Syria, Obama and the Nature of Wars.


"The long-awaited Aleppo offensive recently took a backseat to the much needed Palmyra-Deir Ezzor assault after the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) threatened to retake the ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmur) just two weeks after it was liberated by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). However, the High Command of the Syrian Armed Forces has once again reverted their attention to the large-scale Aleppo offensive after the recent failure of the Geneva Peace Talks and the collapsing nationwide ceasefire. On Saturday night, an Al-Masdar correspondent in Damascus confirmed that the Syrian Arab Army’s plans for the Aleppo offensive have been once again green-lighted by their Russian and Iranian military advisers in southeast Aleppo."  AMN | Al-Masdar News


"President Barack Obama has ruled out deploying US ground troops in Syria and says military efforts alone cannot solve the country's problems.

"It would be a mistake for the United States, or Great Britain… to send in ground troops and overthrow the [Bashar al-] Assad regime," he told the BBC.

He also said he did not think so-called Islamic State would be defeated in his last nine months of office.

But he said: "We can slowly shrink the environment in which they operate.""


Obama's mania for regime change in Syria continues to be on full display.  This is matched by a belief that he evidently treasures that wars cannot be resolved on the battlefield.  This must have the character of "religious" belief for him because history demonstrates in every era that wars usually end in defeat for one or more contestants and that history is shaped by that military outcome.

He also persists in believing that he can gnaw at the level of Syrian government confidence and public support in that country until it collapses leading to a republic of liberal government, etc.  This is nonsense.  the collapse of the present government will IMO lead inevitably to a jihadi state following a continuation of the civil war absent the present Syrian state. 

Nevertheless, Obama seems resolved to forbid the introduction of major American ground maneuver units in Syria.  Good!  Can we hope that President Clinton would share that resolve?  I doubt it.

With regard to the City of Aleppo, I await with anticipation some indication that the R+6 has actually decided what their major emphasis should be in continuing the war needed to demonstrate the wrongheadedness of Obama's dictum that wars cannot be won.  pl 


This entry was posted in As The Borg Turns, Current Affairs, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, Russia, Syria, The Military Art. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Syria, Obama and the Nature of Wars.

  1. President Obama has chosen Iraq over Syria for his military support in his waning months IMO!

  2. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    re: “Nevertheless, Obama seems resolved to forbid the introduction of major American ground maneuver units in Syria. Good! Can we hope that President Clinton would share that resolve?”
    Based on what he’s said, although it hasn’t received much media play, perhaps it’s likely a President Trump is a better bet to maintain this resolve than a President Clinton.

  3. Barish says:

    Apparently, SAA and allies can operate reasonably well against ISIL while locked into engagements with the unicorns on other fronts. First steps towards Deir-Ezzor take shape, going by developments illustrated here, via PetroLucem:
    ISIL’s LOC over the eastern, Syrian deserts will probably evaporate quickly from here-on out.
    On the Aleppo city-front, R+6 need but wait for Nusra and company to start futile offensives time and time again:
    While Nusra, Ahrar and friends appear to liberally transfer personnel to Kabani, on the Latakia-front, to try and hold said town, come what may:
    Not having taken the town yet may be so by design, given the way that insurgents appear to continue sending their forces to that one spot, no? Makes artillery/air-force work easier.
    That aside, one point that was raised before is that the way front-lines are running in northern Syria, both the Al-Bab – Manbij-line as well as the front here in Latakia are dictated by Turkish ground-artillery range. I take note that Turkish artillery hasn’t fired a shot at the Latakia-front for quite some time. Might this be indicative of some manner of understanding on the Turkish side of things they can’t quite get away with that at Latakia? For that matter, when was the last time Turkish artillery fire against Kurdish positions was registered further to the east?

  4. The Beaver says:

    I guess it is Northern Iraq and Erbil has to be protected “Coût que coût” – too much at stakes as far as foreign companies are concerned !

