This is helpful, but misleading

This is helpful, a continuously updated map of US and allied bombings in Iraq and Syria:

But it is also misleading.  Those little bursts suggest that the anti-ISIS coalition is doing its job. And the air attacks may look the same in Iraq and Syria but the impact is so far dramatically different. Someone has to have not only boots, but loafers on the ground. Syria and Iraq need governance and rule of law at the end of this war, not military occupation.

In Iraq, there is at least some hope of real results. The peshmerga are trying to take advantage of the air strikes to push back ISIS. But the Iraqi security forces still have not shown up in any substantial way. Nor is there much hope they will any time soon. No more than half are still viable, and those seem far from able and willing to fight ISIS effectively. The best that can be said today about the war against ISIS in Iraq is that Iran has ordered its forces, and the militias it supports, not to attack US forces. Strange bedfellows.

In Syria, the Americans are not even trying to coordinate with rebel insurgent forces. Turkey is standing by watching while ISIS lays siege to the northern Kurdish town of Kobane, on the Turkish border. The Syrian Kurds are anathema to Turkey because they support the  Kurdish rebellion inside Turkey. Nor do the Syrian Kurds get much military support from the Iraqi Kurds, who cooperate with Turkey against the Kurdish rebels inside Turkey.

In neither Iraq nor Syria is it clear what will happen if the anti-ISIS coalition is successful.

At least in Iraq there are governors and provincial councils who in theory are the properly constituted authorities. But the predominantly Shia Iraqi security forces will not be welcomed by large parts of the population in Ninewa,Salaheddin and Anbar. Hopefully the newly formed National Guard, which will recruit on a provincial basis, may be able to exert control, but it won’t be easy.

In Syria, there are lots of anti-regime civil society organizations, including local administrative councils, but they struggle to provide even minimal services to a population that has suffered mightily through more than three years of war. The regime attacks civilian populations in liberated areas, focusing on hospitals, schools and other structures vital to the quality of life. Opposition adherents are no longer so sure as once they were that they want to preserve the Syrian state or the Syrian army. But the nascent Syrian Interim Government (SIG) would be hard-pressed to take over if the regime were to collapse tomorrow.

If President Obama wants to avoid American boots (and loafers) on the ground in Syria, he needs to get much more serious about building the capability of the Syrian opposition to govern effectively, at least in liberated areas. I’d like to see a map not just of those little star bursts but of ink spots of opposition control, all under the authority of the SIG. We are far from that day.

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