We continue from Part 1.
History is taught as a sequence of cause-and-effect. This is a consequence of a belief in a causal universe, except where religious beliefs supervene. Recently, though, physicists have observed processes where the future appears to affect the past. Doubters may question whether this has any practical effect on our lives. It remains to be determined. But for the predictor, it offers an immediate suggestion. It may be possible to enhance a prediction by including the possibility of a future event to “pull” current events toward that eventuality.
The conventional cause-and-effect reasoning of the historian does not permit a future “State of Eastern Syria-Western Iraq” to be incorporated into the reasoning process. But with a systematic method of including this possibility, the locomotives of the predictor’s train of reasoning can pull as well as push. The imaginary state is now no more than the idea of a safe zone.
If General McMaster is to have any latitude in a plan to “defeat ISIS”, a “Syria Safe Zone” must be the core of it. Besides it, there are no strokes more significant than details of tactical deployment, and how close American soldiers get to the meat grinder. It is possible that a limited U.S. front line deployment could accomplish a specific task. Since I do not want to help the enemy, I will not describe it.
Western Mosul is a meatgrinder; a place where the advantages of high tech weapons diminish against the defender. Anyone who has ever played a war game knows that between two qualitatively symmetric forces, the attacker requires a 3:1 numerical advantage over the defender. ISIS and the coalition are not symmetrical forces, and the rule is crude. But it cannot be ignored.
Mosul will soon be done with. Raqqa will follow. The prevalent thought is that these two objectives will mark some kind of an end for ISIS. As a caution, consider this scenario: With Iran’s backing, the Shiites move in on Sunni territory. The Gulf states, Turkey, or both, arm the Sunnis. Volunteers from the Caucasus appear and, after a short period of cooperation, hijack the weapons and raise a black banner. Voila, ISIS again.
A safe zone cannot be just a humanitarian effort. ISIS seeks the opportunity of political vacuum. A haven must include some kind of politics that repel ISIS. In Vietnam, which McMaster has studied extensively, the corresponding structure was based on the hamlet. Because the Syria desert is so inhospitable, a safe zone cannot be envisioned as dots of tiny hamlets on a wasteland. It is a huge enterprise.
Western Syria is populated because it has water; not enough of it, but enough to fight over. Eastern Syria and western Iraq are inhospitable deserts. In the U.S., people live in constant company to infrastructure so invisibly efficient, we forget the necessity. In the east, in colonial times, the abundance of rainfall and fertile ground made it possible for an entire country to exist without it. West of the Rockies, in the area of the Great American Desert east of LA, this was never possible. Human existence, even for brief periods, is not possible without it.
Palm Springs is in the middle of that desert. Suppose we take a walk three miles out of town, fence off a square mile, and give it to a bunch of refugees. Without outside infrastructure, they would die, even though, almost within earshot, golfers tee off in lushly irrigated scenery.
The Syria-Iraq desert is bisected by the Euphrates river, which irrigates land on a belt 4 miles wide on the average. People already live there. But apart from tent cities in the desert, supplied perpetually by relief trucks with bottled water, it is the only prospect for survival.
This has happened before in Syria. According to some Arabists, the ancestors of the Bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula were originally Syrian farmers. By population pressure, they were progressively dispossessed, driven towards lands of lesser fertility, until they reached the voids of desert sands. So we must ask the question: Would a safe zone lead to creation of a new “world’s poorest nation”, a kind of Bangladesh of the desert? Might Assad’s tyranny be preferable? To help your thoughts along, imagine yourself in a tent outside of Palm Springs, with some bottles of water, some “food”, and absolutely no prospects.
The annual flow of the Euphrates averages about 600 cubic meters/second, comparable to the Colorado. But it is poorly used. Because the river slopes only slightly over much of it’s course, about half is lost to evaporation. To manage the river with the scientific precision of the Colorado would require the cooperation of three countries: Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, and at least four ethnic groups. Today, they are all prisoners of circumstance and prejudice.
Next: How to Deploy?