  5. turcopolier says:

    It does seem to me that the IS LOC in the desert east of Tadmur is heavily compromised and it will not sustain them well much longer. You are right IMO to think that the more the rebels send forces to attack R+6 in the Lattakia front the weaker they become at Aleppo City. pl

  6. Liza says:

    Col. Lang:
    A recent meeting at the Kremlin between Putin and Netanyahu may offer a rationale for Obama’s continued insistence on regime change. Netanyahu explicitly declared that Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights was “a red line”. The Golan has recently become much more valuable real estate: potentially-lucrative oil and gas reserves. Genie Energy, owned by Nat Rothschild, has begun exploratory drilling in the Golan. Genie’s board of directors include Dick Cheney, Larry Summers, Rupert Murdoch, James Woolsey, Bill Richardson and Mary Landrieu.

  7. Tigermoth says:

    Military Maps indicated that the jihadists were reinforcing Kabani via Turkey and through Bidima just east of that Turkish finger poking into Syria. Probably using the Turkey route to avoid airstrikes. I don’t know how close the SAA and friends could get to seal that border, I’m sure they long for a couple of precision airstrikes to silence those guns, but understand the reality.
    Maybe the plan is to head from Latakia eastward while the southwest Aleppo front moves westward and they pinch Idlib City in the middle while cutting the Idlib governate in two. Turkey better keep those roads paved because there is going to be a lot of “toing and froing” by the jihadis if this happens.

  8. Liza says:

    Col. Lang:
    Regarding the expected offensive in Aleppo: a video posted recently on YouTube may shed some light on the seeming delay. The video purportedly shows Suleimani addressing his forces recently in Aleppo. In my view, the video indicates that Suleimani has a medical condition. At 2:18 in this video, Suleimani raises his right hand. Notice that his hand appears badly swollen, indicative of edema. At 2:36, he raises both hands. Notice the contrast between the appearance of his hands. A swollen hand is a symptom of heart valve failure (I know this because I have this condition myself, although in my case my feet were swollen). Obviously, this is speculation on my part, but I checked past videos and photos of Suleimani, and his right hand did not appear to be swollen, so this apparently is a recent development. The latest media reports on Suleimani indicate that he is in Moscow for consultations on delivery of the S-300 system. Perhaps he is in Moscow for a medical procedure. Again, this purely conjecture, but it would explain the apparent delay in the operation in Aleppo.

  9. Tigermoth says:

    With regards to no US troops in Syria. Haven’t 200 more just be deployed? He says:
    “It would be a mistake for the United States, or Great Britain… to send in ground troops and overthrow the [Bashar al-] Assad regime,”
    Does this means they can come to fight ISIS? Denmark is sending F-16’s and 170 men to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Better keep an eye on Ashton Carter he has another agenda and is building up forces drop by drop.
    4 Prowlers are now in Turkey:
    A squadron of Marine EA-6B Prowlers has arrived at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey for a deployment that is expected to last through September, U.S. European Command (EUCOM) said on April 14.
    During the Iraq War, the U.S. military said Prowlers effectively jammed enemy cellphones and radio frequencies that terrorists used to remotely detonate roadside bombs.
    The ability to jam detonators for roadside bombs is particularly important since ISIL has left behind mines and other explosive booby traps when driven from an area of control.
    “Those are a real problem for U.S. forces, much less Iraqi troops, so I do think that would be a priority mission,” said former deputy assistant secretary of defense Mark Gunzinger of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment think tank in Washington, D.C.
    “The fact that it’s a system that can disrupt ISIL communications, disrupt their ability to command and control their forces engaged in combat operations, that’s a pretty important mission,” Gunzinger said.
    The Prowlers could also be used to prevent Russian and Syrian air defense systems from tracking other U.S. and coalition aircraft, said Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
    “These are the type of aircraft you could potentially use to counter air defenses, and as far as I know, ISIL doesn’t have air defenses,” Harrison said.
    Harrison said the U.S. could be concerned that ISIL jihadists could be armed with shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, which Prowlers could also jam.
    “It would basically scramble the radar systems being used against our aircraft so they can’t find and track our aircraft effectively,” Harrison said.
    Drop by drop!
    It is coming into spring in Syria, will there be a push to beat the summer desert heat?

