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Sunday, May 24, 2015

How do we fix this mess that we are in overseas?

Presently, the United States has involved itself in three conflicts raging overseas.  I'm sure some folks actually believed President Obama when he paid lip service to the Elizabeth Warren click within the Democratic Party and promised to end foreign U.S. military involvement.  I can't really pin the blame for the crisis in the Ukraine on Obama, because Russian President Vladimir Putin has obviously been the one calling all the shots.  I can, however, call into question his strategy of implementing sanctions on Russia, and keeping the sanctions in place long after it has become apparent that Russians don't give a shit about sanctions.  But Putin's ballsy decision to scoop up the Crimea practically overnight was a surprise to just about everyone.  When the move in Crimea coincided with an outbreak in separatist activity in Donbas (ESE Ukraine), it was apparent to us that Putin was looking for a bargaining chip, something he could trade in exchange for recognition of Russia's claim to Crimean sovereignty.  But Putin was taken as much by surprise as we were by the weak and limp-wristed response by the European Powers, NATO, and the United States.  Putin annexed territory belonging to a foreign state and began fomenting rebellion elsewhere, and the response from the free world is little more than a 5-minute stay in time out.  Don't agree?  Well, explain it to me then.  I am in serious need of educating.  How has the sanctions regime impacted the Russian decision to invalidate the territorial integrity of a UN and NATO member state?  It appears to me, that as of May 22, 2015, the Russians/Separatists (it will continue to get more and more difficult to tell them apart, as Russia decides to end the charade) are again on the offensive, moving further west into Ukraine, consolidating their hold on Luhansk and Donetsk, and preparing to lay siege to Mariupol.  What can be done?  Europe and the United States seem content to talk about more sanctions (you would think that they would be a bit embarrassed by now, talking about additional sanctions when the ones in place have had no impact on Russian policy whatsoever), so its up to us to talk about solutions. 

First and foremost, when dealing with Putin, a foreign leader with any hope of success must call Putin's bluff.  Inform Putin that if Russia does not evacuate Crimea and Donbas within a week, that the U.S. and NATO will begin full military deployment in the Baltic Republics, Poland, and Ukraine.  By deployment, I don't mean actual U.S. Marines, I'm talking about full military support, in equipment, tanks, planes, anti-aircraft batteries, surface to air missiles, and, if possible, implementation of the defensive, anti-ballistic missile "Dome" that everyone nicknamed "Star Wars".  Putin cannot accuse the west of militarizing Russia's borders, not when Putin is in the middle of doing it himself.  The only language Putin understands is the language of force.  His only choice for diplomacy is diplomatic aggression.  On the other hand, if he makes a move in the right direction, and starts to de-militarize eastern Ukraine, then the United States and NATO should take appropriate, similar action.  Dealing with Putin is like trying to stop a flood.  The only way to be successful is by building a dam, and saying, "no further".

The situation in Iraq and Syria is more complicated.  Formerly we would evaluate the scenarios as separate battlefields.  We have abandoned that perspective.  The Islamic Front (IS) continues to surprise analysts and military leaders alike in its ability to rebound from defeats and its ability to transport men and equipment so quickly and effectively.  Granted, the IS has become masterful at taking full advantage of sandstorms and other weather anomalies, but recent events in Anbar and also Syria have made it apparent that the IS views the conflict as one battlefield, and regroups, resupplies and conducts offensives accordingly.  Today, the Iraqi military is taking drastic measures to present an all-out disaster with the loss of the Baiji refinery.  There has been some discussion of an offensive to retake Ramadi, but if resources are allocated for just such an operation, don't be surprised to see Tikrit again fall to the IS.  It has become apparent to us that the Iraqi military has a limited number of effective, reliable troops, and they are shuttled from one crisis area to the next.  No doubt the 1500 U.S. instructors are tasked with increasing that number, but so far they haven't had much peace, with al-Asad Airbase under constant threat.  We are most concerned, as we have always been, with the security of U.S. personnel, and the possible occupation of Baghdad by the IS.  We would like to take the opportunity to repeat our warning to either move all non-essential U.S. personnel out of Iraq, or, evacuate it completely, hook, line, and sinker.  As it is, with State Dept., Intel folks, USAID, multiple private security contractors, etc., all over the place, from Mosul to Basra, I am petrified that the IS is going to get its hands on any number of U.S. persons.  We all can only imagine what would happen.

Syria is a bit different.  We don't have the same concerns regarding U.S. personnel, although given the nebulous nature of the Free Syrian Army, we may be mistaken.  We have been convinced for a few months now that Assad and the Ba'ath regime is living on borrowed time.  We cannot envision a scenario in which Assad can pull defeat from the jaws of victory.  It does appear as if Assad has been forsaken by his Russian friends, as the influx of weapons and equipment we anticipated never materialized.  Is it possible that Putin's addition of one naval port (Crimea) allowed him to shelve his designs for a Mediterranean naval base, at least for the time being?  The IS and its surrogates, including the burgeoning Jabhat al-Nusrah, are sitting in the catbird seat, with regime forces only in control of areas west of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains.  Sure there are outposts and isolated units in the east, but lets be realistic: Assad needs to decide if he is going to go down with the ship, a la Gadhafi, or when its best to vacate Damascus for friendlier environs (a Black Sea Dacha, maybe?).  It appears as if the IS is in no hurry to settle things in Syria, probably because it currently has the full military initiative in Iraq.

How can something positive be delivered of this difficult predicament?  Firstly, the decision must be made in the capitals of Europe and Washington DC, that there will be no negotiating with the Islamic State.  If the member States of the EU and the United States were to sign such a pledge, it would send the right kind of message to the IS, and be a move in the right direction.  The battlefield in Iraq is the key to the conflict with the IS.  They have proven to be much more strategic and adept at military planning than expected, but it shouldn't be difficult to take advantage of their limited military experience.  What the IS can ill-afford to lose is fighters.  Make the IS bleed in Iraq; make every inch, every foot, every mile carry a tremendous price tag.  This can't be achieved by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) alone, although if the Iranians were keen on a full engagement against the IS, we believe that they would win the day handily, as would the Marines that we believe should be deployed in Iraq in targeted operations, with the sole purpose being to kill as many IS fighters as possible.  Sure, we could give the Iraqis the equipment that our Marines would use, but I don't trust them.  In a week, there would be another evacuation, and all that equipment would end up in IS hands...again.  The Marines know the job, and they will clean up.  Within a month of targeted operations involving the U.S. Marines, with heavy Air Support, the IS will be on the run from Baiji and from Anbar itself.  More importantly, they will be suffering a manpower issue, which can only assist whatever policy is formulated in Syria.  We can't hypothesize about possible U.S. action in Syria because we still have no clue who or what the Free Syrian Army is, and where they are.  Its possible that the IS could be bled enough in Iraq to allow a large-enough neutral army like the Free Syrian Army, to pacify the countryside for possible elections and the arrival of UN Peacekeepers.  At this stage, in Iraq, we believe that the time has come to remind the Iraqi people that we do believe in their future, and we are willing to fight alongside them against the IS.  This effort should be worth at least two permanent Air Bases and at least one, huge Army facility.  

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