Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hillary on ISIS

The Council on Foreign Relations has the full transcript, A Conversation With Hillary Clinton 11/19/2015. Oddly, it includes the full text twice.

Her opening description of Daesh/ISIS sounds like standard war propaganda:

Now, let’s be clear about what we’re facing. Beyond Paris, in recent days, we’ve seen deadly terrorist attacks in Nigeria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey, and a Russian civilian airline destroyed over the Sinai. At the heat of today’s new landscape of terror is ISIS. They persecute religious and ethnic minorities, kidnap and behead civilians, murder children. They systematically enslave, torture, and rape women and girls. ISIS operates across three mutually reinforcing dimensions—a physical enclave in Iraq and Syria, an international terrorist network that includes affiliates across the region and beyond, and an ideological movement of radical jihadism. We have to target and defeat all three.

And time is of the essence. ISIS is demonstrating new ambition, reach, and capabilities. We have to break the group’s momentum, and then its back. Our goal is not to deter or contain ISIS but to defeat and destroy ISIS.
There has understandably been a lot of coverage of Clinton's speech, like: Maddy Crowell, Hillary Clinton calls for increase in US air strikes against ISIS (+video) Christian Science Monitor 11/19/2015; Samantha Lachman, Hillary Clinton Proposes Intensified American Effort 'To Defeat And Destroy' ISIS Huffington Post 11/19/2015.

She said things here and there from which Democratic base voters could take some encouragement. I'm not sure this was one of them: "Like President Obama, I do not believe that we should again have 100,000 American troops in combat in the Middle East."

Great, she doesn't want to commit more than 99,000 combat troops. Until things go south for them, of course, and then a new Surge will be necessary to preserve American credibility, yadda, yadda. After a few decades, these phrases get to sound very tiresome. And familiar.

She talked about the political choices in the situation. For instance:

We need to put sustained pressure on the government in Baghdad to gets its political house in order, move forward with national reconciliation, and finally, stand up a national guard. Baghdad needs to accept, even embrace, arming Sunni and Kurdish forces in the war against ISIS. But if Baghdad won’t do that, the coalition should do so directly.

On the Syrian side, the big obstacle to getting more ground forces to engage ISIS beyond the Syrian Kurds, who are already deep in the fight is that the viable Sunni opposition groups remain understandably preoccupied with fighting Assad, who, let us remember, has killed many more Syrians than the terrorists have. But they are increasingly under threat from ISIS as well, so we need to move simultaneously toward a political solution to the civil war that paves the way for a new government with new leadership, and to encourage more Syrians to take on ISIS as well.
Nothing that she says seems to make it clear what side we would actually be supporting. Clearly not the Assad regime in Syria. She wants to support the Kurds up to a point, i.e., not to the point of establishing a Kurdistan state carved out of Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

And she doesn't want to make nice with Iran, which is an ally of both the Iraqi government and Assad. In response to a question after her main statement, she mentioned the Al-Qaeda affiliate the Al-Nusra Front, that is also fighting against ISIS and Assad in Syria. But she said the fight against ISIS should be the priority. The question period also includes this exchange:

ZAKARIA: So no fight—no fight against Assad for now?

CLINTON: There—we have to prioritize. And we had an opportunity, perhaps—I won’t say that it would have worked. But right now, we’ve got the Russians in protecting Assad, the Iranians, and Hezbollah protecting Assad. We need to get people to turn against the common enemy of ISIS. And then we need to figure out how we put together a political outcome that provides enough autonomy so that the separate immunities [sic] within Syria will be able to recreate a Syrian state, even though it probably is unlikely it will be controlled by the Alawites from Damascus, the same way it was before the civil war started.
This sounds like a mighty muddle to me. Clinton wants military escalation. But she doesn't seem to have any clear plan for what a desirable or acceptable political outcome would be. This doesn't sound good to me.

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