  10. Mishkilji says:

    The implication for Bashar, Nasrallah and Putin is the clock is ticking and their forces need to shape a seemingly irreversible new reality by next January.

  11. different clue says:

    The R + 6 are operating under a very unfairly imposed-from-without deadline in the form of the possible election of Hillary to U S President. The potential danger of that happening means the R + 6 may only have an 8-and-a-half month timespan in which to achieve so much irreversible victory that a President Clinton finds herself deterred and prevented from committing American forces to toppling the Assad government.
    Perhaps a nominee-wannabe Sanders can spend the next two months saying very plainly that he will recognize the Assad government as being the legitimate government of Syria if he is nominated and elected. He could then keep asking Clinton whether she also commits to zero support for anti-Assad forces or actions. If she hints that she would support anti-Assad forces or actions if elected, then she opens a space for a candidate Trump to say he opposes any support to anti-Assad forces or actions if he is elected President. That is, if Trump can get nominated in the teeth of determined Republican Party rejection of a Trump nomination.

  12. Jill says:

    That might (and probably does) depend on his (Trump’s) cadre of advisors? The very thought of John Bolton gives me a chill and I wonder if Wolfowitz and Bremer would also come along?

  13. Tel says:

    I believe Putin is operating under tight resource constraints. He very quickly pulled out troops that might have been useful once those ceasefires were signed, which suggests his strategy is maximum efficiency, rather than maximum effectiveness.
    For this reason, we can be sure that Putin will not open up more fronts than absolutely necessary. Obama can feel safe in Iraq, knowing he is free from any Russian involvement.
    There’s a sort of unofficial agreement: the Russians worry about Syria, and the USA worries about what happens in Iraq. If Obama can organize the re-capture of Mosul before the election, he will come out looking pretty good I think. Whether he can do this is arguable, but that’s his target.
    That said, it’s very difficult to figure out whether the USA wants to win at all, apparently the real purpose is constant chaos. At least we can say that in front of the cameras, Obama would like to look good with a re-capture of Mosul.

  14. turcopolier says:

    Who are Trump’s national security advisers? pl

  15. LeaNder says:

    “Vladimir Putin: It is noteworthy that the Israeli Prime Minister, speaking here at the Kremlin, has congratulated not just Russia’s Jewish community but Jewish people around the world.”
    You seem to get ownership wrong, and may mix up Genie’s board of directors with Genie’s board of director with its “strategic advisory board”, wonder when Cheney joined 😉
    “The president of its Israeli subsidiary is Effie Eitam. Genie Energy’s Strategic advisory board is composed of: Dick Cheney (former vice president of the United States), Jacob Rothschild, 4th Baron Rothschild, Rupert Murdoch (media mogul and chairman of News Corp), James Woolsey (former CIA director), Larry Summers (former head of the US Treasury), and Bill Richardson, an ex-ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary.[2]”

  16. Chris Chuba says:

    I don’t think that Putin is resource constrained. He decided to pursue diplomacy after a successful stage of a military operation. Withdrawing half his air force was a gesture that he was going to do his part in pressuring Assad to follow the cease fire and pursue post civil war elections rather than total victory. He was giving us a chance to reciprocate, to pressure our ‘moderate FSA’ to separate from the Islamists and accept elections that include Assad. However, all we did was accuse him of breaking the ceasefire and threaten to arm the rebels with new weapons. We stabbed him in the back again, heck, we might as well offed a Russian pilot while we were at it.
    It’s great that Obama is not sending in troops but he has a history of caving into his Neocon cadre, so I expect him to split the difference and rearm the rebels. This is a real pity. The SAA made some real solid gains against ISIS. Having to fight rebels again will slow things down. Oh what might have been.
    Of course this is all just my possibly ill-informed opinion of course.

