ISIS

Obama ISIS Czar Stepping Down

John Allen took the post a year ago, planning to only stay for six months.

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Brookings

For the last year, General John Allen, who previously served as head of the international military coalition in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013, has been in charge of coordinating military efforts against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Once called a "JV squad" by President Obama, since their rapid territorial expansions in Iraq and Syria ISIS has been treated as a major national security threat by the U.S. foreign policy establishment. 

Allen's initial appointment, last September, was meant to be for six months. Allen was supposed to coordinate the effort to "degrade and destroy" ISIS forces. The U.S. strategy, such as it is, consists of subsidizing regional anti-ISIS efforts. The U.S., for example, trained 54 Syrian rebels to fight ISIS. Only four or five are left in the fight—the U.S. spent $250 million training the group. And while Allen was able to negotiate the use of a Turkish air base by U.S. forces, Turkey has also started a military campaign against Kurdish rebels operating in the country. The Kurds have been America's most reliable partners in the anti-ISIS coalition. And now, the Pentagon is reportedly investigating whether reports by intelligence analysts were doctored before being sent to officials. 

It's in that environment that Allen will be resigning his post. 

Via Josh Rogin and Eli Lake at Bloomberg View

U.S. officials familiar with Allen's decision say he has been frustrated with White House micromanagement of the war and its failure to provide adequate resources to the fight. He unsuccessfully tried to convince the administration to allow U.S. tactical air control teams to deploy on the ground to help pick targets for air strikes in Iraq. Allen also tried several times to convince the White House to agree to Turkish demands for a civilian protection zone in Syria, to no avail. Nonetheless, administration officials stress that Allen's decision to leave his post was motivated mainly by the health of his wife, who suffers from an auto-immune disorder. 

The White House was aware from the beginning Allen was interested only in staying on for six months. He stayed an additional six months after reportedly being asked to by Secretary of State John Kerry. Rogin and Lake report Allen will be replaced by his deputy, Ambassador Brett McGuirk, but that the White House is looking for a "big name replacement" for Allen. 

That, and the course of the anti-ISIS effort so far, suggest one of the major problems of the campaign is a focus on the cosmetic.  

If ISIS is a "clear and present danger," as Allen argued in an op-ed a month before being named ISIS czar, then Allen, a four-star Marine general, should have committed to staying until the effort was a success. He should not have agreed to come on for just six months, unless ISIS presents more of a PR problem for the U.S. foreign policy establishment (insofar as U.S. foreign policy to date has helped contribute to the creation of ISIS).  

Turkey's actions reveal similar problems. If ISIS is a threat to regional stability, what is there to negotiate to allow the world's last remaining superpower to use your air base to help fight that threat? If ISIS poses an existential threat to the region, defeating it should trump lesser concerns. Unless the Kurds pose a greater existential threat to the government of Turkey than ISIS does. 

The U.S. government's refusal to shift its "Assad must go" policy also undermines the claim that ISIS is the greatest threat in the region. Assad may be a brutal tin-pot dictator, but he's certainly not the only one. And at the moment, on the ground in Syria, his government is best poised to "degrade and destroy" ISIS. The U.S. certainly doesn't have to endorse Assad or his actions, or offer material support. Butting out and not taking a position on Assad, on its own, would improve Assad's ability to fight ISIS by making it less costly for potential allies, like Russia, to openly support his efforts. It seems an obvious move if ISIS is as "clear and present" a danger as some of the foreign policy establishment has claimed. 

If ISIS is defeated by U.S. forces, their defeat will lay the groundwork for the next, even more brutal, militant Islamist organization to rise up in the region, just as ISIS filled the void left by Al-Qaeda in Iraq. David Petraeus, the former CIA chief and retired Army general who served in Iraq, has in fact floated the idea of the U.S. allying with Al-Qaeda to defeat ISIS. That's only a misguided war or two away from suggesting allying with ISIS to get rid of the organization that replaces ISIS when the U.S. defeats ISIS.  

