Rocked by criticism for saying "We don't have a strategy yet" on the lengthy and dramatic rise of ISIS, President Barack Obama tonight resorted to his tried and true technique lf defining events through a major speech. That the man whose 2008 presidential primaries victory was ensured by his speech as a U.S. Senate candidate opposing the invasion of Iraq has just guaranteed in another speech that the remainder of his term will be marked by renewed, open-ended military intervention in that very place is, to say the least, ironic. As is the setting of the stage for the U.S. to remain on a perpetual war footing in the Middle East, with the hardest part left to his predecessor.
Gulf War III is coming into sharper focus.
President Barack Obama, addressing the nation tonight from the White House, laid out an expansive new plan for military intervention in the Middle East.
Obama laid out an expansive if still rather vague strategy to "degrade" and ultimately "destroy" ISIS, the Al Qaeda offshoot which has carved out a de facto rogue state out of much of Iraq and Syria in becoming the world's richest terrorist organization. More air strikes, probably eventually in Syria, where ISIS currently has a safe haven due to the Obama administration's desire to at least look like it is trying to dislodge the Assad regime, which ISIS has done so much to undermine if not actually defeat. And more American military advisors to train and assist anti-ISIS forces inside what remains of the colonial construct we still call "Iraq."
It's true that, had the Bush/Cheney administration not foolishly invaded Iraq in the first place, none of this would be happening. But it is also true that, had the Obama administration gotten its act together and acted sooner, ISIS would not have been able to achieve the vast acquisitions of territory, wealth, and strategic resources that make the Al Qaeda offshoot such a seemingly large threat.
"Don't do stupid shit," after all, is only half of an approach to geopolitics. The failure to act, as is obvious here, is equally egregious. Bush's sin of commission is joined by Obama's sin of omission. After all, air power is best used to prevent mobile infantry forces like those of ISIS operating across open terrain from seizing targets, not in dislodging such forces from urban settings.
Obama and his national security apparatus got this horribly wrong from the get-go. It was Obama, reports the New York Times, who fecklessly dismissed Isis as the "JV" (junior varsity) of jihadism earlier this year. Then, when its exploits broke through to the world media, he dawdled for months while trying to force a change in a Baghdad government fated to preside over the devolution of the old colonial construct of "Iraq" into Kurd, Shia, and Sunni portions.
With Bush-installed Nouri al-Maliki finally moved aside, it was then time for yet more Obama analysis of the situation, even as limited strikes -- primarily to back up the Kurds, likely the only pro-American ally in the future of that part of the Middle East -- were undertaken. Then it was time for more delay in creating an overall strategy, as the administration turned to NATO for alliance-building.
That would be the same NATO which proved utterly unable to take down Moammar Gadaffi's not especially impressive military until the U.S. stepped in with crucial assistance. As it is, only one-third of NATO has joined the anti-ISIS coalition. Following the exertions of last week's NATO summit, the nations in the coalition, in addition to the U.S., are Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Turkey.
And, speaking of coalitions, where are the Gulf state Arabs who disdain Islamist radicalism even as key members of the societies fund jihadism?
Saudi Arabia has just agreed to provide a training base for moderate Syrian rebels. But that's already in the kingdom's expressed self-interest of continuing to try to depose the Assad regime, backed to the hilt by its longtime allies, Russia and Iran. What will the Saudis do specifically against ISIS? And how entangled is Obama going to get in more tangential pursuits?
Had Obama acted sooner, all this might be unnecessary. The threat would certainly be smaller.
One wonders, looking at the express strategy, what is the real goal? Is it victory? Or time-buying containment? And if the latter, buying time for what? Diplomacy? Rapprochement? Or perpetual military engagement in the Middle East?
One way to keep a certain set-up spun up is the perpetuate a threat.
Through fecklessness in initial response, and design in this reaction, the Obama administration has set the stage for long-term involvement in a Middle Eastern war that already transcends old boundaries. Whether it's through air warm or an emerging combination of air war, proxy war, and special ops war, the die is cast.
Obama defeated Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primaries and took office on the premise that he would wind down America's role in Middle Eastern and Central Asian conflicts. But his legacy will be the contrary.
Once in office, he announced a geopolitical pivot to the rising Asia Pacific, both for greater involvement with friends and potential friends there and a heightened enlightened engagement with the only emerging superpower on the planet, the People's Republic of China. But it's hard to pivot when one's foot is stuck in the same place, as the Chinese are noting.
Thirteen years after 9/11, the beat goes on.
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