Noah Rothman keys on a WSJ report outlining what the allies are — and are not — striking in Syria. Namely, we’re avoiding hitting IS’ captured oil fields.
“[CBS News reporter David] Martin says 12 small-scale oil refineries were hit in the eastern desert of Syria,” a CBS report revealed. “According to the Pentagon, the refineries produced between 300 and 500 barrels of petroleum a day, which ISIS used to power its own vehicles and to sell on the black market, bringing in up to $2 million every day in revenue.”
So, one would expect that revenue stream to have been vitiated if not entirely destroyed, right? Not so fast.
“Officials said the strikes wouldn’t target fixed oil fields, a precaution intended to minimize the potential for environmental damage,” The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday. “The U.S. instead targeted small capacity mobile refineries used by Islamic State around northeastern Raqqa province and other locations in eastern Syria, officials said.”
Which largely leaves ISIS’ major revenue stream intact. They are using the oil from those fields both for their own purposes and to sell on the black market — chiefly, Turkey — to raise funds. A lot of funds. About $2 million per day. ISIS is believed to have about $1 billion on hand. The current strategy amounts to kicking an ant hill but not putting any poison on it to kill the queen.
If we are avoiding destroying ISIS’ oil-basket, it would represent a decisive break from US strategy in previous wars. In both world wars, Vietnam and to a lesser extent in the two wars in Iraq, US forces targeted infrastructure in order to cripple the enemy’s economy. We bombed everything from highways to railways to power grids and fuel refineries and depots, to break the enemy’s ability to wage war. The more we focused on disrupting the enemy’s economy, the more damage we did to the enemy’s ability to wage war against us.
In Syria, we are apparently already counting the chicken before the egg has hatched.
US, Saudis & UAE, Kirby says, trying to blow up ISIS-held oil refineries w/o destroying a potential future $ source for post-Assad Syria
— Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) September 25, 2014
There is no guarantee that there will be a “post-Assad Syria.” It’s a near certainty that if there is, the lack of US forces on the ground means that we will have little to no say in who succeeds him. We’re heading for Libya 2.0 as a best-case scenario at this point. Obama’s promise not to ever put any American boots on the ground to fight ISIS means that others will determine Syria’s future should Assad ever fall. Our absence means that Iran or another Islamist group or power, perhaps Turkey, perhaps anarchy, will choose who follows Assad. But it won’t be the United States.
And if you’re an ISIS commander, the safest place for you to be is now one of the most strategically valuable spots on the map. Park yourself near an oil field and US forces won’t touch you.
The war against ISIS is a just war that is being run very stupidly.