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Syria: The Wisdom, or Waste, of ‘Boots on the Ground’ in Iraq and Syria | 08/10/14
by John Brian Shannon
President Barack Obama has charted a wise course with regards to the developing terrorist situation in Iraq and Syria, thus far neither committing too much nor too little in an attempt to mitigate the threat posed by ISIS to the U.S.A.
A lack of reaction to the threat might have emboldened the terrorist entity known as ISIS or ISIL, while overreacting may have turned every American voter against the President and his party which would have been incredibly bad timing with midterm elections just weeks ahead.
Rather than veer to either extreme, Obama has pursued a unified effort aiming to build a broad-based coalition to fight ISIS with airpower in Iraq and Syria. And he has succeeded in building that broad-based effort.
It is a mature response to a rising threat which could, conceivably, cause harm to America, someday
So far, the threat from ISIS is 95% ‘smoke’ and 5% ‘fire’ as ISIS seems content with murdering it’s own countrymen and women. It’s true, that could change in the future. But the President must react to what is real and present now — not to ‘sky is falling’ scenarios — that may or may not ever occur.
Addressing ISIS with a measured response and a ramping-up humanitarian aid as Mr. Obama has done has taken much of the wind out of the sails of ISIS, which had been poised to loudly accuse the West of being the biggest bully on the block, of killing huge numbers of civilians in major air campaigns and street-to-street fighting and of wreaking wholesale destruction in the region.
While the President has skillfully charted a middle course, the expected cry of; ‘We need Boots on the Ground to contain and destroy ISIS’ is becoming louder by the week.
The political hawks can barely contain their excitement — imagining all of the additional capability that ‘boots on the ground’ could add to the fight against ISIS in Iraq and in Syria! They could name it; Operation Déjà Vu.
So if all that, is so good; Why didn’t 10-years-worth-of ‘boots on the ground’ work in Iraq?
At the peak of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq, the United States alone had some 356,000 combat troops along with hundreds of warplanes and artillery pieces inside the country. Not to mention a formidable US Navy presence in the Persian Gulf that fired hundreds of Tomahawk missiles into Iraq from positions in the Gulf.
But ten years of combat, $1 trillion dollars, and 4487 deaths/32,223 wounded, didn’t solve the terrorist threat in Iraq. Now it’s worse than ever. The very definition of failure
Yet, the cry of; ‘We need Boots on the Ground in Iraq and Syria to deal with the growing terrorist threat’ persist! What is it with some people? A failed policy, is a failed policy, is a failed policy — and you can shoot the messenger all you want — but at the end of the day it’s still a failed policy!
Raise your hand if you honestly think that yet another 10 years of war, another $1 trillion dollars and another 5000 U.S. troop deaths/32,000 wounded, will solve the ISIS problem for good
If you put up your hand, go turn in your Drivers Licence and your gun permit right now — you are too dumb to drive a car and too dumb to own a gun. You’re not smarter than a 5th-grader! If you need help with any of this ask your kids.
It didn’t work the first time and it won’t work the second time. By the way, it didn’t work in Afghanistan either. There are thousands more terrorists there now too
Out of a handful of bad choices, President Obama has, so far, chosen the least-bad choice. We should give him credit for that.
Continually degrading ISIS capabilities, ramping-up humanitarian aid and dramatically increasing diplomatic and other ‘soft power’ efforts, is the long-term solution to this long-term problem. Increasing awareness and investigation of suspect individuals here in the West is also an important step.
Military power can only solve military problems — and the rise of Islamism is not a military problem.
But we’ve got all of these bombs, we might as well use them!
The problem with that — is that every time you kill 1 person in war, you make 250 new enemies. That’s right, each person on the planet is acquainted with or is related to, 250 other people on average. When you drop a bomb, lob a shell, or fire a few hundred bullets — and thereby kill 100 people — you’ve just made 25,000 new enemies.
If you drop a lot of bombs and kill 100,000 people (regardless if they’re terrorists or innocent casualties) each 1 of them have 250 friends and families — living somewhere in the world — and you’ve just made 25 million new enemies.
That’s the way it is with bombs, shells, and bullets. And friends and family, by the way.