  17. Liza says:

    My apologies. You’re correct. Genie Energy’s principal shareholders include Black Rock and Vanguard, two of America’s most powerful financial firms. Jacob Rothschild (father of Nat) and Murdoch are among the leading shareholders in Genie Oil and Gas, the subsidiary planning operations in the Golan. (Nat Rothschild is an owner of the Turkish firm Genel Energy, which operates in Kurdistan). I wasn’t able to any information on when Cheney joined the board. Summers, Woolsey, Richardson and Landrieu were added last year.

  18. robt willmann says:

    Well, I do not have any detailed information about what is happening on the ground in Syria, but I continue to think that it is time for R+6 to saddle their horses and head northeast from Tadmur / Palmyra to Dayr az Zawr / Deir al Zor (or by whatever route is best). It is my understanding that Dayr az Zawr is not occupied by ISIS but has been under siege. So R+6 does not have to take back the entire city. Once ISIS has been pushed aside there, it is only about 42 miles to the Syria-Iraq border. Then everything south of Palmyra and a line angling up through Dayr az Zawr to the Iraq border can be taken back, which would give Syria control of that large area all the way to the Syria-Iraq border. R+6 could then move north or west as they see fit.
    Meanwhile, it appears as if Donald Trump — or a campaign person — has been reading SST! At a campaign rally in Delaware this past Friday, 22 April, Trump described how president Obama went to Cuba and Saudi Arabia, and was not met at the airport by the leaders of the countries, and Obama still got off the plane. Trump then took Col. Lang’s advice (without attribution!) and said that if he was president and the country’s leaders were not at the airport to meet him, he would tell the pilot to fly back to Washington, which drew cheers from the crowd! This little bit popped up at 1 hour, 26 min., and 40 seconds to 1 hr., 27 min., and 50 sec. in the video–

  19. Daniel Nicolas says:

    Some digging, apologies for the length and any formatting issues:
    Senator Jeff Sessions is his National Security chair. In an Washington Post interview, Trump named these individuals as part of his advisors:
    Gen. Keith Kellogg, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Walid Phares and Joseph E. Schmitz.

    Kellogg, a former Army lieutenant general, is an executive vice president at CACI International, a Virginia-based intelligence and information technology consulting firm with clients around the world. He has experience in national defense and homeland security issues and worked as chief operating officer for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad following the invasion of Iraq.

    Schmitz served as inspector general at the Defense Department during the early years of President George W. Bush’s administration and has worked for Blackwater Worldwide.

    Papadopoulos directs an international energy center at the London Center of International Law Practice. He previously advised the presidential campaign of Ben Carson and worked as a research fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington.
    Phares has an academic background, teaching at the National Defense University and Daniel Morgan Academy in Washington, and has advised members of Congress and appeared as a television analyst discussing terrorism and the Middle East.
    Page, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and now the managing partner of Global Energy Capital, is a longtime energy industry executive who rose through the ranks at Merrill Lynch around the world before founding his current firm. He previously was a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he focused on the Caspian Sea region and the economic development in former Soviet states, according to his company biography and documents from his appearances at panels over the past decade.
    From a NYT article on the subject:

    “Mr. Clovis also pushed back against the idea that it had been hard for Mr. Trump to find good help and said the campaign had been looking for people with “real world” and military experience as opposed to retreads that other candidates relied on.
    “These are people who work for a living,” Mr. Clovis said. “If you’re looking for show ponies, you’re coming to the wrong stable.”
    To note (and the NYT did not), is the bio of Mr. “Sam Clovis” -rather, he is more accurately Retired Col. Sam Clovis, with 25 years in the Air Force, per Ballotopedia:

    “He graduated from Buhler High School and left his home state to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. Over Clovis’ 25-year career in the Air Force, he commanded the 70th Fighter Squadron and ultimately rose to the rank of Colonel. Upon his retirement in 1996, Clovis was the Inspector General of the United States Space Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
    From the sourced DesMoinesRegister article, more details within a more summarized format:

