From time to time I’ve mentioned looking at newspapers from 70 or 80 years ago and how slowly events were reported by comparison with what we’ve become accustomed to. During World War II, for example, the outcomes of battles might be reported weeks or even months after the actual events took place.
There was a kind of advantage to that. You had a greater opportunity to see the broad sweep of events rather than getting mired in the minutiae.
Leaping forward to today I’m seeing widely divergent opinions on what’s actually happening in Syria and Iraq and I attribute it to the “fog of war” that von Clausewitz wrote about. While some claim that the failure of the “Islamic State” to take the town of Syrian border town of Kobani shows they’re rocked back on their heels and have already reached the farthest extent of their rule while others say that we’re losing there.
To put Kobani into some perspective it’s a town approximately the same size as Wheaton, Illinois or Santa Cruz, California. Whatever strategic significance it has I would presume to be its position on roads joining Syria, Iraq, and Turkey.
David Ignatius clearly believes the “Islamic State” is hardly on the run:
Jalal al-Gaood, one of the tribal leaders the United States has been cultivating in hopes of rolling back extremists in Iraq, grimly describes how his home town in Anbar province was forced this week to surrender to fighters from the Islamic State.
The extremists were moving Wednesday toward Gaood’s town of Al-Zwaiha, the stronghold of his Albu Nimr clan just east of the Euphrates River. The attacking force had roughly 200 fighters and about 30 armed trucks. Al-Zwaiha’s defenders were running out of ammunition and food and wondered whether they should make a deal with the marauding jihadists.
as do the editors of the New York Times:
The town, once dismissed as inconsequential by American commanders, has become not only a focus of the American operation against the Islamic State, known as ISIS, but also a test of the administration’s strategy, which is based on airstrikes on ISIS-controlled areas in Syria and reliance on local ground forces to defeat the militants. A major problem is that the local ground forces are either unorganized, politically divided or, as in the case of the Kobani Kurds, in danger of being outgunned.
A setback in Kobani would show the fragility of the American plan and hand the Islamic State an important victory. Given Kobani’s location next to Turkey, the town’s fall would put the Islamic State in a position to cross the border and directly threaten a NATO ally, a move that could force the alliance to come to Turkey’s defense.
The big missing piece in the American operation is Turkey, whose reluctance to assist Kobani’s Kurds highlights the enduring weaknesses in America’s strategy. The decision to resupply the Kurds was a desperation move; the Kurds were at risk and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has refused to help despite repeated entreaties from Washington.
We have almost no intelligence in the area. Reports on the ground has complained that the American air campaign is all but useless.
There is quite a bit of distance between believing that the fighter of the “Islamic State” are “ten feet tall” and recognizing that the “Islamic State” continues to extend its grasp. After all, Gulliver was no giant. He merely appeared so to the Lilliputian armies.
Just as a reminder, I do not believe that we should enter the field of battle against the “Islamic State”. They pose a threat to our frenemies in the region but very little threat to us and what threat they may pose in the future can be confronted by means other than going to war against them today.
Going to war against the “Islamic State” was the Obama Administration’s decision. Whether we have more to lose from an air campaign against the “Islamic State” that is doomed to failure than we do from not going to war with it is another subject about which there are different opinions.