All the punditry and sundry policy experts are weighing in with what the US strategy is for “defeating ISIS” and I’m going to paste my email response to JK on a link he had sent earlier. The link is a very interesting piece, “U.S. Influence Drip-Dripping Away” by Adam Garfinkle at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Please read the entire article, because JK wrote to me, “Well LB, I don’t have a clue as to how you could go about synthesizing this one. But it does about the best job I’ve read on just what a cock-up our current (mostly) Administration[s] have achieved.” and he’s right, this is an entertaining, as well as informative piece. Garfinkle poses these questions:
“But this whole business of leveraging non-jihadi Sunni power is a sore and embarrassing point in another way. Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said yesterday that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was “looking at a train-and-equip program for the Free Syrian Army.” Umm, didn’t Secretary Kerry strongly suggest some months ago, just a short while after the second Geneva meeting on Syria had fallen flat on its face in late January, that exactly such a program had already been vetted? In June didn’t President Obama ask Congress for $500 million for exactly that purpose? So why is the Pentagon talking like it thought up this possibility just yesterday? Could it be that all that has gone before was just so much persiflage and outright deception, designed to shroud the President’s determination to do nothing in a haze of appearing to do something?”
“Joe and Jane America might have one more set of questions, if they’ve been reasonably attentive to the lay of the land in the Middle East. “Let’s see now”, Joe might say to Jane, “the Saudis, Egyptians, Emiratis, Israelis, Jordanians, and the Palestinian Authority, too, are all opposed to the kind of jihadi militants that applauded the 9/11 attacks, but the Obama Administration is on bad terms with nearly all those parties.” And Jane might respond, “Yes, Joe, that’s right; but our Secretary of State is welcome in Qatar and Turkey, whose governments support Muslim Brotherhood militants, not to exclude Hamas, and even more extreme groups besides as far away as Libya, all of whom hate the United States.” “Wait”, answers Joe, “doesn’t the United States have a significant military presence in Qatar, as well as a major naval presence in Bahrain, putting us under the sheets, so to speak, with both sides of the GCC spat?” “Gosh”, exclaims Jane, “that’s right; but if the United States has a lot of military assets in Qatar, can’t we use our relationship with the Qatari authorities to get them to stop doing such bad things?” “That’s a good question, Jane; we should find an expert who can give us an answer.””
Garfinkle answers that question and many more – I repeat, definitely worth reading!
So, as these email discussions with JK go, I decided to share my response to this article and this is where I am at in my thinking on how to deal with ISIS:
“Pretty blunt and to the point, except here’s where I disagree to a certain extent. I hate for this to sound like I support dictators, but in that region of the world we’re pretty much forced to deal with (not necessarily support) dictators or religious zealots. I’d opt for the dictators for the most part, with the caveat that we need to definitely impose a stringent carrots and sticks approach with a heavy emphasis on the sticks for those that aid and abet Islamist nutjobs. Of course, geographical imperatives might push us to less than ideological purity even in this formula – but at least we might be able to contain handing the weapons to those intent on killing us with them. I mentioned before that I think we should hold off on heavier involvement in “defeating ISIS”, because the pressure needs to build on Arab leaders and Iran – push their backs to the wall. ISIS is deliberately trying to draw us into this mess with these publicity stunt beheadings. Rushing in half-cocked will leave us in the same mess as before – accepting bad options in hopes that we have avoided even worse options. If I were in charge, I’d be burning up the phone lines to Arab leaders and asking them what they plan to do about this and I’d assuredly be talking to Putin and the Chinese too and our allies. I’d even talk to Assad, which this analyst discounts and the discussion would be about American expectations about our possible operations inside Syria to eliminate ISIS and the warnings to Assad about repercussions if he screws with us. This arming the Free Syrian Army to take out Assad is dumb – because that just creates another totally failed state unless the UN is going to conjure up a viable government (not likely). I’d like to let ISIS grow a bit and pressure the Arabs a bit more – that might sound dangerous, but to me rushing in to “save” folks who don’t realize they were drowning doesn’t win you anything but haughty assurances they didn’t really need your help.
You keep mentioning wanting Congress to sign on to whatever plan is undertaken, well, I want the “leaders” in the ME to be forced to sign on too. Still lots of doubts in my thinking, but the big players need to be part of the discussions, before we creep our ways into another strategic corner. Obama just dithers to avoid making a decision; I prefer to plan carefully and to prepare the battlefield more to my liking with strategic diplomatic efforts. Still mulling it over….”
I’d rather have President Obama lay out a clear strategy on the ISIS crisis than make incoherent, reactionary moves to appease his critics, stridently demanding he act quickly or his partisan friends worrying about the November elections. The ISIS situation, as most situations in the ME, isn’t a military challenge for us. We have the military superiority to annihilate ISIS, but the cancer analogy works best to describe the long-term prognosis – the cancerous ideology of Islamism keeps metastasizing and therein lies the true strategic challenge.
G. Murphy Donovan lays out an excellent analysis of the strategic challenges in a New English Review piece, “Islam, Monoculture and the Obama Caliphate”. GMD writes:
“A fresh crop of neo-fascist thugs is now abroad, varieties that make Fatah, Hezb’allah, Hamas, or al Qaeda seem enlightened. The new face of Islam is savage: slavery, beheading, crucifixion, and genocide. Demands are binary: “accept Islam or die.” The mad dogs of Muslim hell are off the choke chain.
The standard-bearer of Islam’s latest lurch backwards is the newly minted Islamic State of Iran and Syria (ISIS). Muslim terrorists have upped the ante and called America’s bluff again. Unlike the imaginary red lines drawn in the Oval Office, ISIS has now drawn a bright red line with American blood.
The cradle of civilization has become a charnel house, a manufactured tragedy wrought by the intersection of pandering, strategic naiveté, and blowback. Administration and media sycophants were inclined to ignore beheadings in Mosul when the victims were natives. Now that the Islamic knife cuts closer to home, decapitation is finally covered above the fold.
Such news might sound bad, but apparently not bad enough to interrupt the presidential partying on Martha’s Vineyard this summer.”
Well, no worries, President Obama is on the job, fully rested and invigorated, ready to take on the ISIS problem:
“Speaking earlier this morning in Estonia, President Obama addressed dealing with ISIS. He talked of making ISIS a “manageable problem” if the “international community” comes together:
“We know that if we are joined by the international community, we can continue to shrink ISILl’s sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem,” said Obama.” – (“Obama: ISIS a ‘Manageable Problem,’ If ‘International Community’ Comes Together” – The Weekly Standard)
Yes, ‘IF” the “international community” comes together…. okay, y’all remember how this chant goes: “Yes, we can!” And this man was elected not once, but twice, by the American people and today he even had his teleprompter handy, so no, “we don’t have a strategy, yet” blunders. His strategy, like mine, involves international diplomacy except he assuredly won’t be saying the things I would say. Between him and his oh so talented staff, they have dissed our allies and backed all the wrong horses in the ME thus far, leaving even Egypt and UAE taking military matters into their own hands to deal with the nightmare left in Obama’s wake in Libya. Obama has spent his entire presidency emphasizing a cut and run policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, he drew red lines with disappearing ink in Syria, and now he thinks he can build an international coalition to “manage” ISIS? Americans might be stupid enough to elect him twice, but I doubt most of the rest of the world will trust him to “manage” the ISIS problem. Good grief, he wants to be the international community organizer now, when the world hoped for American leadership.