The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Bombing, Air Power, and “Winning” in Syria

Let us speak today of what should be done if someone wanted to actually bring peace to Syria.

First: Airpower not in support of ground troops is largely, though not entirely, worthless. This has been demonstrated over and over again since, and including during, World War II. It does not significantly degrade the your opponent’s fighting ability, and disproportionately harms civilians.

So, if you want to do something even remotely productive or effective in Syria, you need ground troops.

However, foreign ground troops have not been able to bring peace to Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s safe to say that Western ground troops, while good at open field battle, are terrible at creating peace. The reason for that is too long to go into, but let’s not pretend otherwise; there is an extensive track record.

Right now, the French are bombing abandoned buildings in Raqqa (doing nothing of significance).  If they actually tried to bomb ISIS they would kill civilians, a non-productive response to ISIS killing French civilians.

So, air power must be used in support of ground troops. The other consideration, if you want to defeat ISIS, is that you have to support its enemies. This means supporting the Syrian army, Hezbollah, the Kurds, Iran, and Iraqi troops.

Notice that this is essentially the strategy Russia is pursuing.

You also can’t play both, or all sides. Being against Assad and against ISIS, and allied with Turkey, who hates the Kurds and bombs them (when the Kurds are some of the most effective people fighting ISIS) is crazy.

Make an alliance and stick with it.

The West is caught between multiple allies with different interests. The Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel all want Assad gone, for different reasons.

But Assad wasn’t executing terrorist attacks in France, was he? Nor was he bombing those nations who have supported ISIS and various al-Qaeda affiliates, the people who are sponsoring attacks in the West.

Strategic confusion is the core problem. The West wants to eat its cake and have it too. The people who are fighting ISIS are people the West mostly doesn’t want to support, the people supplying ISIS are mostly people the West regards as allies.

The West is confused. Does it want ISIS (and al-Qaeda) defeated more than it wants to be rid of Assad or not?

This is a choice which must be made. The West can’t have both.

(Nov 18: Article corrected to indicate French bombing empty facilities.)

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  1. V. Arnold

    Winning? There is no winning, only posturing and advantage; and the price for that is far too high, because the price is blood. Whose doesn’t matter…

  2. V. Arnold

    I woke up this morning to a world gone insane; the Paris attacks have all the hallmarks of a false flag attack.
    Islamophobia ravages the western world like a black plague.
    As previously stated; there is no winning this; but losing is as sure the sun will rise…

  3. Peter*

    Interesting logic, IW you recommend that the US should abandon thousands of secular rebels in Syria to Assad’s torture camps because Assad only butchers his own people and not the more valuable European citizen that the Islamic State aims its reprisals at.

    If the weak Syrian Army and the more powerful Syrian Rebels are to fight the IS Assad must be removed before this alliance could happen, if it even could happen. Iran, Hezbollah and their sectarian mercenaries would certainly have to leave also.

    The Kurds have made some local gains and one successful defense with US air support but their first attempt to attack al-Raqqa ended in humiliating defeat and retreat so I wouldn’t count on them outside of their homeland.

  4. Lisa

    Peter* You haven’t got the memo yet, the west is no longer calling for Assad to go ‘as a precondiction…..’. And no one believes in the Unicorns any longer, those ‘moderate jihadists’. Memo to handler: you need up to date propaganda.

    The ‘Syrian Rebels’, like the ‘Army of God’ are all Salafists (like Al Nasra) ..every single one wants to bring Shria law to Syria… and the Shiites, non Salafist Sunnis (the majority) , Christians, Alawites, etc are doomed under any of them.

    The ‘weak Syrian Army’ is, with Iranian, Hebollah and Russian support, steadily clawing back territory from the so called ‘ more powerful Syrian Rebels’.

    Yes the plan to have the flags of IS, Al Nasra and the rest flying over Damascus, the streets running red with ‘non believers’ blood, 10 million refugees moving while Turkey and Israel grab territory …is over. The Russians have killed that mad idea.

    With 20:20 hindstight we can see that the Syrian Army had pulled back for some months to retrain, resupply and be reinforced before the new coordinated offensive.

    Within the next 3 months the border with Turkey will be closed, cutting of supplies and reinforecments and all the western Syrian territory wil have been recaptured from the Jihadists. The next stage, the long encirclement of IS will depend of whether Iraq dumps the west and fully joins the coalition, or the west stops playing stupid games and gets with the party.

  5. De castro

    Its simple
    Withdraw all military personnel from the region and IS will implode….
    Now Obama has “changed” his military objective (whatever that was ?)
    his mighty 9000+ troops will remain in Afghanistan.
    Did not the Russians withdraw with their “tails between their legs”!

