The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them. On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems. -- Afghanistan Study Group

Friday, April 21, 2017

Update for Friday, April 21, 2017


This is a complicated story, an iceberg of which we can only see the tip -- but it's still revealing.

Here's al Jazeera with the bare facts. A Qatari hunting party was abducted by an armed group in southern Iraq in December 2015. They weren't heard from until today when they were released and handed over to the Qatar embassy in Baghdad. Somehow the negotiations for their release involved a Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate formerly named Jabhat al-Nusra, now called Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and the Iranian-backed militia that had kidnapped them. The deal is part of  a larger deal involving a population exchange in Syria in which Alawite and Sunni communities are being moved from besieged areas.

Tim Arango in the New York Times has additional details, including naming the abductors as Kita’ib Hezbollah, and stating that Qatar paid them millions of dollars in ransom. He describes the population exchange:

The Iraqi Shiite official said the release of the Qatari prisoners was linked to the safe evacuation — and delivery of humanitarian aid — of residents of two Shiite villages in Idlib Province, Fouaa and Kfarya, that have been under government control but besieged by Sunni Islamist rebel groups backed by Turkey and Qatar.

As part of the Syrian deal, which was negotiated separately before the fate of the hostages became entwined with the talks, residents of two predominantly Sunni villages, Madaya and Zabadani, that have been held by rebels but besieged by forces loyal to the Syrian government, including Hezbollah, are to be bused to safety. Many of them, about 2,000 people, have already been evacuated from Madaya.
Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi is not happy about this insult to Iraqi sovereignty. On the other hand, he has no choice but to put up with it because he is dependent on the Shiite militias in the battle with IS. In Syria, this is a step toward what is likely to be the de facto breakup of the country, as the precedent is established that the solution to the conflict is sectarian cleansing.

Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to provide military aid to the peshmerga, and bombing Islamic state positions in Syria and Iraq, with attendant civilian casualties. Danny Sjursen in TomDispatch wargames it for you, assuming that what you want to do is lose. Excerpt:

 As a start, you would drop an enlarged, conventional army into Iraq and/or Syria. This would offer a giant red, white, and blue target for all those angry, young radicalized men just dying (pardon the pun) to extinguish some new “crusader” force.  It would serve as an effective religious-nationalist rallying cry (and target) throughout the region.

Then you would create a news-magnet of a ban (or at least the appearance of one) on immigrants and visitors of every sort from predominantly Muslim countries coming to the United States.  It’s hardly an accident that ISIS has taken to calling the president’s proposed executive order to do just that “the blessed ban” and praising Donald Trump as the “best caller to Islam.”  Such actions only confirm the extremist narrative: that Muslims are unwelcome in and incompatible with the West, that liberal plurality is a neo-imperial scam.

Finally, you would feed the common perception in the region that Washington’s support for Israel and assorted Arab autocrats is unconditional.  To do so, you would go out of your way to hold fawning public meetings with military strongmen like Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and suggest that, when it came to Israel, you were considering changing American policy when it comes to a two-state solution and the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine.  Such policies would feed another ISIS narrative: U.S. support for illiberal despots and the failure of the Arab Spring is proof that practicing Muslims and peaceful Islamists will never successfully gain power through the democratic process.


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