Trump: Boots on the Ground in Iraq/Syria?
Posted on 15 November 2016
Does a Trump Presidency Signal War?
A Trump Presidency certainly means a change in foreign policy, but it's not clear whether that means stepping up our engagement in the Middle East. The President-elect has mentioned repeatedly on the campaign trail that he doesn't believe in telling the enemy where the fight is going to be—and that includes not telling the media. So here is our informed guess.
President Obama proudly declared the end of the war in Iraq, and yet, we are still sending large deployments of troops over there. And while U.S. troops aren't taking the lead role, they are certainly taking a leading role in the fight. The mission posture in Iraq, Foreign Internal Defense, has up to this point been leading the Iraqi Army by the hand and letting them kick the door in after we've softened enemy defenses through airstrikes and artillery. In addition to providing the intelligence, task organization, weapons, training, and logistics for the impending fight—at all levels of leadership. It's micromanagement of the battle space.
A Brief History of the Syrian Civil War
The Obama administration had largely sought regime change in Syria, but several points are worth remembering about the Syrian civil war before we get to the current quagmire. First, the moderate resistance was largely weak, unfunded, unorganized. There were peaceful protests, but these were no match for Assad's regime backed by Iran and Hezbollah. Farmers vs hardcore terrorist states. We could've poured weapons into the conflict, as Secretary Clinton wanted, but Obama made a solid call: without proper training and organization, the moderates were sure to be defeated and their weaponry appropriated by extremist factions.
Second, the opposition lacked coherent leadership. ISIL at the time was fighting the Assad regime alongside more moderate elements like the Free Syrian Army, al Nusra Front, and Syrian National Coalition. There wasn't a coordinated front and there wasn't logistical cooperation between elements at that point.
Only Bad Choices
Support taking down the Assad regime, and you support terror. Support Assad's regime, and you support terror. Obama decided to get his hands dirty—but try to stay out of ground conflict. Dropping sanctions on Syria left and right, and completely limiting American buying of Syrian oil was a start. Not stepping in when terror-sponsor countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia started pouring weapons and money into extremist factions including ISIS, that's where it provoked the bear.
Simply staying out of the conflict at that point would've saved lives. A despot would've remained in control, yes, but we would have avoided the tens of thousands of casualties of the now five and a half years long war.
The civil war continues, and our policy of inaction has not only allowed terrorist organizations like ISIS/ISIL to fester and engulf cities like Mosul—our policies have been to purposefully not disrupt their supply lines and armamentarium. Yet Obama pushed on with sanctions and threats, but no action to support his policies on the ground with the moderates. Obama even laid down his line in the sand and proved he was unwilling to commit US troops to the fight.
It wasn't until 2015 that President Obama declared his intent to arm the Free Syrian Army, which was promptly radicalized, taking the position of demanding an Islamic State after Assad's regime is taken out. Just as he had foreseen in 2011, Obama's vision had come true. Except this time, he had caved to pressure to arm the rebels.
Cue Russia's involvement. Up until 2015, Russia had mainly been supplying Assad's military efforts against ISIS. Now, they had declared a kinetic fight against the opposition, including the rebel organizations that the US had deemed 'moderate' (and armed). This was seen in the global community as a strategic power play to roll back US influence. Perhaps it was also a push against what Putin saw as a failed policy implementation by President Obama.
Obama's policies were a bit heavy handed upfront, with no support on the backend. He didn't deliver when he told the opposition that chemical weapons would be his line in the sand. Is it any wonder the moderate groups turned to ISIS/ISIL after having their requests for support to America denied for more than four years?
A Dramatic Shift in Foreign Policy
With Trump heading to the White House, Russia extending an olive branch, and a renewed commitment to fighting global terrorism—one thing is for sure. We are in for a dramatic shift in global politics.
Britain is poised to demand Trump's policy revert to regime change, according to The Daily Express, but that most likely will be ignored. It's clear that Britain's EU-forwardcpolicies are unpopular amongst its own people—they voted to leave the EU. And Trump doesn't seem as comfortable poking the bear as the Clinton Campaign.
According to President-elect Trump's website, the plan to attack ISIS will:
…aggressively pursue joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS, international cooperation to cutoff their funding, expanded intelligence sharing, and cyber warfare to disrupt and disable their propaganda and recruiting.
That certainly seems like a ramping up of operations.
Today, we learned from USA Today that President-elect Trump and Russian President Putin discussed the future of US-Russian ties moving forward. They also agreed to set up a face to face meeting soon. One thing is clear: developing stronger relations with Russia will intensify the global fight against terror as well.
Perhaps the question should be: will a Trump presidency mean taking the lead role in the fight again? It seems probable, at least over the short term. If the Battle for Mosul succeeds in reducing ISIS/ISIL's footprint in Iraq during the remainder of Obama's term, perhaps we will see a draw down. If not, I predict we will see more combat deployments.