    Our world is suffering from “premature senile dementure”….our memories
    have become a “click” away.
    Sad sad dysfunctional world.

  6. rkka

    “Interesting logic, IW you recommend that the US should abandon thousands of secular rebels in Syria to Assad’s torture camps…”

    Unicorns are not threatened by Assad’s torture camps, because unicorns don’t exist. And recall that Preznit Dumbya Shrub was happy to rendition folks to Assad’s torture camps.

    USG has been backing gibbering Wahabi lunatics against secular Arab governments since, like, the Eisenhower Administration, so we know very well who they aid.

    “If the weak Syrian Army and the more powerful Syrian Rebels are to fight the IS Assad must be removed before this alliance could happen, if it even could happen. Iran, Hezbollah and their sectarian mercenaries would certainly have to leave also. ”

    With Russian air support, the abovementioned ground forces are making progress against the gibbering Wahabi lunatics.

  7. McNair

    I love your articles. I enjoy your passion as I share that with you and your insights are helpful. I would like to simply mention that western airstrikes are precision strikes. There were no reported civilian deaths in French strikes on Raqqa. However, I absolutely agree that these strikes do very little and only support a call to arms and actions from both sides, which will only increase power and casualties. The idea that proper alliances is a good one. I just hope we can do it without increasing the firepower of IS any more than we have.

  8. EGrise

    Spot on, @Lisa. I understand that the only thing delaying the Syrian army’s advance are the TOW anti-tank missiles we gave to the rebels. Once they run out (and we stop giving them more) it should just be a matter of time.

  9. Ian Welsh

    Nah, actually, they’re bombing abandoned facilities currently occupied by neither fighers nor civilians. This isn’t precision bombing, it’s pointless bombing (though some civilian infra appears to be being destroyed).

    Article corrected. My bad for assuming France was doing more than pretend bombing.

  10. different clue

    If the Syrian Arab Republic loses the war, the various “alphabet rebels” including the ohhhh-soooo-mmmmmoderate “FSA” will ethnicleanse or exterminate a couple million Alawites, whatever Christians remain, as many Kurds as they can get away with, etc. Someone is going to win in Syria. That someone is going to win by making every other someone lose. Whose ultimate victory offers the least destructive after-victory imposition-of-order and reconstruction? Assad’s. That’s whose.

    Hollande, Obama, etc. have a binary choice. They are either with Assad, or they are with the terrorists. If they are with the terrorists, one can only hope that the R + 6 can defeat, crush and exterminate all the jihadists of every flavor and every alphabet soup designation before Obama, Hollande, and the other members and supporters of the Axis of Jihad can support their pet jihadis (of whatEVER alphabet-soup label) to conquer and destroy Syria. Pray not one jihadista survives. Let us wish Assad and Putin every success in seeing to it.

  11. Tom

    France is to vote to lift sanctions against Russia and French and Russian ships are sailing together.

    Putin sure worked fast to capitalize on the Paris attack to score points off Obama and peel France into his corner.

  12. Jeff Wegerson

    @Tom Well somebody worked fast. Rather I think it was Hollande deciding to change his tune and capitalize on “Hey aren’t there some Russians hanging out over there?” Putin “just happened to be” in the right place at the right time. Right. Just happened to be.

  13. Peter*

    Despite al the flag waving and circle-jerk aerial ejaculations neither France, the US or Russia seem to have the stones to actually fight the Islamic State on the ground in their territory. The war porn sites continue to salivate over The Russians Are Coming, to Syria but the Russians can’t or won’t produce the troops to do this dying for their entertainment much as they didn’t in Ukraine.

    This impotence could change but they all saw what happened to the US occupation forces in Iraq when a much smaller, weaker ISI inflicted deadly vengeance on the Infidel.

    The Western/Russian farce attempt to stop the fighting against Assad, so the ground forces in Syria could fight the IS, have again collapsed because the rebel forces will never submit to Assad’s rule so the Axis of Resistance is and will be bogged down fighting the Army of Conquest and the pipe-dream of a united force will be buried under the destruction of barrel bombs.

  14. SnarkyShark

    Barrel Bombs, blah blah blah, The cry of those who have nothing. In the first Gulf war we bulldozed troops in their trenches, we burned Falujia with willy pete in the second. Depleted uranium anybody? Apologists for the Western Imperial machine have no moral standing at all, so who cares about barrel bombs. Constantly repeating that phrase only marks you as a non self aware specific kind of ideologue. Kind of a self-belling of the cat.

  15. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    If I were a betting man, I’d start a pool on what day Peter Asterisk converts to Wahhabism and joins ISIS. 😈

  16. different clue


    The West has precisely zero to contribute directly to the anti-ISIS effort. Ian Welsh has correctly made that point. The only good thing the West can do is to stop opposing and undermining the group of R + 6. Russia/SAR/ Hezbollah/Iran/the Kurds will provide all the boots on the ground, thank you very much. Western boots bring nothing good to the Middle East.

