This game of three-dimensional chess is making me dizzy. There are a number of contrasting, conflicting, and even mutually contradictory opinions about what’s going on with Al Qaeda and DAESH these days.
One view is that we are achieving our objective of containing both. Since that is not our objective, at least as stated by President Obama, and the only evidence of such containment are the reduction in DAESH’s momentum in Iraq and the Kurds’ re-taking of small amounts of territory (the role that U. S. bombing may have played in the Kurds’ accomplishments is unclear), that opinion does not seem to be rooted in fact.
Another view is that we are achieving our objective of degrading and destroying DAESH and that Al Qaeda is “on the run”. To my eye this view is even harder to support than the above. Further, it engages in a very bad habit of ours, using the wrong and, frequently, most favorable metric, e.g. sorties, fighters killed, as the gauge of victory. If that approach were a sound one, we won in Viet Nam.
The view that I’ve outlined previously is that we can reduce DAESH’s progress as long as we’re willing to maintain our air campaign. DAESH’s progrss in Syria brings that view into question. Even if this view is true I don’t see it as either a tactical or strategic victory. I see it as a tactical draw and a strategic defeat.
There’s another view emerging now, that there is a “New Year’s offensive” being launched. Some of the facts and interpretations that are being presented in support of this view are:
- The assassination of a Saudi general.
- The Charlie Hebdo murders
- The threats of further terror cell activity in Western Europe.
- The KSA’s oil offensive.
- The significant amount of territory in Syria that DAESH has gained.
According to this view all of the activities that have drawn the attention of the United States and Western Europe, including the Charlie Hebdo murders, the threats, and even the protracted engagements in Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan are distrations, intended to divert U. S. and European attention away from the actual objective: Saudi Arabia. Saudis’ lowering the price of oil is a move that has the multiple effects of a) currying favor with U. S. consumers, b) reducing the threat from U. S. shale producers, c) reducing Iran’s revenues, and d) reducing the revenues of DAESH oil smugglers.
It’s hard for me to see how an attack on the KSA could be effected by DAESH outside of either fomenting terror cell activity in the kingdom or via Yemen. I’ll see if I can solicit Col. Lang’s opinion of that latter alternative. That DAESH is fomenting terror cell activity in the KSA is a matter of record. Can it really be extensive enough to bring the kingdom down?
An organized, determined attack against the KSA would certainly place us in a pickle. Would we rise to the Saudis’ defense, knowing that we could potentially be bombing Muslim holy sites? If the Saudi oil fields were placed under attack, the Arab Shi’ite population of the area would almost certainly appeal for and receive Iranian support. For more analysis of Saudi “human geography” see here. It would certainly be a mess.
I won’t pretend to know what’s actually going on. I’m just trying to bring the range of opinion to your attention and solicit additional views.