so would be an endorsement for their radical and evil ideology. However, they had a problem with increased competition in the Mediterranean trade route. The United States was up and coming and their navy may one day be a potential threat. The British and French decided to let the Barbary Pirates operate as long as their geopolitical goals aligned.

ISIS is brutal, horrific and evil. They are the personification of everything we would rise up against to stop. However, we find ourselves in the same position that the British and French were in 1800. With our geopolitical goals aligning along with an extremist group. 

The world’s powers are trying to balance geopolitical motives against morality. Every time ISIS broadcasts another beheading that balance shifts. Eventually society will demand moral action from their governments. Until then, expect the players involved to milk this for all it’s worth.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why is Oil Crashing? - What can history tell us?

James Fairgrieve was a British geographer and geopolititian in the early 1900’s. One of his theories was that imperialists throughout history had been primarily driven by the search for energy. Over the centuries the political center of the world usually shifts toward which source of energy is relevant at that time.

The 1970’s showed the world just how important hydrocarbons had become to the global economy. The Middle East became the political center of the world. OPEC would reduce oil output and embargo the West for supporting Israel. On top of that, the overthrow of the Shah in Iran would all but hault oil production for Tehran.

1970’s Oil Crisis

The result - oil prices went through the roof. Heavily industrialized countries that depended on oil saw stagnant economic growth. The world found themselves grouped as such:

  1. Heavily dependant on foreign oil supplies. Recession imminent. (Western Europe)
  2. Partly reliant on foreign oil mixed with a steady domestic supply. (United States)
  3. Domestic oil production is the primary source of GDP. (OPEC countries and USSR)

Oil became an extremely powerful tool the world’s geopolitical players would use to impose their foreign policy and ensure their interests.
History would later see Kissinger persuade the Israelis to leave the Sinai and the Golan Heights. The oil embargo would soon be lifted. Oil production would normalize and with that the Brent crude price per barrel would go down.

1980’s Oil Glut

Ronald Reagan would use the 1970’s energy crisis as a playbook for economic warfare. It’s rumored that President Reagan sent CIA director William Casey to Saudi Arabia in 1981 to initiate a lethal strike aimed at the Soviet Union’s pocket book.

The deal - Saudi Arabia was weak in military hardware. They were threatened on every border by Iraq, Iran, and the USSR. The Soviets had coveted the Middle East since before WW2.
Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov traveled to Berlin in 1940 for a meeting with Hitler. The reason? Hitler wanted to lure Stalin into an alliance. He knew that the best way to win a war in Western Europe was to ensure he didn’t have to fight the Soviets on his Eastern flank. Hitler and Mussolini both figured that Stalin wouldn’t intervene. Stalin wouldn’t risk spilling Russian blood for the sake of the English and French.
Hitler decided to dangle the idea of inviting Russia into the trio of Germany/Italy/Japan. A “Four-Power Pact” rather than the “Three-Power Pact”. Hitler’s meeting with Molotov was to discuss these terms and to divvy up the spheres of influence they would each inherit after the war.

What was Stalin’s primary condition for joining with Hitler? Straight from Molotov’s mouth:
“The first protocol, dealing with the spheres of influence, must recognise that the area south of Batum and Baku in the general direction of the Persian Gulf is recognised as the centre of gravity of the aspirations of the Soviet Union.”

The Russians were basically quoting James Fairgrieve. They recognized that the Middle East was now the “political center of the world”. It was the Russian “center of gravity”. The German’s, however, invented geopolitics and would never agree to this. Hitler never replied to Stalin’s conditions and the Soviets would never join the Three-Power Pact.

CIA Director Casey and President Ronald Reagan believed the Soviet’s still saw the Middle East as their “center of gravity”. The Saudis believed this as well. The deal was simple. The United States promised military backing and equipment so that Saudi Arabia could solidify their borders. In return the Saudis promised to defy OPEC and over flood the market with oil. The United States would also ramp up production. The result - The 1980’s Oil Glut. Oil prices dropped so low that the USSR lost billions per day. They would never recover and the Soviet Union inevitably would collapse.