Which is why war — that is, killing people who disagree with you politically — is always a bad idea and should be reserved for the most extreme of emergencies and only in actual cases of self-defence.
By some counts, the original coalition is responsible for the deaths of between 654,965 people (The Lancet) and 1,033,000 people (ORB International) during the Iraq War (all of whom likely had the global average of 250 family and friends each) and we’re scratching our heads here in the West wondering why those bad ‘ol Iraqis and Syrians hate us.
Here’s the math on that:
654,965 X 250 family and friends each = 163,741,250 (using the Lancet’s Iraq War body count total)
1,033,000 X 250 family and friends each = 258,250,000 (using ORB International’s Iraq War body count total)
Why would we want to add to those numbers? Why would we want to get another 4,500 US military members killed? Why would we want to spend another $1 trillion dollars?
What reason is good enough? I’d like to know and so would a lot of people. You can call those people ‘taxpayers’ or ‘voters’ — your choice
We can keep ISIS down to a dull roar via the use of airpower, by negating their anti-Western propaganda effort through enhanced humanitarian aid in the region, and by ‘boxing them in’ to a tiny region of the world via coalition-building in the West and especially with and among the Middle East nations.
We shouldn’t shrink back from prosecuting ISIS criminals in Iraqi or the International Court of Justice
Hey! We’re in the right. They’re acting against their particular nations’ laws, and quite possibly against international law. So, obviously, let’s stay on the right side of Iraqi and Syrian law — and on the right side of international law too! — and use the full force of the law against these illegal actors. Let’s make them feel like criminals, because, well, they are criminals.
The rest of the solution will come via aggressive and innovative diplomacy, by increasing the level and quality of intelligence sharing with Iraq, Syria, and neighbouring countries, as well as promoting the same between Middle East nations.
Soft Power will be the solution to the rising and long-term ISIS problem. Coalition airpower is merely buying us time, so that soft power efforts have time to ramp-up and begin showing some success.
If we can’t do it soon and do it well, all we are doing is wasting our bombs and creating more enemies for ourselves.
Syria: Map of ISIS and coalition action in Iraq and Syria Sept 30, 2014 | 30/09/14
by John Brian Shannon
- Formed out of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2013, IS first captured Raqqa in eastern Syria
- It captured broad swathes of Iraq in June, including Mosul, and declared a “caliphate” in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq
- Pursuing an extreme form of Sunni Islam, IS has persecuted non-Muslims such as Yazidis and Christians, as well as Shia Muslims, whom it regards as heretics
- Known for its brutal tactics, including beheadings of soldiers, Western journalists and aid workers
- The CIA says the group could have as many as 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria
The Dangers of GroupThink and Legal Precedent in International Law | 22/09/14
by John Brian Shannon
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a U.S. Senate hearing on Sept. 17 that in helping to defend Iraq, “you have a right of hot pursuit, you have a right to be able to attack those people who are attacking you as a matter of self-defense.” — Bloomberg
Which is great if it were true. But it’s not
ISIS, as odious as they are, aren’t attacking the U.S.A., nor have they staged any attacks inside America. Ergo, they’re not attacking us.
Consequently, we have no right to;
- Attack them (other than as requested by the Iraqi government)
- We do not have the right of ‘hot pursuit’
- And when they’ve yet to attack us, it’s hardly self-defense.
Although judging by the yelping about “the threat ISIS poses to America” you’d think that the whole eastern seaboard had been blown into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Yes, two Western journalists were beheaded. But they knew the rules better than anyone, they knew they were risking their lives for the story or their agency. They knew beforehand, nobody had to tell them. It’s the way it is with journalists all over the world.
Guess how many journalists have been killed covering stories since 1992? You may think only 5 or 10 — but you’d be wrong. It’s a very dangerous job to go walking around in a war zone.
That’s why 1,072 journalists have died on the job since 1992 and 39 are still missing
It’s a dangerous job, get it? And for what, a story? Not good enough. Really, what is worth losing your life over?
Two Western journalists beheaded, as horrible as that is, does not constitute grounds for war. It doesn’t pave the way “to be able to attack those people who are attacking you as a matter of self-defense.”
Two people, who knew the risks better than anyone took a risk that they decided that was a calculated risk, and they got caught in a war zone and paid the ultimate price. End of story.
