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« U.S. troops are going where? Syria? I'm at a loss. | Main | Tim Carney's disastrous attempt at a final word on the "liberal media" »

October 31, 2015



Juan Cole thinks the deployment and announcement might be a warning to Turkey to quit killing Kurds. I can't guess whether it's a good move or not and was hoping to never have to read Cole regularly again.


I suspect it's to counter Russia's move into Syria, and its attacks on Sunni rebels we've been supporting. We can't just leave them twisting in the wind. At the same time, we don't want actual fights with Russians. Placing Americans in these groups or areas means Putin has to worry about killing an American in any of these attacks. Obama has upped the ante, in effect, and is now saying to the Russians "Your move." At the same time, he can swat back at Saudi/Sunni complaints that we're indifferent to their fates.

Peter G

That's the heart of it. All these situations are unique and not every comparison to Vietnam is apt. The mindset that dominated in that war is that conventional forces and war fighting doctrine could be applied to a jungle insurgency that bordered on a hostile superpower. As far as the Iraq war goes it was the military that warned the Bush Administration about the requirements for dealing with the post war situation. The Bush people, you will recall, punished General Shinoseki by ending his career. I fear no such situation will arise with the Obama administration. Or a subsequent Clinton administration for that matter. You have Vietnam and you have Iraq. And you have a dozen other situations where scale toon did not occur. There is nothing inevitable about it. Your armed forces are much more likely to object to open ended military commitments than to embrace them.

Peter G

Good one autocorrect! Escalation becomes scale toon, whatever that might be.


I see David Rothkopf has a pretty good column in FP where he argues the same basic thesis--but then goes off the rails at the end, wailing about "leadership." Good lord, I wish we could just excise that word from all our discussions of foreign affairs.

Peter G

I'm not buying that at all. The US and allies need Turkey, specifically the Incirlik airbase, a lot more than Turkey needs anything in return.


That kind of crazy shit is way above my pay grade.

Peter G

I agree that the president owes an explanation for the question he will doubtless be asked at the first opportunity. As to how you will get out that would be the same way you got out of Lebanon, Somalia, the Balkans and the other places American forces with or without allies have had occasion to find themselves. They will leave when so ordered.

Tom Benjamin

I don't think we have nearly enough information to decide whether this is a good call or not. The situation is so complicated it makes my head want to explode.

Is it even a big deal? It seems to me that the US troops are doing for the Kurds in Syria what they are doing for the Iraqis in Iraq. In both cases the enemy is ISIL. I don't see how it changes much in terms of the American commitment. They are going to help a group that wants to take it to ISIL in Syria.

What else has changed recently? Europe is under incredible pressure to do something about the Syrian civil war to stop the flood of refugees. Assad was on the verge of collapse and Russia and Iran had to directly intervene to prevent it.

Does that open an opportunity? A meeting is held among the coalition, the Russians and Iran trying to find a way out. It (apparently) fails when the US correctly points out that Assad is acceptable to few Syrians. The Russians and Iranians pose the question the Americans can't answer "If not Assad, who?"

They all agree to meet again. Does the Obama announcement have anything to do with that process?

Who knows?


I don't necessarily buy it either, but it does make sense. Turkey has been oppressing Kurds, our most effective allies against ISIS, for years because they see them as an internal threat. At Foreign Policy, one of my other sources for this kind of news, David Rothkopf's take seems to have too much to do with bashing Obama to be taken seriously. Turkey needs NATO, which is a major part of its defense structure.

Peter G

We can only speculate and the very nature of the probable missions means we may never know. What fifty special forces troops aren't is a war fighting force. But I know why they are there in a general way They are there precisely because the situation is extremely complicated and other forms of intellgence gathering unequal to the task of providing the president with what he needs to know. Neither satellite nor air reconnaissance nor signals intelligence can tell you much about what is going on there. So what can fifty special forces do? Aside from supporting existing military air based operations they are almost surely acting as security for the unbooted intellgence assets who may very well outnumber them. And supporting fifty special forces in the field requires hundreds of people in the logistical tail. All these people are there to find things out that cannot be found out any other way. How this knowledge is used is more problematic. It may, as PM fears, be used to map out strategies and tactics for further intrusion. Or it may not. It depends on what the mission, as determined by the president, becomes.

It's easy to look at what Afghanistan became and forget how it all started. The campaign there started with a few dozen spooks supported by special forces backed by air power that successfully drove the very unpopular Talban out of power in a matter of weeks. What's left, as in Libya,is inevitably a power vacuum. Which course to pursue is probably the most difficult decision a president has to make. That Obama wants to deploy assets to find out what those possibilities might be does not bother me. I will reserve judgement.


I think it's best Obama keep this as low-key as possible, and that means, as President, he not associate the country with it, even to the degree of publicly addressing it in a speech.

I think Friedman (I know!) is correct when he says Obama has concluded that if, in Iraq, it was "You break it, you own it," in Syria, it's more like "You touch it, you own it."

One of Obama's responsibilities at this point in his presidency is to saddle his successor with as few difficult-to-extricate-us-from foreign entanglements as possible. If he addresses this, he'll have to outline our national goals. His successor would have to explain how those no longer obtain. That might be hard.

As it is, it's Special Forces. Special Forces are currently deployed to around 135 countries. For good or for ill, we don't get a presidential explanation for each of those deployments. That situation--and not Desert Storm--is the real new world order.

I agree: If you think about it too much, it's downright unnerving. That's why God gave us alcohol . . .

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