Articles

This is why dropping "Sunni Arab allies" into Syria is a terrible idea

Five years into the Syrian Civil War, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced its readiness to send ground troops into Syria to fight Islamic State forces.


"And Stankonia has agreed to drop Bombs over Baghdad."

"The kingdom is ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition (against Islamic State) may agree to carry out in Syria," Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, the spokesman for the Saudi-led Arab coalition in Yemen, told the Saudi government-owned al-Arabiya TV.

Related: The 10 worst armies in the world >

Just days after that announcement, the United Arab Emirates announced its readiness to join the fight.

"Our position throughout has been that a real campaign has to include a ground force," the UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said at a news conference in Abu Dhabi, adding "U.S. leadership on this" would be a prerequisite for the UAE.

Big surprise there.

For those keeping track, the UAE is also part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the religious-political faction of Houthis in Yemen, a Shia insurgent group who captured the Yemeni capital of Sana'a in 2014 and forced the fall of the Saudi-backed government five months later. Saudi Arabia's nine-member coalition has since failed to dislodge the Iran-backed Houthis or restore the government. Meanwhile, just under one-third of the country has fallen to the resurgent al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

"Qat is a helluva drug."

Maybe Saudi Arabia and the Arab allies aren't everything American politicians have said they are during the 2016 election debates. Forget for a moment how bad they are at fighting a decisive war (they can't even capture the capital city with air superiority and and more than a year to get it done), the idea of airlifting a coalition of Sunni Arab troops into Syria is not only overly simplistic, it's a terrible one. Saudi Arabia and Iran are expending resources to wage an all-out proxy battle in the region, and Iraq and Syria are the primary battlefields.

By now, it should come as no surprise to Westerners that there is an huge, problematic divide between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam. The main actors in this ideological conflict today are Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. Yemen isn't the first example of Saudi intervention. At the height of the Arab Spring, Saudi troops crossed the King Fahd Causeway into Bahrain to put down Shia protests there.

The most ironic peace sign ever.

The Saudi sphere of influence extends throughout the Arabian Peninsula while the Iranian sphere extends from Iran's border with  Afghanistan to the East and pushes West through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. The conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are extensions of this greater conflict. When told the Saudis and Emiratis were ready to deploy to Syria, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem gave a very expected response: "I regret to say that they will return home in wooden coffins."

Sectarianism is only increasing and is becoming the primary reason for conflict. Until recently, major non-state paramilitary organizations on either side of the divide publicly defined their mandates in terms of either anti-imperialist, anti-Israel, and/or anti-American terms. They did not openly define themselves in terms of Shia vs. Sunni. That is changing.

In 2013, Islamic extremist violence intensified, fueled by sectarianism in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Pakistan. The rise of anti-Shia resistance, combined with the remnants of Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime, led to the ideology behind the rise of the Islamic State, now the most aggressive and extreme group, with transnational roots in Nigeria, Libya, and Afghanistan. The sectarianism is only spreading.

When the Asad regime looked like it would fall, the Gulf states smelled the blood in the water and acted quickly to take advantage of the situation. Kuwait is now the leading source of funds for al-Qaeda-linked terror organizations in Syria. Qatar is a major funder of the al-Qaeda-allied Sunni al-Nusra Front there, and Qatari officials tell The Atlantic that ISIS is "a Saudi project."

A Saudi project like a crane at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. That kind of project.

Iran funds, trains, and equips paramilitary forces throughout the Middle East, including the Lebanese political-militant group Hezbollah, and has for decades. Iraq's government has been dominated by Iran-backed Shia parliamentarians since the ouster of Saddam Hussein by the 2003 U.S. invasion. Syrian President Bashar al-Asad's regime is propped up by the Iranian government, who are reinforcing the Asad government against rebels, ISIS, the Kurdish YPG, and the other thousand groups vying for power there. The government's legitimacy relies on the support of the Alawite minority in Syria, a Shia group whose followers control the top tiers of Syrian society.

Admittedly, the "top tiers" don't go as high as they used to.

Sunni militant groups, financed by Gulf states like Kuwait, are seeing a rise in recruiting numbers and directing their ideology and violence toward other Muslim communities instead of Western targets. In response, Shia groups gain in strength and numbers to confront the  perceived threats posed by the Sunni groups. The war in Syria is no longer a fight for control of the country but a battle in a greater ideological proxy war.

The U.S. has so far managed not to take a side. The Obama Administration's original plan for fighting ISIS, for example, involved both Sunnis and Shia, but accomplished little in the way of real, lasting stability or security in the region. It called for air support and advisors for Iraqi troops (sometimes led by Iranian advisors and in conjunction with Iraq's Shia militias) while training and equipping "moderate" rebels in Sunni Saudi Arabia. We know how that turned out.

"I've made a huge mistake."

Related: General briefs Congress fight against ISIS is a total mess >

At the onset of the Syrian War, thousands of fighters left their homes in Syria for various Sunni or Shia militias. Foreign fighters soon began to flood in with professional jihadis from Chechnya and Afghanistan coming to reinforce Sunni groups while Shia militias from Iraq and Lebanese Hezbollah shored up the Asad regime. At the end of 2013, there were an estimated 1000+ armed groups in Syria. Since then, the rebel groups have only fractured.

Map of Syrian Civil War as of February 2016

Knowing all of this, imagine how would it look to the average Shia militia if the United States began flooding a traditional Shia state with Sunni troops. The war in Syria will last at least another five to ten full years and the U.S. should be prepared for that. The U.S. only has to look at recent history when deciding how best to serve our national interest while helping bring the conflict to its conclusion.