Nothing we do now will bring them back
Conversely, what we do now may get many more journalists and civilians killed, especially the path that we suddenly find ourselves on — by going uninvited into Syria to bomb people — some of whom will be innocent people who get killed by Western bombs.
Is international Hot Pursuit legal?
While ‘hot pursuit’ is legal in maritime incidents under certain circumstances — there are no laws on the books permitting it across international boundaries on land. Now, that’s not to say that it hasn’t happened, because in a small number of developing countries it has happened. But that doesn’t make it legal.
And what’s more, we should take great care if we’re setting legal precedent via our actions.
One such action which is adding credence to (in slow motion) the setting of a legal precedent, is the principle of Preemptive War whereby we, based on scant evidence (and later found to be false evidence) peremptorily attacked Iraq to;
- Rid that country of WMD weapons that were targeting America (there were none)
- Capture the hundreds of terrorists that were in the country just waiting to attack America (there were none)
- Capture Saddam Hussein and put him on trial for the 9/11 attacks (which he had nothing to do with)
All the reasons for going to preemptive war in Iraq ultimately proved to be false — the U.S. Iraq Study Group said so — and its Chairman, Mr. Leon Panetta served the U.S. in many high-level capacities — including Director of CIA and Secretary of Defense. So you can take the U.S. Iraq Study Group findings to heart.
That about covers my opinion about Preemptive War.
The ‘Hot Pursuit’ of suspected criminals plying international waters is legal due to the UN Law of the Sea Treaty which all nations observe
It’s one thing for the Coast Guard or Navy ships to chase a ship engaged in illegal activity (either summary or felony offenses) in our waters — where during the course of the chase it leaves our waters and enters the waters of a second country. That is a widely recognized application of existing international law.
For example: In Washington State waters, under the existing Law of the Sea treaty (which all countries observe) if a suspect ship escapes into Canadian waters, the U.S. Coast Guard or the U.S. Navy may decide to continue the chase into Canadian waters to capture the suspect ship and its crew.
During such incidents, Canadian Navy or Canadian Coast Guard ships offer their assistance to the U.S. Navy or U.S. Coast Guard ships in Hot Pursuit — and the reverse is true when the Canadians are chasing scofflaws into U.S. waters. It’s a common thing.
And those are fine examples of the application of Hot Pursuit. And of international cooperation by the way. I’d like to see more of that sort of thing.
However, The Law of the Sea Treaty only covers the maritime environment and nowhere does it allow Hot Pursuit across land
My opinion about Hot Pursuit while crossing international land boundaries is that it’s illegal and in no way should we be attempting to set legal precedent — in a third country of all things.
It’s one thing if, in our own country we have a solid case whereby a known criminal has escaped and a police officer is pursuing that individual and the officers pursue the suspect across the border, *where one of the countries is our own country, and the other country is a neighbour country.*
That case can be made.
U.S. police chasing a criminal suspect into Canadian territory — everyone can wrap their heads around that. Canadian police chasing a suspect car into the U.S., is understandable. And that precedent has occurred and nobody minded. The official decision on the matter can be summed up in the following statement; “No harm, no foul.”
The same could eventually hold true with air chases. If a light plane was flying from U.S. airspace towards Canada with intent to crash the airplane into an office tower in Canada, it would be quite acceptable for the USAF to pursue that plane and force it down — even after the plane had managed to cross into Canadian airspace.
The United States should expect the same courtesy from the Royal Canadian Air Force were a light plane flying from Canadian airspace into the United States — whose pilot intended to crash into an American building or infrastructure.
But it’s a very different thing to *fly from one country where we’ve been granted permission to fly military missions, into another country where we haven’t been granted permission to fly military missions.*
Neither of those countries are our country. And that makes it a crime.
Not only that, we’ve hit just as many innocent people as criminals over the past 10 years in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and other nations.
It sets a terrible precedent. It besmirches the reputation of the U.S. and participating coalition member nations. And the whole situation works to prevent some very good precedents from getting a fair hearing. Perception is almost everything and if the public believes that preemptive war is unwise and that Hot Pursuit over land (in third countries) is unwise, then any good case for it is thereby greatly diminished.
