Monday, July 3, 2017

U.S. Risks Escalation in the Middle East

I'm not that worried about it. I'd say the paleocon obsession with isolationism is bad for American vital interests.

And I'm pleased by Trump's foreign policy approach thus far, as it's not tied down to alt-right dogmas (to the everlasting condemnation of the alt-right idiots).

At the Los Angeles Times, "'The closer we get, the more complex it gets.' White House struggles on strategy as Islamic State nears defeat in Iraq and Syria":
With American-backed ground forces poised to recapture Mosul in Iraq and Raqqah in Syria, Islamic State’s de facto capitals, U.S. commanders are confident they soon will vanquish the militant group from its self-declared caliphate after three years of fighting.

But the White House has yet to define strategy for the next step in the struggle to restore stability in the region, including key decisions about safe zones, reconstruction, nascent governance, easing sectarian tensions and commitment of U.S. troops.

Nor has the Trump administration set policy for how it will confront forces from Iran and Russia, the two outside powers that arguably gained the most in the bitter conflict — and that now are hoping to collect the spoils and expand their influence.

Iran, in particular, is pushing to secure a land corridor from its western border across Iraq and Syria and up to Lebanon, where it supports Hezbollah militants, giving it a far larger foothold in the turbulent region.

“Right now everyone is positioned” for routing Islamic State “without having the rules of the road,” said Michael Yaffe, a former State Department envoy for the Middle East who is now vice president of the Middle East and Africa center at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “That’s a dangerous situation.”

The risk of a broader confrontation was clear in recent weeks when a U.S. F/A-18 shot down a Syrian fighter jet for the first time in the multi-sided six-year war, provoking an angry response from Russia, which supports Syrian President Bashar Assad.

U.S. warplanes also destroyed two Iranian-made drone aircraft, although it’s not clear who was flying them. The Pentagon said all the attacks were in self-defense as the aircraft approached or fired on American forces or U.S.-backed Syrian fighters.

“What I worry about is the muddled mess scenario,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former senior State Department official who now heads the Middle East program at the nonpartisan Center for a New American Security. “When you start shooting down planes and running into each other, it quickly goes up the escalation ladder.”

The clashes occurred in eastern Syria, where Russian-backed Syrian and Iranian forces are pushing against U.S. special operations forces and U.S.-backed Syrian opposition fighters trying to break Islamic State’s hold on the Euphrates River valley south of Raqqah and into Iraq.

Except for a few towns, Islamic State still controls the remote area, and U.S. officials fear the militants could regroup there and plan future attacks. Many of the group’s leaders and operatives have taken shelter in Dair Alzour province...
Still more.