There’s the history. What does that show us today?

Has anyone noticed their gas prices lately? Why on earth are oil and gas prices going down in a world that is ripped by instability? Here is a graph that shows oil prices over the past 6 months:

6 month brent crude.jpg

As you can see there’s been a dramatic drop in the price per barrel since mid June. What’s the catalyst making this happen?
  1. Dramatic increase in production from the U.S.
  2. Dramatic increase from Libya (despite internal turmoil).
  3. Saudi Arabia increases production despite OPEC objections (sound familiar?).

First of all, who benefits from this? Who gets hurt?


It’s hard for me not to quote Sean Connery from The Hunt for Red October, “Once more, we play our dangerous game, a game of chess against our old adversary.”

We’re pulling the same levers we’ve pulled in the past. It’s amazing that the Russians haven’t diversified their economy away from hydrocarbon sales. Reagan furiously opposed the Urengoi pipeline that began Western Europe’s dependency on Russian gas. He warned the Europeans that Russia would gain a significant strategic advantage over them, but the pipeline was built regardless.

We’re seeing the result of that today in the proxy war in Eastern Ukraine. It’s not a coincidence that as the Russians began to support the separatists in Eastern Ukraine the price of oil began to drop out of the cellar. The Ukraine crisis and this modern day “oil crash” happened one after the other. The United States has played this move before and the Russians know they have little to counter it with. Washington D.C. sent a clear message to Russia. That they’re not only willing but completely able to crash Moscow’s economy if provoked to do so.

Putin now has to try and increase demand so that the PPB (price per barrel) goes back up. Look for them to increase cooperation with China. China has the demand to effect the PPB. My guess is that we’ll see news come from that in the near future.


Tehran is in an interesting predicament here. Their heavily sanctioned economy is also primarily driven by hydrocarbon sales. At the same time they’re locked in intense negotiations regarding their nuclear program. This gives the U.S. and Saudi Arabia a lot of leverage. It may force Iran to make considerable concessions.

It’s important to note that, just like in the 80’s, we must have promised the Saudis….something. The Saudis main struggle right now is Iran. Proxy battles between the Iranians and Saudis are being fought all over the Middle East. In Yemen, Eastern Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, etc. Even the Iranian/U.S. rapprochement itseIf is a major setback for the Saudis. If a deal was indeed made look for progress on one of these fronts. Would the U.S. consider backing out of the Iranian nuclear talks all together to appease the Saudis? I guess we’ll find out soon.


The situation in Libya is interesting. Quite frankly I’m shocked that Libya has been able to produce as much oil lately as they’ve been. The central government has had to relocate as militias have gained more and more power daily. Somehow, Libya was able to flood the global oil market with a billion barrels per day.

Where is the Libyan oil coming from? Primarily from the Waha oil field. The Waha oil field is operated by 3 companies: ConocoPhillips, Hess Corp, and Marathon Oil. All U.S. based companies. Draw your own conclusions there…


James Fairgrieve made an observation in the 1900’s that very well could have influenced Russian geopolitical thinkers for the entire century. What was theory in Fairgrieve’s time became very much the reality in the 1970’s and 80’s. The players back then are the same today. The conflicts are a bit different but the circumstances are remarkably the same. The biggest difference from the old Cold War to our new one today is in the timeline. Economic warfare such as this was Reagan’s knock out final blow. The United States this time has used it as their opening salvo.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Understanding the situation in Ukraine

Kiev and Russian backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine have agreed to a ceasefire while they work on the details of autonomy for the Donetsk/Luhansk regions. A few skirmishes have flared but all in all the ceasefire appears to be holding.

Many people in the West are left scratching their heads wondering what the deal is. What does this mean? What is Putin doing? What’s the end game?

How did we get here?

