Syria Peace Talks Probably Won’t Prevent The U.S. From Ending Up At War With ISIL

Syria Peace Talks Probably Won’t Prevent The U.S. From Ending Up At War With ISIL

Alexis ChapmanWednesday,27 January 2016

UN sponsored peace talks on Syria which were supposed to begin on the 25th have been rescheduled to start on the 29th. The delay was due to the difficulty in figuring out whom to invite and also a desire to actually get it right this time and not have a repeat of last year’s failed talks. In the press release announcing the delay, the UN Special Envoy for Syria noted that the goals for the talks would include a ceasefire, stopping ISIL, a new constitution, and elections. The fact that it’s not immediately obvious who should even come to the talks, and the fact that those modest goals seem wildly optimistic gives a tiny glimpse into just how awful and complicated the situation in Syria is right now.

Terrorist organizations ISIL and al-Nusra have, obviously, not been invited to the talks and won’t be included in a ceasefire so even if the peace talks are successful it seems that continued military action against ISIL is going to be necessitated. The U.S. military is already fighting ISIL with ground troops Iraq. In Syria, the U.S. has conducted airstrikes and sent Special Forces to “assist” in fighting ISIL, and the CIA (with funding from Saudi Arabia) has been supporting rebels. There’s been some debate and backtracking about how exactly to categorize the U.S.’s increased military involvement in Syria, but whatever you call it there are those who want to escalate.

Several presidential candidates have promised that once they’re elected they’ll bravely and decisively send bombs or other people to deal with ISIL. This might be empty campaign rhetoric. But if it’s not, or if our current president decides to take additional military action, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell just took steps to make it easier. Last week, McConnell made a procedural decision to allow a bill on the authorization for the use military force (AUMF) against ISIL to bypass committee. This particular bill from Senator Lindsey Graham (R SC) has no limits on numbers of troops or the geographic area where force would be authorized (the AUMF that Obama sent to the Senate last year did have restrictions and it got nowhere). Graham’s bill hasn’t moved to the floor yet, but if/when Obama or the next president wants an AUMF, it will be there waiting, and thanks to McConnell’s actions it will be fairly easy to pass.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has also weighed in on the fight against ISIL. In a piece for Politico last week he stressed the importance of destroying ISIL completely wherever they are and the need to have local forces take the lead in the fight. He didn’t specifically say that he wants to deploy troops but he does say, “Now is the time to do even more.” Given what we’re already doing, it’s hard to see how we can do more without putting a lot of boots on the ground.

The desire to do more to defeat ISIL is understandable and there are some compelling reasons that some people want the U.S. military to fight them. ISIL is evil (whatever your definition of evil is, they fit it); the people of Syria are suffering, dying, and being displaced (sadly, ISIL is only one of the reasons for this); and as a terrorist organization, ISIL is a real threat to the U.S. and basically everyone else too. But before we ask even more military personnel to risk their lives, there are some questions that our leaders should be able to answer. What is our end game? What’s our exit strategy? What exactly does “winning” look like, how exactly are we going to achieve that, and how much does it depend on the peace talks succeeding? What’s the plan if they fail? Is there any way to minimize the negative impact of the rules of engagement discrepancy between our troops and ISIL? Once ISIL is gone how well will our interests ally with the rebel groups we’re currently backing? How much is this going to cost the country and does that amount include care for veterans when they come home? How are we going to pay for it? How committed are our international allies?

These are difficult and complicated questions because this is a difficult and complicated issue, and that’s just in reference to the U.S. fighting ISIL in Syria. The peace talks to address the larger conflict are even more so. We need strategies and plans of action that address that reality. The U.S. has deployed troops to Iraq again and we still have almost 10,000 Americans in Afghanistan. We should do everything we can to help Syria achieve peace but we’re not going to do that by getting ourselves into another decades-long war. It’s not good for us and it’s not good for Syria. In fact the only people who seem to want that are ISIL, which is maybe the best reason of all to not do it.

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Image Credit: U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. Fifth Fleet on Flickr

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