U.S. Options in Syria Don't Include Ground Troops

Writing in the Washington Post, neo-conservatives Reuel Gerecht and Ray Takeyh wrongheadedly propose to send U.S. ground troops to fight Iran and its proxies in Iran and Syria:

It is way past time for Washington to stoke the volcano under Tehran and to challenge the regime on the limes of its Shiite empire. This will be costly and will entail the use of more American troops in both Syria and Iraq. But if we don’t do this, we will not see an end to the sectarian warfare that nurtures jihadists. We will be counting down the clock on the nuclear accord, waiting for advanced centrifuges to come on line. As with the Soviet Union vs. Ronald Reagan, to confront American resolution, the mullahs will have to pour money into their foreign ventures or suffer humiliating retreat.

They're nuts. The last thing the US should do is commit ground forces.

It isn't Iran that we would be fighting: It's an international mercenary army that already includes thousands of fighters recruited from the three million Hazara Afghans now seeking refuge in Iran, from the persecuted Pakistani Shi'ites who comprise a fifth of that country's huge population, and elsewhere. As I reported recently in Asia Times:

The IRGC’s foreign legions include volunteers from Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Shi’ites are an oppressed minority often subject to violent repression by the Sunni majority. IRGC-controlled forces include the Fatemiyoun Militia recruited mainly from Shi’ite Hazara refugees from Afghanistan, with reported manpower of perhaps 12,000 to 14,000 fighters, of whom 3,000 to 4,000 are now in Syria. Iranians also command the Zeinabiyoun militia composed of Pakistani Shi’ites, with perhaps 1,500 fighters in Syria.

The manpower pool from which these fighters are drawn is virtually bottomless. The war has already displaced half of Syria's 22 million people, and Iran plans to replace Sunnis with Shi'ite immigrants in order to change the demographic balance. The Sunni side of the conflict has become globalized with fighters from the Russian Caucasus, China's Xinjiang Province, as well as Southeast Asia.

The U.S. State Department last year estimated that 40,000 foreign fighters from 100 countries were in Syria; Russia cited a figure of 30,000. Whatever the number is today, it would not be difficult to add a zero to it.

Russia and China, as I explained in the cited Asia Times essay, blame the U.S. for opening the Pandora's Box of Sunni radicalism by destroying the Iraqi State and supporting majority (that is, Shi'ite) rule in Iraq. Sadly, they are broadly correct to believe so. Thanks to the advice of Gerecht and his co-thinkers at the Weekly Standard and Commentary, the Bush administration pushed Iraq's and Syria's Sunnis into the hands of non-state actors like al-Qaeda and ISIS.