It’s been both amusing and disturbing how the media has reported on the Ukraine crises. Regardless of whether it’s TV, radio, or print you’ve probably been duped into thinking that after much struggle the evil Vladimir Putin twisted his mustachios and walked away having outsmarted the West. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s make this abundantly clear...Russia has endured a tremendous loss in Ukraine. When Viktor Yanukovych halted deals with the EU he made it very clear that Ukraine was no longer neutral and would be a partner with Russia. This effectively alienated 75% of the country and plunged them into full on revolt. The rumor from the inside walls of the Kremlin is that Putin fired his entire staff of Ukrainian advisors after Yanukovych was deposed. He was furious with their reckless miscalculation.

Annexing Crimea was a last ditch effort and one that Putin had no choice but to take. Yes, he gained Crimea….but he LOST Ukraine. Moscow’s strategy since the fall of the Soviet Union has been to keep Ukraine neutral. Neither tipping one way or the other. The usually patient and calculating Putin uncharacteristically moved too soon. This had the effect of pivoting Ukraine towards the West rather than to Moscow. Putin has been in full on chaotic damage control ever since.

What does Ukraine mean to Russia?

First of all, it’s important to identify what Ukraine’s importance is to Russia. That’ll be important to clarify when we contrast Ukraine’s importance to the West.

Ukraine is Russia’s strategic priority in Central/Western Europe. Ukraine represents the gateway of either foreign invasion into mother Russia or mother Russian invasion into Western Europe.

Zbigniew Brzezinski was Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor in the late 70’s and early 80’s. In the book The Grand Chessboard Brzezinski says this about Ukraine:

“Ukraine, a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.”
“However, if Moscow regains control over Ukraine, with its 52 million people and major resources as well as access to the Black Sea, Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia.”

Russia must maintain influence over Ukraine if it ever aspires to be a dominant Empire again. Even if Putin see’s those aspirations as being far off or even untainable again Moscow must continue to pursue it. To do otherwise would show considerable weakness to Russia’s periphery, the rest of the world, and their own citizens.
Ukraine represents Russia’s symbolic and actual desire to be an empire once again.

What is Russia’s strategy in Eastern Ukraine?

Putin’s Ukrainian strategy is similar to what he has done in other breakaway regions in Eastern Europe such as Georgia and Moldova. The goal is to unite and arm minority ethnic Russians and have them claim self determination.
If the host nation responds violently Putin can intervene claiming humanitarian relief to ethnic Russians. If the host nation grants autonomy Putin can use the threat that eventually the autonomous region may eventually try and achieve full on independance. Possibly even amalgamation by Russia entirely.

The threat of ethnic instability will be a considerable lever Moscow can pull to gain leverage. That along with energy control is how Russia manipulates her periphery.

The biggest problem with this strategy is two fold:
  1. Putin is stoking ethnic tension in an area that is highly volatile. At a time where nationalism and far right groups are gaining ground rapidly. Ethnic Ukrainians are rising up in considerable numbers. Rather than having a favorable opinion towards Russians or even neutral, Putin has turned Ukrainians into enemies.
  2. Ethnic Russians in many regions that Putin is employing this strategy are on the decline. Ethnic Russian birth rates are going down in places like Eastern Ukraine, the Caucasus, Georgia, etc. The older generation that remember the glory days of the Soviet Union are dieing out.

What does Ukraine mean to the United States?

Ukraine has no immediate strategic value to the United States. Ukraine’s primary purpose for the U.S. is to distract the Russians. Washington knows that Ukraine is vital to Moscow and this provides an obvious weakness. Russia can never let Ukraine fall out of influence. They’ll literally drop everything they’re doing to run to that battle field. It’s that important.

6-12 months ago Moscow was making a push into the world that we hadn’t seen in a long time. They were challenging US interests in the Middle East, South America, etc. Putin made considerable strides in Syria, Egypt, Venezuela, and China. He also stepped up aggressive politics in his periphery attempting to gain leverage in the former Soviet influence states of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, etc.

From the Western point of view it appeared that Putin had reached a point where he believed that the time was ripe to expand Russian influence and power in the world. It’s of no coincidence that the Ukrainian revolution quickly followed. Overnight Moscow went silent on Syria, Egypt, etc. All Russian assets focused on Ukraine. This in turn freed up the U.S. and her allies to re-engage and gain momentum in other parts of the world without Russian interference.