The Lebanese Civil War ended only after the infighting exhausted itself. By the signing of the 1989 Taif Agreement that ended the war in Lebanon, the streets of Beirut looked remarkably similar to how the streets of the Syrian city of Homs look today.

That war had was much more akin to today's Syrian conflict than other Arab Spring-related uprisings. Massacres, assassinations, and a large number of belligerents fueled the conflict for 15 years. In the end, the Taif Agreement ceded Lebanon to Syrian influence. Even so, the Taif Agreement only came about because of an anti-Saddam mindset between the Iranians and Saudis. U.S. military power was not a significant factor.

In 1983, the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut were bombed by Shia militias. The attacks killed 241 U.S. military members. Three months later, then-President Ronald Reagan withdrew all U.S. troops from the country. That turned out to be the right call. In trying to score political points, American politicians could call it a "cut and run." Yet, in a 1991 biography of Reagan, one of the 20th century's most brilliant military minds, Gen. Colin Powell, labeled the American intervention in Lebanon a misadventure from the start.

"Beirut wasn't sensible and it never did serve a purpose," Powell said. "It was goofy from the beginning." The reversal of a bad military course, once decided, seems impossible 33 years later, considering the level of political rhetoric on the use of force against ISIS. It might even be political suicide.

Would you to tell this man he was wrong?

Yet, the same U.S. involvement that was a mistake in Lebanon in the early 80's is a leadership necessity in Syria today. Why? It's not because of ISIS. In Lebanon, President Bachir Gemayel was assassinated and Palestinian refugees were slaughtered in camps by Christian Maronite militias. Those events didn't influence Reagan to keep Marines in the country for an indeterminate period of time. Once it became clear that U.S. actions would have repercussions, the President decided the nature of the mission weighed against the potential cost wasn't in U.S. interests and left the multi-national force ... and it was the right call.

American intervention and use of military force should involve a clear strategy to reach a set goal, with rules of engagement to match. A policy of dropping Sunni troops into a Shia country is misguided. It will only fuel the Syrian war and the sectarian divide. The U.S. will win the hearts and minds of neither Shia nor Sunni and will pay the cost in security across the globe.

Military Life

Female veterans pose on same ship that carried WW2 troops

Award-winning nonprofit Pin-Ups for Vets is releasing its 13th annual fundraising calendar to raise money for VA hospitals; ill, injured, and homeless veterans; deployed troops; and military families. The 2019 calendar, photographed on the iconic Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA, features 19 female veterans decked out in World War II inspired fashion.

"Fans of Art Deco will appreciate the look of the upcoming calendar that reflects the vintage glamour of this 1936 cruise liner, now permanently docked in Long Beach, CA as a floating hotel," said Pin-Ups For Vets Founder, Gina Elise, who established Pin-Ups For Vets in 2006, as a way to honor the WWII service of her grandfather.

Gina Elise, Founder

Gina has devoted her life to giving back to the military community. To date, Pin-Ups For Vets has donated over $58,000 to help hospitals purchase new therapy equipment and to provide financial assistance for Veterans' healthcare program expansion across the United States.

The 2019 calendar is officially ready for pre-order at www.PinUpsForVets.com. All 2019 Pin-Ups for Vets calendar pictures were taken by Shane Karns Photography — and let me just tell you...he really nailed it.


Kirstie Ennis, U.S. Marine Corps veteran

From a linguist, to a Human Intelligence Collector, to a combat photographer, to a combat medic, to a motor transportation operator, to a heavy equipment transporter driver leading convoys in Iraq, to a helicopter door gunner in Afghanistan, these ladies also include an above-the-knee amputee veteran (Marine Corps veteran Kirstie Ennis — who, by the way, at the time of this publishing was climbing Mount Denali in support of Service to Summit to raise money for Building Homes for Heroes, a nonprofit organization that builds or modifies homes and gives them to veterans in need).

Julie Noyes, Army veteran

Army veteran Julie Noyes says, "It can be so difficult as a female service member to feel empowered in her beauty without feeling like she may betray the professionalism of her uniform when we only seek to be treated like our male counterparts. I feel that Pin-Ups for Vets does a superb job at raising money and awareness for our elderly, wounded vets and our currently deployed troops while also showcasing the class and beauty of female veterans without objectifying them. What Pin-Ups Vets Founder Gina Elise has done with this publication and non-profit is nothing short of empowering and inspiring."

Naumika Kumar, Navy Veteran

"I will always be thankful to the Navy. I met my husband in the Navy who is also a veteran now and I graduated from National University with Master's Degree in 2012 as well. I am happy to see there are organization such as Pin-Ups For Vets who are doing so much to support the military and Veterans. I am happy that I got an opportunity to be part of the organization."

Patti Gomez, Army veteran

Patti is a veteran of the United States Army, where she proudly served in the New York Army National Guard as a 35M (Human Intelligence Collector) of the 42nd Infantry Division, located in Glenville, New York. She volunteered to attend JRTC in Fort Polk, Louisiana, alongside the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in July 2016. She also trained at Warfighter at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, with her unit in October 2017. Patti attended Basic Combat Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and attended Advanced Individual Training at the United States Army Intelligence Center of Excellence in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

"Pin-Ups for Vets is an incredible organization with an important mission. Being a part of a nonprofit that helps veterans and empowers women at the same time is truly an honor and one that I couldn't pass up when I was asked to be a part of the 2019 calendar. As the reigning Mrs. New York America, my platform is veteran organizations — and Pin-Ups for Vets is truly among the best of them!"

Check out that cover image!

The 2019 calendar can be purchased at: www.PinUpsForVets.com or by check to: Pin-Ups For Vets, PO Box 33, Claremont, CA 91711.

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