    Education: Buhler High School; U.S. Air Force Academy, bachelor’s degree; Golden Gate University, master’s degree; Georgetown University, national security studies; University of Alabama, doctorate of public administration.
    Work history: U.S. Air Force, 1971-96; BETAC, 1996-97; Northrop Grumman, 1997-2000, 2003; William Penn University, 2000-03; Booz Allen Hamilton, 2003-04; Homeland Security Institute, 2004-10; Morningside College, 2005-present
    a WSJ article perhaps gives a tiny bit of detail into the named individuals, but I suspect that you might know some of these individuals better than the author of the article…

    Mr. Phares was born in Lebanon and is a Middle East expert who has consulted with numerous government agencies, according to his website. He has written several books about the Middle East and terrorism and served as an adviser to the 2012 presidential campaign of Mitt Romney.
    Mr. Phares, a Lebanese Christian, has won praise from Republicans in Congress and has been a consistent critic of President Barack Obama’s foreign and domestic policies. But he is primarily known as a consultant, academic and pundit, not for driving foreign policy.
    Mr. Phares’s association with Mr. Trump wasn’t disclosed until Monday, but he wrote on Facebook on March 6 that a “deal is possible” that could help the GOP candidate with the most delegates win the nomination.
    Mr. Schmitz is a former inspector general at the Pentagon who also served as general counsel at Prince Group, which was the parent company of controversial security firm Blackwater Worldwide. Mr. Schmitz was part of a recent effort to help direct private arms shipments to Syrian rebels, paid for at least in part by a member of the Saudi royal family. The effort was purportedly quashed by the U.S. government.
    Mr. Schmitz is also listed as a co-author of a 2010 study titled “Shariah: The Threat to America.”
    Mr. Page is a founder and managing partner at Global Energy Capital, a New York firm. He was previously a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
    Lt. Gen. Kellogg spent 32 years in the Army and commanded the 82nd Airborne Division. In 2003 and 2004 he served as chief operating officer of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, which came under criticism for what many considered a botched transition following the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
    From another article at The Daily Beast we get more details on Page and the others, as well as details on an informal advisory from Retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn:

    Page is an energy industry executive with experience working in Russia. He is the founder and managing partner of Global Energy Capital and spent three years working in Moscow, “where he was responsible for the opening of the Merrill [Lynch] office and was an advisor on key transactions for Gazprom, RAO UES and others,” according to his public biography. It says Page was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy but provides no information on any military service.
    Page has criticized the Obama administration’s policy toward Russia, going so far as to accuse Victoria Nuland, an assistant secretary of state, of “misguided and provocative actions” and “fomenting” the revolution that ousted Ukrainian president and Putin ally Viktor Yanukovych from power in 2014. The former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, has described such notions as paranoid fiction. Nevertheless, he has said, Putin himself believed that the U.S. somehow arranged for the ouster of the Ukrainian leader.

    One other Trump adviser had previously been reported. Retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn had told The Daily Beast that he “met informally” with Trump. Flynn was pushed out of his post as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and has since spoken out publicly about the need for the U.S. to forge closer ties with Russia.
    Last December, Flynn sat next to Putin at a dinner celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Kremlin-linked television network RT. His travel to Russia raised concerns among current and former defense and intelligence officials because Flynn still receives classified briefings and is privy to sensitive information about U.S. foreign policy.

  20. LeaNder says:

    On first sight, it looked as if both Rothschild and Murdoch only hold minority rights.
    How did you get to the principal shareholders? No doubt ownership may well be covered up via “powerful financial firms”. On the other hand that means there would be no evidence. No?
    What made me slightly wonder is the exact history of diversification. In the larger IDT historical context.

  21. LG says:

    Perhaps there is a simpler explanation of the edema- pressing flesh.
    I remember reading an article about the late Indian PM, Rajiv Gandhi during his last days, campaigning for elections. At the end of each day, his hand would be swollen as a result of numerous and vigorous handshakes.