What is the United State’s strategy in Ukraine?

The United States will not resort to a strong military response in Ukraine. Don't take this the wrong way. We're definitely not scared to do it. In fact if we were really serious about halting Russian advances in Ukraine we would most definitely encourage NATO to put boots on the ground in Eastern Ukraine.
George Kennan was the father of the Soviet containment policy and had this to say about the Russians:

"Soviet power, unlike that of Hitlerite Germany, is neither schematic nor adventunstic. It does not work by fixed plans. It does not take unnecessary risks. Impervious to logic of reason, and it is highly sensitive to logic of force. For this reason it can easily withdraw--and usually does when strong resistance is encountered at any point.

Thus, if the adversary has sufficient force and makes clear his readiness to use it, he rarely has to do so. If situations are properly handled there need be no prestige-engaging showdowns."

We have no intention of forcing Putin to back down so early in this conflict. If we did we would have responded as per our knowledge and doctrine on Russia tells us what will work. This doctrine is true today just as it was in the 50's. Show Putin you're willing to hit him on the jaw....he'll back down.
The truth is we don't want him to back down yet.  We want this to drag on as long as possible.

Long term strategy

Putin looks to control the Russian periphery with minority ethnic Russians and natural gas control. The United States pursues a strategy of economic reform and maintaining pro democracy groups that form mass demonstrations like the one at Maidan.

There of many examples of how the U.S. tempts nations with their economic superiority. Even in Eastern Europe. In the 1950’s during the Cold War General Electric bought into light bulb manufacturing in Hungary. That along with other Western foreign investment provided a considerable temptation to the native Communist party.
More recently, the United States has almost single handedly transformed Poland into one of the strongest economies in Europe. Between 1992 and 2001 the United States pumped in over 50 billion in foreign investment. You can track U.S. interest in a country by following foreign investment.

Today in Ukraine we see similar signs that U.S. economic power is starting to sneak in. Organizations such as the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC) are quietly bringing in Western companies to invest.
U.S. energy company Westinghouse has also moved in to supply Ukranian Nuclear facilities with nuclear fuel. This is part of a much larger plan to begin weaning Europe off of Russian energy as a whole.


In the end Ukraine currently represents two things: A grand strategy to Russia and a grand Distraction Mechanism by the West. Remember that geopolitics ultimately is a big game against competing nations. The name of the game is who can politically dominate the most space. Russia is concentrating on her region and the U.S. is more concerned with Russian interference in other parts of the world.

As for the Ukrainians? The name of their game is the same as its been their entire existence. Survival. Survive while being tugged on between powerful outsiders. Caught in the middle of an argument they didn't  start. Geography is cold and and without empathy. Ukraine is an example of a nation destined for struggle based off of its unforgiving geography.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

U.S. hits Khorasan Group - A favor to Iran?

The United States began air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria last night. If you’re a reader of my twitter account or blog you know my opinion on that. However, reading through the battle damage assessment this morning one thing caught my eye. In addition to processing ISIS targets the U.S. also hit the Khorasan Group. A smaller and not as well known affiliate of al qaeda. Where did that come from? Who or what is the Khorasan Group?

Pre 2001 my unit hadn’t studied al qaeda too extensively. We were focused on another area of responsibility (AOR). That all changed after September 11th. My intelligence unit was stationed aboard a carrier battle group in the Indian Ocean at the time, and we immediately began sailing towards Pakistan reading up on all we could to catch up.

We saw how al qaeda was attempting to become a global movement. They were setting up affiliates everywhere they could. Mostly in areas that were not all that stable. Places where they could recruit, train, and plan future missions. The U.S. and the West were major fundamental targets but regional targets were of high priority as well.
Of note, most all of al qaeda’s affiliate groups were located in areas that were once dominated by the Umayyad Caliphate around 600-700AD. Al qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb conducted operations in Northern Africa, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula conducted operations in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, Al Shabaab conducted operations in East Africa, etc. Their positioning was purposeful. They had a clearly defined role to bring global jihad to their AOR.