    What the West CAN do, if the Evil Overlords who currently run the Western Governments can be somehow tortured into leaving the Axis of Jihad . . . is to punish and pressure and torture Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar into embargoing and stopping all support to their jihadis on the ground in Syria. If the Frontline Axis-of-Jihad states can be forced to abandon their pet mascot liver-eaters, the R + 6 will do the rest.

  17. Peter*


    The Syria conflict is confusing enough without adding more Axis designations. The Iranians, Hezbollah, SAA, Iraqi/Afghan militias and now the Russians fight under the self adopted, however clueless, Axis of Resistance banner. Hezbollah and the militias are also fighting under the Shia Islamist Jihad banner just as many of the Sunni rebels do under their Jihad banner in opposition to Assad and the foreign troops aiding him. R+6 is a not too clever attempt by Col Mustard to assist the historically clueless Iranians in avoiding their Axis designation.

    The Axis forces were doing poorly, read losing territory, until the Russian intervention and even with massive Russian bombing they have only made modest gains against the Army of Conquest and other rebel groups while the Islamic State has made some gains and disrupted the offensive and routed the Kurds. The Axis forces haven’t shown the ability to defeat the AOC forces alone and the IS forces have routed them in every battle until recently so without more foreign troops this conflict is unlikely to change much.

    The Islamic State has been methodically baiting the West and now Russia to send in ground troops but none of these powerful leaders have the stones to face the political costs of large numbers of their soldiers returning home in body bags.

  18. Lisa

    The US and the rest of the Coaliion of the Terminally Insane (CoTI) have never wanted to beat IS, they have tried to channel it. Leave the Kurds alone (big Israeli interests there) no further in Iraq itelf and attack and win in Syrian.

    If IS go too far ‘off reservation’ they get some token bombs on them, if they do what is wanted ..nothing ..and arms supplies miraculously ramp up to them. Carrots and sticks.

    The US ‘strategy’ has been for some time now to sign up with the Saudi/Turkey Sunni Wahabbi domintion of the ME. Syria to be split apart into expanded Turkish and Israeli territory, IS/AN/etc in the rest. Rivers of blood as the IS/AN/etc slaughter the Christians/Sunnis/Shiites/etc , 10 million or so refugees. Mission accomplished.

    Ideally IS/etc then go into Lebanon (killing/clearing the 2+million people there to clear the way for the Israelis) and the Caucus attacking and breaking up the Russian Federation.

    Of course they are all mad, IS (etc) has its own plans and meekly handing over territory to the Israelis and Turks is not one of them. Thousands of IS (etc) controlled Syrian missles raining on Tel Aviv is far more likely.

    Will the US change its policy…nope until its ‘handlers’ do. It’s ME policy is owned by SA/Israel/Turks. hence Russia’s diplomacy with said counties to change their direction, when they do then the US will meekly follow.

  19. Jeff Wegerson

    Merkel and Putin got to Obama. They promised him plausible deniability. Hollande needed a bit more persuasion. The German intelligence set up the Paris false flag. That has done it, he is now on board.

    Europe has needed to cut itself free of the U.S. The part of the U.S. that some here call the “deep state”, that is the alliance of the neo-conservatves and the neo-liberals. The Ukraine was the U.S. attempt to cut Russia out of Europe. Europe with Russia does not need the U.S.

    The final straw for Europe was the flooding of Syrian refugees through Turkey. The Paris false-flag will turn off that valve.

    Obama, meanwhile is a European fifth column in the U.S. He refuses new adventures and has worked to restore relations with Iran and Cuba, anathema to the D.S. crowd.

    Russia does not need a “win” in Syria. A stale-mate will do. The Sauds are going nuts. The oil gambit, the Yemen quagmire and complex internal regime politics are doing it in. Turkey can still shift but might not before it’s too late. Israel is in deep shit (D.S.) Nothing will happen to Israel, it will just continue it slow inevitable decline into its worst nightmare, irrelevance.

    The world-wide petro-economy is disintegrating before our eyes. None of the players know what is happening anymore, nor how to fix it. Except maybe Germany. Clean energy is changing all the rules.

  20. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    I seem to recall a nasty Charlie Chaplin lookalike who also thought the Russians, French, British, and Americans “didn’t have the stones to face large numbers of their soldiers returning home in body bags,” so he started a war.

    Where is he now? 😈

    Come to think of it, “Charlie” also thought there were too many people on the planet and some of them needed to just die already–though unlike Asterisk Dude, old “Charlie” was specific about which ethnic groups he wanted the future corpses to come from, whereas Asterisk Dude doesn’t seem to be choosy.