Barack Obama, Lindsey Graham, and others are partially right about ISIS. A regional force is required to defeat the ISIS. But they are dangerously wrong about the inexpendability of the U.S. in that fight. U.S. participation in and subsidization of the fight against ISIS has the effect of distorting priorities, giving regional powers the space to ignore the "clear and present" threat to them, making it even less likely they'll be able to defeat ISIS. The most effective thing the U.S. can do to encourage a victory over ISIS is withdrawing its support of the fight, and its opposition to Assad, and creating the space for the region to fight for its own survival instead of fighting each other.

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  1. “ISIS Czar”. Jesus fucking christ.

    1. Yeah, I didn’t even know we HAD an “ISIS Czar”.

      God, I hate my government….

      1. Why not? We have a faith czar:

      2. In fact Obama has thirty-eight czars of one flavor or another:

        1. Does he have a Cuban Czar?

          1. We need a Russian Czar to deal with Putin!

        2. If you have 38, you have debased the concept of “czar” into nothingness, and need another name.

          1. I vote for Khan

            1. Grand Poobah.

          2. Augustus?
            Tribune?

            1. Tribune actually sounds good, since there were a dozen or more running around. Legate might work as well, as it’s not necessarily a military title.

          3. Obama is the Czar Czar.

        3. It’s czars all the way down.

      3. Really? You didn’t know we had an ISIS Czar? Ooh, he’s a killing machine, he’s got everything, like a moving mouth, body control and everything.

        1. He’s no Highway Star. THAT I know

    2. Damn Right.

      It’s high time we had a Czarina in charge of something.

      1. Hillary’s in the bullpen.

  2. The U.S. government’s refusal to shift its “Assad must go” policy also undermines the claim that ISIS is the greatest threat in the region.

    We can – no, we must – have more than one greatest threat per region.

  3. Mission…. accomplished?

  4. OT

    re-reading Starship Troopers. Heinlein really slams the practice of civilians going straight to OCS without first becoming a soldier and surviving combat.

    1. How does he feel about bringing a knife to a nuke fight?

    2. That would be the Heinlein who was in the Navy, right?

      I’m pretty satisfied with the results the Marines get, anyway, sending recruits straight from basic to OCS.

      It also raises a question about where you get your officers between wars.

      1. You get your officers from the Point or Annapolis. I had a friend who went OCS out of Basic and was shipped to Vietnam to lead a platoon. He knew he was clueless in combat, so he called his sergeants together and told them they should give him order, for him to repeat, so he didn’t get his men killed by his own stupidity. Worked for a while until they walked into an ambush. He is still on partial disability. His take is giving OCS to a soldier who hasn’t endured combat is absurd.

  5. By the grace of Allah, the most excellent and great puppet Czar Gen. John Allen, Ruler and Autocrat of all the ISIS’s

  6. Once called a “JV squad” by President Obama

    All part of his seven-dimensional chess game. Escape the GOP plantation, Ed.

    1. It will all turn out to depend on what your definition of IS IS.

      1. I see what you did there.

  7. How long has the US government and the media been in the habit of calling bureaucrats in charge of something “Czars”? Did the name start out ironically?

    Because now it’s just a sad reminder of how autocratic and unaccountable the Federal government is.

    1. AFAIK, the czars were necessary for getting anything at all of any substance done when the administration depends on an over-bloated-beyond-the-capacity-for-movement bureaucracy. Forty-eleventy different agencies all with their own little fiefdoms means you can’t change your socks without about ten months worth of meetings and consultings and approvals and sign-offs from more people than you can shake two sticks at. The czars are basically the ‘fixers’ for the people supposedly running the bureaucracy so that they can actually run the bureacracy. Give it enough time and we’ll see a czar czar.

      (Seriously, think about what it takes for Obama to go to the bathroom. The water in the toilet is potentially regulated by Congress, the EPA, the Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, the Dept. of the Interior, the FDA, the Secret Service, the GOA, the GSA, the National Park Service, the Commerce Department….. – suppose he clogs up the toilet taking a shit, who’s in charge of fixing it and who decides who’s in charge of fixing it? This is why it takes a czar to cut through the red tape and grab a damn plunger.)