Studying up on al qaeda affiliates we ran across a smaller cell that operated out of Eastern Iran. Their group was responsible for bringing forth an old Islamic Hadith (story or prophesy) that foretold the rise of a new Islamic army in the old Umayyad Caliphate province of Khorasan. Khorasan was located in Eastern Iran and was the birthplace of modern Persian culture. The modern Persian language, science, philosophy, etc came out of Khorasan.
This group posed a clear and present danger to the Iranian government. It was basically an insurgent group biding time. To the Khorasan Group, and many other jihadists, the current maps mean nothing. They don’t respect them. They still see the maps laid out with the old Umayyad boundary lines. The Shia government of Iran is an example of why regional al qaeda groups were formed. To bring global jihad to everywhere possible.

Fast forward to September 22nd (last night). The Obama administration began bombing ISIS targets within Syria. On top of that they also chose to hit the Khorasan Group. The President even mentioned them in his speech the following morning.
Air strikes over a sovereign nation that has not sanctioned them is no small thing. Hitting ISIS would be justified and explainable to the rest of the world. Processing additional targets is an entirely different matter.

Lets say the Obama Administration wanted to prove a point that they’re not arming the wrong rebels. Hitting an al qaeda affiliate would be a good bonus right? Then why wouldn’t they hit a larger affiliate like Jabhat Al Nusra? That makes way more sense. Instead, media reports are coming out today that show government officials reporting that the Khorasan Group is one of the scariest affiliates they’ve seen. Bull. Al qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is operationally far more potent than even Al Nusra...much less Khorasan.

Iranian officials are in New York City today discussing their nuclear program. It’s very clear that the U.S. and Iran are aiming for rapprochement. Striking a clear and present threat to the Iranian government along with our strikes against ISIS is just too convenient. Admitting they’re working together is something that both Obama and Rouhani won’t do. Politically they’d never recover. However, that doesn’t change the fact that last night the United States, Iran, and Syria all gained ground.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Arming the Syrian Rebels - A bad idea

Last week the United States Senate voted to arm and train the Syrian rebels. It’s amazing to me how such an awful idea can appear the absolute right choice to policy makers. I think it’s important for not only Americans but the majority of the West to realize what it is we’re supporting here.

The Middle East and Western manipulation.

Ever since the end of WW1 Western governments have been putting their fingers in the Sykes-Picot damn hoping it won’t burst. For nearly 100 years the Middle East has been on fire moving from one war or conflict to another. It’s of no surprise that the people living in the west have rationalized this areas constant state of warfare as being due to it just simply being a highly volatile place. Western societies are so far removed from the Middle East that understanding the “Why” of the problem was never considered important.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire T.E. Lawrence suggested the Middle East be split up like so:
Lawrence’s main dealings were with the Hashemite family who were the rulers of the Hejaz. The Hejaz is in present day Saudi Arabia and contains the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Lawrence wanted to give the majority of the land to the Hashemites, but he made sure and allocated mandates for both the British and the French. You can see he was conflicted on what to do with the Kurdish lands. He marks those simply as question marks.

I truly think that Lawrence loved the Arabian lands. He really wanted to give the Arabs a kingdom that ruled over the former Ottoman areas in the Middle East. Dealing with the Hashemites seemed like the best way to go. They had direct lineage to Muhammad and were influential during the Umayyad Caliphate. Their King was ruler over the Hejaz which gave them credibility all over Islamic lands.

However, Arab tribes were highly competitive. The Sykes-Picot Agreement played off of Arab rivalries. The S/P map looked like this:

The al Saud’s would immediately rebel against the Hashemites attacking and conquering the Hejaz. As a consolation prize the British would create TransJordan to give to the Hashemites. The Hashemites were also given the Kingdom of Syria but France would renege on that deal. Again, as a consolation prize the Hashemites would be given Iraq. Syria, Iraq, and Jordan were all made up countries with made up borders. Half of them given away as consolation prizes. The Saudis would maintain their border and respect the new nation states as part of a British treaty.

