Jeff Shesol in The New Yorker:
This is the central irony of Obama’s speech—and, it must be said, of his approach. The caution that he has shown, the time that he has taken to reach a decision, are admirable and wise; the course of action that he has set out is, despite its increasing scope, narrowly targeted. (This is no war on terror or on radical Islam.) Even so, as he acknowledged last night, “we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves.” And there is, at this point, little to suggest that Iraqis can do much of anything for themselves but continue their slide into mutual mistrust and retributive violence. The security forces that Obama has now pledged to train, equip, and advise are seen, by many Sunnis, as a force of subjugation; Shiite militias, empowered by the previous Iraqi government and backed by Iran, have terrorized the population we intend to protect. The situation in Syria is less promising still. The anti-Assad rebels there have been unable to keep their weapons out of the hands of ISIS, which does raise the question: which side will be we arming?
Of the many, many World War III novels, the best was easily Ralph Peters’s Red Army. The stories of men at war were gripping. The fact that they were told entirely from the Soviet point of view turned the entire ’80s technothriller genre on its head. Brilliantly conceived stuff, and written by an author who never lets the weapons get in the way of telling all-too-human stories.
I bring this up because of a scene late in the book which applies to today’s madness in Iraq and Syria. The Soviets are having considerable success blitzing across the North German Plain and towards the Rhine, but risks remain for General Malinsky, CINC of First Western Front, where the bulk of the fighting (and all of the book’s action) takes place. The location of US Army’s VII Corps, the most powerful large formation in NATO or the Warsaw Pact, remains a mystery — and Malinsky’s left flank is badly exposed. Also, his intelligence unit has decrypted panicked talk in Bonn about giving permission for the release of NATO’s tactical nuclear arsenal.
Upon hearing that news, Malinsky doesn’t hesitate to give his next order, which I’ll paraphrase here.
“Bottle the NATO armies up in the cities of West Germany, and let them rattle their nuclear swords. They won’t dare launch when all of my retaliatory targets are mixed up with the civilian population in their precious cities.”
In a sense though, that’s also what we’re doing with IS/Caliphate. If they move on the desert roads, as Spengler has correctly noted, our drones and warplanes will make quick work of them. IS/Caliphate won’t be able to move, but they will be bottled up nicely in the cities and towns of central Mesopotamia, mixed up with the civilian population — exactly where they want to be, and exactly where we dare not bomb them.
It takes boots on the ground to pull those weeds out of urban areas, which is precisely the thing President Ditherton Wiggleroom has ruled out from the start.
We’ll bomb, we’ll kill some bad guys, and I’m all for it. But hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of Syrians and Iraqis will remain prisoners of IS/Caliphate, and their own governments have shown little skill or appetite for freeing them.