      1. It also allows the President to put people in charge of certain issues without having to deal with that whole “advice and consent of the Senate” business required of actual appointments. Stupid Constitution. Always keeping us from being able to “GET THINGS DONE.”

  8. If ISIS is a “clear and present danger,” as Allen argued in an op-ed a month before being named ISIS czar, then Allen, a four-star Marine general, should have committed to staying until the effort was a success[…]

    Turkey’s actions reveal similar problems. If ISIS is a threat to regional stability, what is there to negotiate to allow the world’s last remaining superpower to use your air base to help fight that threat?

    […]

    The U.S. government’s refusal to shift its “Assad must go” policy also undermines the claim that ISIS is the greatest threat in the region.

    Government reactions to world events are rarely if ever indicative of these events’ import. The Arab Spring was not anticipated by almost any government, for example, and Nazi Germany’s invasion of the USSR came at a time when Stalin didn’t think the Nazis planned on anything besides cooperation for the near-term.

    There is nothing inconsistent with believing that ISIS is a threat to regional stability, while also believing that the governments involved are not taking that threat seriously.

  9. I wonder why this interview doesn’t get more circulation in the news. Definitely worth a listen.

    Syria ‘in a state of complete war’ with terrorism – Assad (FULL INTERVIEW)

    As the Syrian crisis enters its fifth year, tension in the country is still growing. Bashar Assad, the President of Syria, gives an interview to key Russian media, revealing his view on political progress, the Syrian crisis, its allies and its war on terrorism

  10. If ISIS is defeated by U.S. forces, their defeat will lay the groundwork for the next, even more brutal, militant Islamist organization to rise up in the region, just as ISIS filled the void left by Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

    Does anybody really think that ‘ISIS’ isn’t much more than a handy name given to whatever group of leaders the Islamic militants are currently being led by? Get rid of the leadership group and there’ll just be some other leadership group popping up and the body of fighters will remain exactly the same. It’s the same mentality that leads us to going after whatever drug kingpin is currently making the biggest splash in Latin America and thinking we’re somehow winning the war on drugs when we get him. ISIS isn’t the cause of the trouble in Syria, it’s more of a symptom. And as far as that goes, ISIS is far less likely to be defeated by the US than by Assad/Iran/Putin/Serbia because we have to have some big moral strategy whereas those people don’t think you need much of a reason for killing other people beyond just for the fun of it.

  11. He unsuccessfully tried to convince the administration to allow U.S. tactical air control teams to deploy on the ground to help pick targets for air strikes in Iraq.

    So we are just bombing targets that are easily noticed by surveillance? That seems like a simple strategy to defeat.

  12. Nonetheless, administration officials stress that Allen’s decision to leave his post was motivated mainly by the health of his wife, who suffers from an auto-immune disorder.

    And more time for him to spend with Tampa socialite, Jill Kelley!

  13. We had ISIS’s czar the whole time and Obama still could not solve this crisis? Wasted oppotunity.

  14. And the obligatory Robert Anton Wilson ‘Guns and Dope Party’ reference:
    “Every Man, Woman and Ostrich is a Tsar!”
    http://www.rawilson.com/gadp.html

  15. If you like your tinpot dictator, you can keep your tinpot dictator. Your best chance at keeping him is convincing the US that they need to take him out.

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  17. Not only is it stupid for the US to try to defeat ISIS on it’s own, it plays directly into ISIS central mythology about defeating the “crusader” forces in the coming apocalypse.

    The problem is that Obama invested so much of his foreign policy “legacy” in the Arab Spring and the idea of a regional transformaiton of the Arab world, going all the way back to his Cairo speech. Going back on his commitment to get rid of Assad would be an admission that his entire middle eastern strategy has been misguided from day one. That his predecessors who supported, or at least tolerated, a status quo of oppressive autocratic regimes were in fact acting very wisely in doing so, and that efforts to destabilize the region would not bring about a democratic revolution, but rather an Islamist one.

    Going back on the Assad policy would be an admission of total failure, considering how all the other Arab Spring states have turn out.

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