Warfare is never pretty, but it gets downright ugly when you have poor allies who cannot be relied on to fulfill the roles assigned to them. Case in point is this report from the WAPO, which actually has a misleading headline, U.S.-backed Syria rebels routed by fighters linked to al-Qaeda, because, in addition to being "routed," many of them shifted allegiance:
The Obama administration’s Syria strategy suffered a major setback Sunday after fighters linked to al-Qaeda routed U.S.-backed rebels from their main northern strongholds, capturing significant quantities of weaponry, triggering widespread defections and ending hopes that Washington will readily find Syrian partners in its war against the Islamic State.Given the long history of rapidly changing alliances in the region this result probably shouldn't be exactly - you know - shocking. However, it does point out - once again - the problem of first world thinking meeting third world tribal and cultural standards head on.
Moderate rebels who had been armed and trained by the United States either surrendered or defected to the extremists as the Jabhat al-Nusra group, affiliated with al-Qaeda, swept through the towns and villages the moderates controlled in the northern province of Idlib, in what appeared to be a concerted push to vanquish the moderate Free Syrian Army, according to rebel commanders, activists and analysts.
These "allies" are fighting for what, exactly?
It certainly isn't for the glory of Syria or mom and apple pie.
Motivation being what it is and given that Mao's precept that "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun," applies to tribal and religious struggles in the Middle East as well as to communist insurgencies, these former and current allies basically are fighting for power and profit, while the other side seeks to replace the status quo ante with themselves, asserting that "God is on our side!" as they gather up power, profit and young maidens to debauch or sell into slavery. Seems to be a pretty good recruiting tool when coupled with the chance to fight the "Great Satan" and its minions.
In the long run, our side offers . . . what exactly again?
Why would any rational player in this "game" choose to align with the force holding the weak hand and with a reputation for abandoning the field when the going gets tough?
If the U.S. and its allies are serious about doing something about Syria and ISIS, AQ and its ally the "Al Nusrah Front," then they had better gear up for the game and quit pussy-footing around trying to bend other people into doing the hard work.
They also better develop a plan that tells putative allies what the mess will look like (as in what's in it for them) when the fighting is over. Without that clear vision to sell, well, you are pushing vapor and pipe dreams of "kumbaya" singing around the campfire holding hands and sharing flower petals.
Lesson #1 out of our involvement in the Middle East in the last 30+ years ought to be that you have to earn respect and then you have to work hard to keep it. Playing around at the margins probably isn't the path that leads to that result.
Keep up with lots more in the "long war" by reading The Long War Journal.
Oh, yeah, those guys in the video are not Crusaders. In case you were wondering.