There are good cases for ‘Hot Pursuit’ but Syria isn’t one of them
While France has joined the U.S. in airstrikes in Iraq, President Francois Hollande ruled out attacking in Syria.
“We’re very concerned with the aspects of international law,” Hollande said last week at a press conference. “We’ve been called in by the Iraqis; we’re not called in on Syria.” — Bloomberg.com
Secretary of State John Kerry’s assertion that somehow the Law of the Sea Treaty, or that the high level of security cooperation between Canada and the U.S., or that because it has rarely occurred in developing nations — allows the U.S. to drop bombs on poorly identified people in Syria (a country which we do not have permission to enter) is just not acceptable.
We wouldn’t allow India, Argentina, or Poland (although we ‘like’ all three countries) to engage in Hot Pursuit over United States airspace to shoot down a suspect aircraft, or to bomb suspected ISIS members inside the United States.
So, if we wouldn’t let them do that to us, why would we think we could do that to them, or any other country?
Other than Canada operating along its border with the U.S. and contributing to overall North American security, what country would you allow to pursue airborne criminals into the United States to shoot them down inside the United States? Would you allow Mexico? How about Brazil, or Venezuela?
Which is why we must be very careful of the precedents that we are setting out there.
Once legal precedent is set in law, then we too will be bound by them — whether we like it nor not
Do you really want China or Angola or Bangladesh in legal Hot Pursuit into American airspace to shoot down one of their suspected terrorist criminals? (Nothing against China, Angola, or Bangladesh) it’s just that once the precedent is set in law — it is set and is thenceforth legal and acceptable behavior for all countries — even faraway ones!
But the growing use of this principle raises touchy issues concerning territorial sovereignty and may open a dangerous legal can of worms.
Some legal scholars say it is a bastardization of an old law of the sea, which allows ships on the high seas to pursue and overtake other ships if a crime is committed on the former ship’s sovereign waters.
They remain unconvinced that the principle carries any legitimacy on land.
Any armed incursion that violates another state’s territorial borders and is not in self-defense or sanctioned by the UN Security Council constitutes an act of war, clear and simple. As an extension of this, some argue that rather than limiting the size of conflicts, “hot pursuit” may be misinterpreted by governments as a provocation that could spark wider wars or lend greater legitimacy to nations that launch preemptive strikes under the legal mantle of “anticipatory self-defense.”
Another concern is that the doctrine, if implemented on a more formal or wider scale, might fully supplant other legal channels, such as the extradition process. — Lionel Beehner
In our rush to punish ISIS and prevent it from making territorial gains inside Iraq, we should not be setting legal precedents which we might deeply regret later
If we do it enough times, then other countries will feel they can do it too. And the next thing you know it’s the new norm.
At that point, any country could then fly into any other country to bomb suspected ISIS, Al Qaida, or other terrorists.
Until international law changes, it is illegal to enter the air or land space of any country without permission — although it is legal to engage in Hot Pursuit on the ocean, where a ship is exiting our waters in an attempt to avoid capture by law enforcement or evading Navy or Coast Guard maritime inspection.
Let’s not set up a legal precedent that will allow any country to use our presently flawed interpretation of Hot Pursuit to enter our air or land space without our permission.
- U.S. Conducts First Airstrikes in Syria on Islamic State (Bloomberg.com)
- What is Groupthink? (Psychology.About.com)
- “The Doctrine of “Hot Pursuit”: A New Application” (C. K. U. Michigan Law Review, Vol. 26, No. 5 pp. 551-555 — March 1928)
- “The juridical basis of hot pursuit” (British Year Book of International Law 20: pp 83–97 Glanville L. Williams — 1939)
- “Hot Pursuit” West’s Encyclopedia of American Law
- The Right of Hot Pursuit in International Law, (Brill–Martinus Nijhoff, Nicholas M. Poulantzas — 2002)
- “Doctrine of hot pursuit: A functional interpretation adaptable to emerging maritime law enforcement technologies and practices” (Ocean Development and International Law 20 (4): 309–341 Craig H. Allen — 1989)
- “Can nations ‘pursue’ non-state actors across borders?” (Yale Journal of International Affairs: pp 110–112 Lionel Beehner — Winter 2011)