RE: War Without End
War Without End
The U.S. may still be fighting in Syria in 2024, 2034, 2044…
This must be what perpetual war looks like.
In a Pentagon briefing yesterday, Army Lieutenant General Bill Mayville called the cruise missiles and bombs flung at targets in Syria “the beginning of a credible and sustainable persistent campaign.” How long will the campaign last? “I would think of it in terms of years,” Mayville responded.
Although the bombs exploded on Syrian soil, they didn’t target Bashar al-Assad’s battered, murderous regime. The bombs were addressed to Syria’s enemy, the Islamic State, a nascent nation that has pledged to topple both Iraq and Syria, as well as Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Cyprus, and parts of southern Turkey, and erect a caliphate on the parcel.
But in attacking Syria’s enemy, the United States wasn’t looking to make friends with Syria. President Barack Obama called for Assad to step down in 2011, and it was only last year that the United States was prepared to bomb Syria for having crossed the chemical-weapons “red line” to kill its own citizens. Not that the United States is remarkably choosey about which nations it counts among its allies. Among the Middle East nations joining with the United States to strike Syria is Qatar, which has allowed one of its sheikhs to raise funds for an Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. As you know, the United States is at war with Al Qaeda in all of its flavors, including the Syria-based Khorasan Group, upon which U.S. bombs fell this week. The Khorasan Group is said to be plotting attacks on the United States and Europe.
Our perpetual war is complicated, however, by the fact that the Islamic State is the sworn enemy of Al Qaeda, from which it split earlier this year because it couldn’t play nice with Al Qaeda’s other affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, which is also fighting the Assad regime. Or, to look at it another way, the enemies of America’s enemies are not automatically America’s friends; and even America’s friends, which can be permissive about the flow of money to Al Qaeda, aren’t necessarily America’s friends either.
America has allies in Syria’s civil war, of course, including Harakat Hazm, part of the Free Syrian Army. Harakat Hazm is fighting Assad, but it has also fought alongside America’s enemy Jabhat al-Nusra, which has not disqualified it from receiving U.S. weapons and training. Harakat Hazm took exception to the American-led bombing of Syria in a statement, calling it an “external intervention” and “an attack on the revolution,” according to a Los Angeles Times report. So Harakat Hazm, America’s friend, which fought with America’s enemy against Syria—which is neither friend nor enemy—objects to the fact that America bombed Syria in pursuit of the Islamic State, which is also Harakat Hazm’s enemy. Meanwhile, the militant Shiite group Hezbollah is drone-bombing Jabat al-Nusrat along the Lebanon-Syria border at the same time Israel is downing Syrian jets.
Confused yet? You’ll have plenty of time to catch up. As Mayville promised, this conflict will likely go on for years.
It’s a wild card war in which allies and enemies seem arbitrary and ever-shifting. Will the American attacks strengthen the Assad regime by weakening the Islamic State, as some speculate? Or will it drive Jabhat al-Nusra closer to the Islamic State, at least in the interim? Or will the American-funded “moderates” shake off their masters and place Assad in their gun sights instead of the Islamic State? National security reporter Thomas E. Ricks, a man not subject to confusion, can’t decide whether to call the latest hostilities a new installment of a new Thirty Years’ War (1991-2021?) or another chapter in the War of the End of the Ottoman Empire (1914-2040?).
A war with a conclusion that its participants can’t see or can’t imagine is a war without end. None of the dig-in parties in Syria and Iraq look like pushovers, but neither do any of them look like sure bets. Without American intervention, the current war will likely rage on. With regard to American intervention, not even the Pentagon dares to predict an end.
For Americans, at least so far, this war is rumbling on like background noise. The usual markers of military victory—body-counts tabulated, territories seized and banked, no-fly zones established, governments-in-waiting imposed, and elections supervised—don’t apply to the Syria war. The borders, combatants, allegiances, and military objectives in the Syrian war are too fluid to conform to our usual expectations. Nor do the usual markers of peace seem to exist. There are no peace talks taking shape, no shuttle diplomacy, no evidence of a dominant power about to exert its might to create a lasting peace by flattening everybody.
In hypothesizing a 30-year-long war, I fear that Tom Ricks was off by a factor of two or three. In bombing Syria, President Obama, who inherited this war, has made this war his war, the next president’s war, and our war. Today, tomorrow, and for as far as the eye can see. Perpetual war for perpetual peace.
PHOTO: A still image taken from video provided by the U.S. Central Command shows a damaged building at an Islamic State (IS) compound near the northern Syrian town of Ar Raqqah, following an air strike against IS targets September 23, 2014. REUTERS/U.S. Central Command/Handout via Reuters TV.