To this point the emerging Trump administration has not openly discussed the worsening conditions in the Middle East to any great extent.
The greatest challenges for Donald Trump may be just around the corner. Shortly the national security team will be assembled assuming Rex Tillerson is confirmed as Secretary of State. The team needs to address ISIS and the specter of terrorism and further carnage in the Middle East.
The issue is far greater than indicating the U.S. is going to “bomb the sh-t” out of ISIS. There are many derivative concerns involving millions of people. One of course is collateral damage.
Over the years the U.S. has become extremely sensitive about killing innocent citizens in the course of fighting our enemies. Consider the fact that the U.S. killed hundreds of thousands of innocent bystanders when atom bombs were dropped on Japan during World War II. Things have changed over the years, and our enemies understand our newfound reticence in this regard. America’s enemies have regularly used civilians as shields against American aerial and artillery attacks.
It’s a dishonorable tactic, but it’s quite effective. Some speculate that President Obama’s concern with this issue was a principal reason why he decided to lead from behind in the Middle East, essentially using other military forces to do his dirty work. The only way to somewhat minimize collateral damage is to apply ground forces, something anathema to Congress and most Americans.
During the first Iraq war, President George H.W. Bush had the luxury of fighting the enemy in open spaces and away from populated areas. American firepower was unleashed by air, land and sea upon Iraq soldiers in Kuwait. It was devastatingly effective. The result was a quick war, very few American casualties and negligible civilian deaths. Note: President Bush decided not to proceed into Iraq because ground forces would have been necessary, and American casualties would have increased exponentially.
Several distinct fighting forces now occupy Syria: the Syrian Army, Syrian rebels, ISIS, Russia, Iran, the U.S., Kurds and Turkey. Prosecuting a war with so many different groups is virtually impossible especially if collateral damage is a concern. Relating to the latter it appears that only the U.S. considers the safety of innocent civilians to be important.
And finally the stakes in the Middle East have greatly increased as refugees from Syria are spread out across the region. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have accepted millions of uprooted Syrians since the war began a few years ago.
At some point refugees that have not found sanctuary could be in worse danger and without protection. Moreover the refugees already in neighboring countries to Syria could be expelled or left to die for financial, political and societal reasons.
The scale of the refugee situation is almost as horrific as the tragedy during World War II. Our generation cannot allow large-scale genocide without responding. But what can we do to prevent it?
Our military and diplomatic leaders have a huge problem to contend with. Given the varying priorities of the interested parties, I can only foresee peril for millions of innocent people and no reasonable endgame. Under present circumstances the ISIS threat will be upon us for many more years.