  21. Peter*


    All that pecking is damaging your comprehension of history. You seem to forget the US only entered the WW2 fray after the Japanese attack because of the same and other local political calculations. The other folks had no choice and were effectively neutered and only the USSR was able to regroup with any real power.

    The conflict today is another matter with only Muslim countries, and a bit of Europe, under dispute and the West is the Imperialist power being confronted along with the Western imposed nation states. Todays lesser leaders are not intervening to free people from foreign invaders but to re-impose Western and now Russian control over Muslims.

    The * , that so upsets you, is there simply to avoid confusion, there is another Peter commenting here.

    You still seem to be paranoid about being on some list I might make, there must be some guilt behind that fear.

  22. V. Arnold

    @ Peter*

    Re: IBWP
    He’s been here over the years with more monikers than I can count. He’s delusional in thinking just changing one’s name is a new Id, but the personality never changes…

  23. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    Asterisk Dude confuses guilt with contempt.

    In at least one previous blogpost response list, he has called for the death of what would have to be millions, if not billions, of human beings for the sake of his anti-human ideology. The 20th Century was infested with such villains, differing only in their specific excuses for mass murder.

    Any normal person would loathe his views, and I’m not nearly saintly enough to keep my contempt for his views from becoming contempt for him. To that, I plead guilty–not that it matters any, since my contempt will never affect him adversely.

    However, since no normal person would agree with an ideology in which he or she stood a good chance of being marked for liquidation for the sake of Mommie Dearest Nature, his contempt for the majority of his peers will never affect me adversely, either–since he’ll never convince enough people to agree with him.

    So, I wish him a long and healthy life, if a politically powerless one.


    As for VA, I pity him if he drops anything–he’ll have a hard time bending over or squatting down and picking it up with that broomstick up his… :mrgreen:

  24. Lisa

    Some of the best coverage on Syria has been from the Moons of Alabahma, this and the associated Consortium News and Symour Hersh links prett much sums it all up.

    Remember my statement above? “The US ‘strategy’ has been for some time now to sign up with the Saudi/Turkey Sunni Wahabbi domintion of the ME.”.

    Consortium News and Seymour Hersh snippets:
    ” “This time, the U.S. government consultant told me,” wrote Seymour Hersh, “Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that ‘they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists.
    Their message to us was “We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.” It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at— [they should throw them at] Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians – [should] they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.’”

    “Cheney and his team nevertheless were intrigued by Bandar’s ideas for Syria, but remained cautious: “We need to do everything possible to destabilize the Syrian regime and exploit every single moment they strategically overstep.” ”

    ” 2007, David Wurmser (former adviser to Cheney and John Bolton) confirmed, “that [this] would include the willingness to escalate as far as we need to go to topple the [Syrian] regime if necessary.” He said that “an end to Baathist rule in Damascus could trigger a domino effect that would then bring down the Teheran regime.””

    “Bandar had boasted of his ability to manage the jihadists: “Leave that aspect to me.” Cheney’s then National Security Adviser, John Hannah, later noted the consensus at the time: “Bandar working without reference to U.S. interests is clearly cause for concern. But Bandar working as a partner … against a common Iranian enemy is a major strategic asset.””

    “The Syrian conflict was becoming, in character, increasingly jihadist, just as General Flynn was warning – as early as 2012.”

    “President Obama: And it is our estimation that [President Bashar al-Assad’s] days are numbered. It’s a matter not of if, but when. Now, can we accelerate that? We’re working with the world community to try to do that. “

    Latest MoA:
    In the time honoured US way of claiming all the credit for what others do:

    “The U.S. military spokesperson speaks on camera about U.S. airforce hits against the Islamic State. The video cuts to footage taken by Russian airplanes hitting oil tanks and then trucks. The voice-over while showing the Russian video with the Russians blowing up trucks says: “For the first time the U.S. is attacking oil delivery trucks.” The video then cuts back to the U.S. military spokesperson.”

    “And while new research reveals extensive cooperation between NATO member and U.S. ally Turkey and the Islamic State the U.S. is asking for more cooperation with Turkey to shuffle more weapons into the Syria conflict and thereby, inevitably, also to the Islamic State. ….

    But Kuwait just arrested a gang that was smuggling weapons from the new U.S. client state Ukraine to the Islamic State

    “Does all this sound like the U.S. is really campaigning against the Islamic State? Or is this whole campaign just as fraudulent as the PBS video and Obama’s proclamations? “”

  25. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    Thanks a fornicating heap to the Five Injustices of the 2000 Supreme Court, for their gift which just keeps on giving–THE USA AND THE WHOLE WORLD HELL. 👿

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