Thursday, September 11, 2014

Obama Takes Aim @ Islamic State

Notes on Obama’s this-is-not-a-war speech - Shmuel Rosner

Obama’s speech on ISIS was thin on detail but fairly clear in intent.

A coalition is always better than acting alone, except when it is not. That is, when the coalition becomes a burden and complicates the mechanism of action instead of simplifying it. That Obama wants to build a coalition is understandable. If he is able to build an effective one is an open question. That he’d have to pay for such a coalition is a certainty. What he is willing to give in return for cooperation – we don’t know. 

In Jerusalem (but also in Riyadh) the government will be wearily following the possibility of a US collaboration with Iran.

It is not usually recommended for a leader that goes to war to tell the enemy what measures will not be used against it. Yet Obama does it time and again. He always seems to be more determined on the “no” parts of his policies than on the “yes” parts. So no boots on the ground.

There are positive and negative ways to interpret Obama’s commitment to not sending American troops to the region.

Positive: Obama is sending a clear message to probable partners (see: coalition) that the US is not going to do the dirty work for them. If Iraqis don’t want to be subjected to the horrors of ISIS rule, they’ll have to fight. Obama is willing to help, but he will not send Americans to fight for them.

Negative: Obama does not have a foreign policy. He has polls. The polls told him that he has to act – because he is seen as weak. They also told him that Americans have no appetite for sending troops to the Middle East. His plan suspiciously looks like one that could have been devised by political consultants.

"It will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIS”, the president said. Before the speech the White House and State Department talked about “three years”. So if you want to be cynical, you might not overlook the fact that three years is just enough time for the president to pass the problem on to his successor (if necessary, the poor successor will be the one putting boots on the ground). 

Obama doesn’t like the word “war”. He is a post-war president. Wars are something that President Bush used to do “in Iraq and Afghanistan”. It is something that Syrians do (“sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war”). Obama is never warring. Three weeks ago, when he spoke about the execution of James Foley, he used the word “war” in reference to what the enemy thinks it is doing, but which Obama still doesn’t buy: “They may claim out of expediency that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.”

Surely, the president refuses to see this as a “war”. What is it then? It is a “fight against terrorism”, Obama said, and throughout his speech he generally refrained from giving it a clearer definition.

Surely, the strategy might work without a definition – or it might not. The problem with Obama’s insistence on a limited definition, or on no definition, is that the President isn’t the only one who’s making definitions and decisions in this battle. A lack of American definition gives the other side an opportunity to make its own definition the important one. Obama might want it to be a limited battle, but what if ISIS expands it? Obama might want the coalition to bear most of the brunt, but if it can’t or won’t? Obama might want to eradicate ISIS from the air, but what if ISIS persists and makes gains?

What if ISIS conquers more areas and rules more territory – would that make it a war? What if ISIS takes over a whole country, would that be reason enough to involve American troops in the fight? What if ISIS strikes in the US, would that be a reason to change the strategy?

Of course, we should all hope this will never happen.
[Jewish Journal]


U.S. Is Open to Talking to Iran about ISIS
- Michael R. Gordon and Thomas Erdbrink

The Obama administration is open to talking with Iran on the security crisis in Iraq, Secretary of State John Kerry said in Paris, at a conference to which the Iranians were not invited. [But] Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, said he was "listening to Americans making statements on combating ISIS - it was really amusing."

(New York Times)

ISIS Draws Recruits from Turkey - Ceylan Yeginsu

One of the biggest sources of ISIS recruits is neighboring Turkey, a NATO member. As many as 1,000 Turks have joined ISIS, according to Turkish news media reports.

Washington wants Turkey to stanch the flow of foreign fighters and to stop ISIS from exporting the oil it produces on territory it holds in Syria and Iraq. So far, Turkish President Erdogan has resisted pleas to take aggressive steps against the group... 

Turkey declined to sign a communique last Thursday that committed a number of regional states to take "appropriate" new measures to counter ISIS.
(New York Times)


After a week of talks and shuttle diplomacy, aside from Australia, no one has committed forces. Germany, Britain and France have either refused to participate or have yet to make clear what they are willing to do.

The Kurds will not fight for anything but Kurdistan.

The Iraqi Army is a fiction.
The Iraqi Sunnis support IS far more than they trust the Americans.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan will either cheer the US on from a distance, or in the best-case scenario, provide logistical support for its operations.

It isn't just that these states have already been burned by Obama whether through his support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi. And it isn't simply that they saw that the US left them hanging in Syria.

They see Obama's "strategy" for fighting IS — ignoring the Islamic belief system that underpins every aspect of its existence, and expecting other armies to fight and die to accomplish the goal while the US turns a blind eye to Turkey's and Qatar's continued sponsorship of Islamic State. They see this strategy and they are convinced America is fighting to lose. Why should they go down with it?
Islamic State is a challenging foe. To defeat it, the US must be willing to confront Islamism. And it must be willing to fight to win. In the absence of such determination, it will fight and lose, in the region and at home, with no allies at its side.
[Jewish World Review]

Interpreting Islamic State's jihadi logic -Charles Krauthammer, MD

It was an easily sprung trap to provoke America into entering the Mesopotamian war. Why? Because they're sure we will lose. Not immediately and not militarily. They know we always win the battles but they are convinced that, as war drags on, we lose heart and go home.

They count on Barack Obama quitting the Iraq/Syria campaign just as he quit Iraq and Libya in 2011 and is in the process of leaving Afghanistan now. And this goes beyond Obama. They see a post-9/11 pattern: America experiences shock and outrage and demands action. Then, seeing no quick resolution, it tires and seeks out leaders who will order the retreat. In Obama, they found such [a] quintessential leader.

As for the short run, the Islamic State knows it will be pounded from the air. But it deems that price worth paying, given its gains in propaganda and prestige — translated into renown and recruiting — from these public executions.

Understanding this requires an adjustment to our thinking. A common mantra is that American cruelty — Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, "torture," the Iraq war itself — is the great jihadist recruiting tool. But leaving Iraq, closing Abu Ghraib and prohibiting "enhanced interrogation" had zero effect on recruiting. In fact, jihadi cadres from Mali to Mosul have only swelled during Obama's outstretched-hand presidency.

Turns out the Islamic State's best recruiting tool is indeed savagery — its own. Deliberate, defiant, triumphant. The beheadings are not just a magnet for psychopaths around the world. They are choreographed demonstrations of its unbounded determination and of American helplessness. In Osama bin Laden's famous formulation, who is the "strong horse" now?

We tend to forget that at this stage in its career, the Islamic State's principal fight is intramural. The strategy is simple: Draw in the world's great superpower, create the ultimate foil and thus instantly achieve supreme stature in radical Islam as America's nemesis.
Obama's "broad coalition" remains a fantasy. Turkey denied us the use of its air bases. The Sunni Arab states are reluctant to do anything militarily significant. And not a single country has volunteered combat troops. Hardly a surprise, given that Obama has repeatedly ruled that out for the U.S. itself.
[W]hen the enemy deliberately draws you into combat, it is all the more imperative to show the world that he made a big mistake.
[Jewish World Review]

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