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Once Raqqa and Mosul Liberated, then What?

ISIL will be defeated in both Raqqa and Mosul. No question. But what will the US do then. Will it leave Iran’s IRGC to control this vast area in the heart of the Levant?

Few day ago, Esmail Qaani, deputy commander of the IRGC’s Quds Forces, said that his forces not only will remain in the Iraqi-Syrian Arab desert, but it will expand further. “The US should be careful and Israel should grieve, the Resistance Front (Iran, Assad, and Hezbollah) is just beginning”, he added.

Today, the US is focused solely on ISIL. But what will happen tomorrow? Well, the answer is: “deja vu”. In 2002, the US was solely focused on Saddam Hussein. In 2003, the “mission was accomplished” and Saddam was no more. In 2004, the situation in Iraq deteriorated, and it still does. Now, Raqqa and Mosul will be liberated, and the mission would have been accomplished. But did anyone learn anything from 2003?

Hezbollah will have secured its stronghold in South Lebanon and expanded his “Resistance Republic” into a good portion of southern Syria. Assad, Iran and Russia would have encircled Turkey, a NATO ally, from the south using the PKK, when they want, to intimidate Ankara. Iran’s military supplies will leave Tehran to the shores of the Mediterranean by land. And in Washington, people will be celebrating a mission well accomplished.

We will find many US military strategists, thinkers, historians and experts that tell us long stories about plans that win the day but lose the following years. So, for those who claim wisdom and lecture the others, please cut it. Your record is not that bright.

The most important factor in the post-ISIL Syria-Iraq is not Iran, however. It is Russia. When Russia was strong in Egypt in the 60’s, Nasser provided Moscow with substantial regional influence. The USSR policy was to weaken the US presence in the region. Egypt did exactly that, from Algeria to Yemen to Syria and Iraq.

Today, Moscow is assisting Tehran in Syria as on the global theatre. Tehran is reciprocating. Khamenei said, March 4, that the US should leave the region. “The Persian Gulf is the Iranian nation’s home and it, plus a large section of the Sea of Oman, belong to this powerful nation; therefore, we should be present in the region, hold wargames and display our power. It is the Americans who should say why they have come from that side of the world and stage drills here. What are you doing here? Go back to the Bay of Pigs. Go and hold exercises there. What are you doing in the Persian Gulf? The Persian Gulf is our home”, he added.

Furthermore, Iran fully supports the Russian aerospace operation in Syria and will render more assistance to it, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan told the Fars news agency the following day. According to Dehghan, “Tehran cooperates with Russia in supporting the legitimate Syrian authorities, whose official request gives ground for our countries’ presence in Syria. We utterly and completely support the actions of the Russian Aerospace Forces. Ground campaigns being conducted on the Syrian territory need air support and the presence of combat air force, and for this purpose we render assistance to Russian aircraft, particularly at Shahid Nojeh Air Base”, the Minister said. “This cooperation has been present for a limited period of time on the base of their request and our reply. The cooperation will continue if required”, he added.

The US military decided to cooperate with the Iranians in Iraq, and with the Russians, Assad, Hezbollah, the IRGC and its militias and the YPG in Syria. Under the legitimate objective of fighting ISIL, the US is sowing the seeds of losing this strategic and sensitive stretch of territories in the heart of the Middle East.

Does anybody believe that Damascus or Baghdad would say good bye to Iran in gratitude for the US help to defeat ISIL? Does anyone think that Russia will refrain from using Damascus-Baghdad-Tehran to indeed “send the US back to the Bey of Pigs” as Khamenei said?

There is little, if any, support from history to the naive simplicity of separating methods and objectives. President Bush wanted to democratize Iraq by tanks. The Pentagon proposes defeating ISIL by cooperating with the Iranians and Russians. Both projects were destined to be the joke they are, even if they are recommended by seemingly very serious people.

What could have been done otherwise? Start, for a change, from avoiding any separation of methods and objectives. The US should have started earlier by seriously creating genuinely moderate forces from defected Syrian officers, the same way General Petraeus’s team did in Iraq, and by organizing those soldiers and forces who wanted to fight a dictator. They would not have permitted the likes of ISIL to be present in their areas, but only if they had the means to fight it. They did not have. President Obama refused to assist them.

In any case, this did not happen due to the naivety and chaotic strategy of former President Obama. But this option was supposed to be looked at seriously and patiently after President Obama’s departure, even if such a course of action may delay the final defeat of ISIL. There were, and there are still, enough material to work with, if there is a long-term plan. But theatrics is a way of thinking taught daily by the TV culture of today. The question is: why should very respectable military strategists follow this shallowness?

A new set of strategic realities will emerge after ISIL’s final defeat in Mosul and Raqqa. But none of these realities will be favorable to the US regional strategy. Those strategists who proposed the current approach depend on the short span of memories in the US to market their shortsightedness. But in the Middle East, nothing is forgotten. Maybe the Americans will have to indeed go back to the Bey of Pigs. That is if they still remember where it is.

9 March 2017

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