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Clinton’s Reckless and Flawed Syria Policy

Clinton's plan suffers from many of the same flaws as Bush's.
Hillary Clinton look away

Scott McConnell points out that Clinton’s CFR speech last week contained some reckless statements and proposals:

In other words, not six days after ISIS slaughtered 130 people in Paris; a few more after it brought down a Russian airliner over Egypt and blew up a Hezbollah neighborhood in Beirut, Hillary Clinton is calling for tougher measures against… wait for it… ISIS’s enemies in the Mideast.

Specifically, Clinton reiterated her call for a “no-fly zone” in Syria and endorsed safe zones that she claimed could be protected by “opposition forces.” In other words, she would commit the U.S. to attacking Syrian air defenses, which means starting a war with the Syrian government and risking one with the Russians, and she would create “safe” zones that would likely become vulnerable targets for both regime forces and ISIS. These measures expose the U.S. to unacceptable risks and would involve the U.S. to be fighting two sides of a civil war at the same time.

Clinton’s plan suffers from many of the same flaws as Bush’s. Both of them talk about getting additional contributions and changes in behavior from allies and clients, but neither of them can explain how the U.S. will persuade any of them to cooperate. For instance, Clinton says that “we need to get Turkey to stop bombing Kurdish fighters in Syria who are battling ISIS, and become a full partner in our coalition efforts against ISIS.” Maybe we need that, but that doesn’t mean that Turkey is going to stop prioritizing its hostility to Kurdish groups. Clinton seems to think that because we “need” another government to change its behavior that its behavior can be made to change. The larger problem with Turkish involvement in the coalition is that Ankara has been obsessed with toppling Assad, which is one reason why they have been so dilatory and negligent when it comes to opposing ISIS.

She goes on to address the Gulf states’ lack of support for the war on ISIS:

At the moment, they’re focused in other areas because of their concerns in the region, especially the threat from Iran. That’s why the Saudis, for example, shifted attention from Syria to Yemen. So we have to work out a common approach.

Clinton doesn’t spell out what this means, but the fact that she talks about “the threat from Iran” in Yemen as if it were credible suggests that she doesn’t disagree with what the Saudis and their allies have been doing for the last eight months. She also offers no hint of what this “common approach” would yield. She does make clear that her administration would be even more fixated on “reassuring” our lousy clients in the region and would be even more inclined to share their paranoia about Iran than the U.S. already is:

Raising the confidence of our Arab partners and raising the costs to Iran for bad behavior will contribute to a more effective fight against ISIS.

That assumption seems entirely unfounded. For the last eight months in Yemen, the U.S. has sought to “raise the confidence” of these clients by supposedly “raising the costs” for Iran, and the result has been the effective abandonment of the war on ISIS by those clients while Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, ISIS, and Iran benefit in different ways. Indulging our bad clients in their anti-Iranian obsession isn’t going to make them more effective or useful in combating jihadists. We have seen very clearly for the last several years that they have little or no interest in doing the latter and want to devote their attention and resources to opposing Iran and its allies (real or imagined), and they will be only too happy to keep doing that. Like other Syria hawks, Clinton would indulge Turkey and the Gulf states in their preoccupation with Iran and Assad even though it comes at the expense of the war on ISIS.