- Exactly how much coordination is taking place between the United States and the Assad regime? According to this story from The Hill, U.S. officials notified the Assad regime about the airstrikes. And yet: “the official stressed [that] the notification was merely that and not a signal that Washington and Damascus would work together in the fight against ISIS.” This kind of entente seems unsurprising given the commonality of interests between Washington and Damascus in checking the Islamic State for now. Over time, however, one wonders whether those interests will continue to stay aligned. Which leads me to…
- How will this change anything on the ground? Hey, remember Iraq? The United States has been conducting hundreds of airstrikes against Islamic State targets in that country for the past month. In contrast to Syria, there are actual ground forces in Iraq with an interest in reclaiming territory. So, in many ways, Iraq is an easier test of the effect of U.S. air power on changing the balance of power on the ground. And yet, according to The New York Times’s David Kirkpatrick and Omar Al-Jawoshy, things haven’t changed all that much in Iraq: “After six weeks of American airstrikes, the Iraqi government’s forces have scarcely budged the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State from their hold on more than a quarter of the country.” Given that it will be months before the Free Syrian Army receives any training, the evidence from the Iraq campaign does not bode well for any immediate success in Syria.
- What does victory look like in this campaign? Jeffrey Goldberg, a supporter of this action, notes that, “It is true that there exists no strategy for victory, and no definition of victory.” To paraphrase Vice President Biden, that seems like a big friggin’ deal. Especially since, as Goldberg further notes, “This struggle is now owned by the United States.” So if the bombing campaign will produce, at best, a stalemate, is there any feasible action on the ground that will affect the situation?
- Will these actions affect any other U.S. interests in the region? This was one of the questions I asked after Obama’s speech last month. It remains unanswered.
- What happens if these airstrikes do not degrade and destroy the Islamic State? The Pentagon said the initial bombing did a good job, but let’s face it, it’s all downhill from here in terms of tactical surprise. Now the Islamic State knows that these attacks will be coming. Which raises a troubling question. We know that one of the ways that violent non-state actors in this region can attract adherents is by seeming resilient in the face of attacks. If the Islamic State continues to endure in the wake of attacks from the most powerful air force in the world, won’t these attacks bolster rather than degrade their ranks? And if that’s the case, is there any other possible next step except the introduction of ground forces into Syria?
I said last week that I’d start making point predictions here. So, here goes: I’m 70 percent certain that there will be no fundamental change in the Islamic State’s hold on territory in Syria and Iraq for the rest of this calendar year.