A natural regional evolution.

The following map is what we’ve had since. It should be very recognizable:MIDDLEEAST_TRADITIONAL.jpg
This entire area should hold new meaning now. It should be of no surprise why after 100 years we are still seeing such turmoil. The governments of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan are all Western creations. The Middle East should have gone through a natural evolution after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Instead, Imperialistic tampering stunted their growth.

I believe what we’re seeing now in the MIddle East is the progression that would have taken place back in 1918 if Sykes-Picot would have never happened. I think the U.S. invasion of Iraq created a power vacuum that jump started this process. Then came the Arab Spring...then came a power vacuum in Syria.

ISIS has now carved a path through the Middle East that looks very similar to what T.E. Lawrence originally promised to the Hashemites. Lets be very blunt here. We currently don’t have operational governments in Syria and Iraq. They lack the ability to project power within their own borders.
Basically you have a Middle East that is being fought over by warlords and tribes. Assad in Syria is no more than a warlord that governs the city of Damascus. Likewise the government in Iraq doesn’t govern much outside the boundaries of Baghdad.
In contrast, the Islamic State governs and projects power throughout the borders of two separate states. They have instituted Sharia law in their controlled cities. Most people don’t know this but ISIS controls oil fields that used to belong to both Damascus and Baghdad. The Islamic State sells that oil to neighboring countries….just like a typical nation state.

The Middle East now looks more like this:
The only border lines that actually mean anything are the Israeli, Jordanian, and Saudi lines. Everything else is about to go through significant change. It’s reverting back to not only tribal but clan rivalries. The Sunni/Shia differences are only a fraction of the problem. In some tribes/clans Sunni/Shia inter marry.

Arm the Syrian Rebels?

Now back to the point of arming the Syrian rebels to fight off ISIS. Does that make sense now? Do the rebels in Syria have more conflict with ISIS or with the Western created government of Bashar al Assad? Most people haven’t heard that the American and British journalists beheaded by ISIS were sold to them from a rebel group in Syria.

It is not in the National Interest of the American people to support the rebels in Syria. In the end, this will only increase ISIS’s influence not deter it. More weapons and soldiers will flip and join ISIS. Those that don’t will turn to Damascus and re-engage Assad. Eventually, the power vacuum that widens will open a door for ISIS to move further into Syria.

We have to support a policy that treats the Islamic State as an actual nation state. Now, I don’t support granting it any independant recognized status, but to fight them we have to stop treating them like Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is more like an international espionage group. They work in the shadows training “agents” to attack targets all over the world. The Islamic State is an army that is trying to influence power in a specific space. That right there, in the words of Robert Strausz Hupe, is the definition of geopolitics.

What should U.S. policy be?

To fight any other state abroad we would seek a reliable counter or check to their power. Now is the time to erase Lawrence’s question marks on his map and define the borders of Independent Kurdistan. The Kurds shouldn’t be used as bargaining chips and levers between Iran and Turkey. A strong Independent western backed Kurdistan could be the regional counter that we’re looking for. They could push on the IS from the North and diminish their foothold in both Northern Iraq and Syria. You don’t have to worry about them defecting to ISIS or turning and fighting against Assad. They’ll be defending their homeland.

We would seek to build a coalition. Not just any coalition, but a coalition of nations that have a reason to fight the Islamic State. There is absolutely no reason why French or U.S. aircraft should be bombing ISIS right now. Especially not when Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Turkey could be doing it instead. U.S. and western direct support should be held back as a guarantee. It should not be the first strike option.

Before the President goes to war with ISIS he needs to clearly define our National Interest in doing so. There’s no question whether ISIS should be defeated or not….they should be. The question is how do we manage the situation in a way that improves the overall situation in the Middle East and aligns with the nations national interest.
We simply must reconcile the past. The West is directly responsible for the current turmoil in the Middle East. There’s no denying it. We must now admit that yes we are an empire but there are ways to fix the mistakes of the past. We can’t continue to put our fingers in the dam. We have to let the dam come down and build new infrastructure that’s not founded in deceit.