  22. Amir says:

    Unilateral swelling of leg (let alone arm) is not a sign of heart failure. It is not the sign of a systemic (e.g. Heart or kidney or liver disease) but the sign of a local problem, e.g. Jamming your hand in between an APC door or something similar

  23. kao_hsien_chih says:

    Obama’s belief about nature of wars seems to be a variation of old US elites’ beliefs about wars like Vietnam–basically, post World War II interventions.
    They didn’t want to escalate conflicts so that they became “real enough” but they did not want to lose them either. so they always opted for some sort of face saving solution that everyone could fake as “victories” for themselves. It works, I suppose, when the other side has the same incentives–the Chinese did not want to “win” in Korea, so they settled for a variation on status quo ante bellum. But the North Vietnamese did not want to maintain the charade so they rolled on to Saigon when they could.
    As far as I can tell, the only way the battle for Syria would not be decided on the battlefield is if the US is willing to throw a modern version of Operation Linebacker to halt the Syrian offensive, and that would only buy a little bit of time, even if we can afford it.
    Some straight talk from our leaders will be refreshing: if we want to really win, we should say so. If we don’t want to win, maybe we should just quit. We don’t want to “win” in Syria (whatever that might mean in twisted imaginations of neocons), so we shouldn’t equivocate.

  24. Akira says:

    Interesting report on the Russian air force in Syria:
    “In general, the Aerospace Forces have demonstrated an unprecedentedly high level of combat and operational readiness and their capability to conduct highly intensive combat operations far away from the Russian territory. The absence of combat and operational losses during the air campaign is impressive.
    On the other hand, the effectiveness of combat actions is rather moderate. Apparently, the attacks have inflicted less damage on the rebels than was expected, and the Syrian government army has been slow in exploiting the effects of the air strikes. The interaction between the Russian Aerospace Forces and Syrian government forces on the ground leaves much to be desired. Russia’s air support for ground troops does not appear to be quite effective. On the whole, the Aerospace Forces’ operation has demonstrated the limits of air power—something Western powers encountered earlier, too…
    …Apparently, the effectiveness of Russia’s combat actions in Syria is limited mainly by deficient reconnaissance capabilities, rather than a lack of aircraft or weapons. Russian aviation urgently needs specialized reconnaissance aircraft, UAVs with a wide range of equipment and a long-range capability, and efficient space-based reconnaissance systems. There is also a complete lack of drones with strike capabilities.”

  25. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg says:

    I would humbly suggest that Obama and the neocons are not interested in overthrowing Assad in order that a democratic government might take root. They almost surely want an authoritarian regime that will legitimize Israeli occupation of the Golan, repudiate alliances with Hezbollah and throw the Russians out of their naval base. Sort of like what was supposed to happen in Ukraine. These things always go to plan after all.

  26. turcopolier says:

    “Israel is not ready to attack Iran until Syria and Hizballah in Lebanon are degraded enough to be effective actors in an Iran war,” I agree that Israel’s interest in Syria is caused by a desire to degrade Iran’s power, but there is a basic problem with the idea of weakening Hizbullah through attrition in Syria. The problem is that the rocket and missile troops with which Hizbullah holds Israel at risk are completely separate from the Hizbullah combined arms force fighting in Syria, and the number of Iranian troops involved thus far is trivial. pl

  27. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I think NATO states and their allies have been unable to “Win the Peace” either in the four countries that you have mentioned – Libya, Syria, Ukraine, and lastly Yemen.
    Israel may want many of those things that you have enumerated; they are welcome to try – up to and including attacking Iran.

  28. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Iran has a deep bench.

  29. Liza says:

    The five principal shareholders are listed on the Nasdaq website. Vanguard and Black Rock rank among the leading financial assets management firms. The largest shareholder, Dimensional Fund Advisors, is based in Austin, Texas. Wikipedia lists Arnold Schwarzenegger as an investor. Greenwood is a Massachusetts hedge fund. Kahn Brothers is a New York investment firm. The purchase of stock by Murdoch and Jacob Rothschild was reported in the media. None of the reports cited the firms they invested through.

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