WASHINGTON – America should respond swiftly and massively against the political and military threat represented by the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, now established in Northern Iraq and parts of Syria. We should use force in our self-interest and in the interest of stability in the Middle East.
We should do so in order to show to the resilient Sunni Islamic radicals, within ISIS and beyond, that they do not have a chance to ever see their crazy dreams of a resurrected Caliphate come to life.
Of course, more broadly, it would also be good for America to support the political integration of peaceful Sunnis into the Iraqi political system, something that Prime Minister al-Maliki has failed to do. In fact, as we know, rather stupidly he has done exactly the opposite. As a Shiite, al-Maliki has openly worked to marginalize the Sunnis who used to rule Iraq until the demise of Saddam Hussein in March of 2003.
But this is political work for tomorrow. Right now we have to defeat ISIS –quickly and decisively. And for this military response to send the right signal to all would-be jihadists, it better be a mortal blow. The message should be: “You do not stand a chance”.
No sense of urgency
But I do not see any of this happening. As ISIS progresses in its spectacular advance into southern Iraq, President Obama for a few days said nothing. Did he have the information? Do our intelligence services see what’s going on? Do they report it to the White House? Apparently yes; but Obama did not nothing anyway.
Advice to al-Maliki
Now that he has spoken, we see that he intends to do little, or very little. For starters, Obama blamed publicly Prime Minister al-Maliki for his ill-advised discriminatory, anti-Sunni policies. He advised him to change course. Nice opening: start by blaming your ally for having caused the crisis. (I suggest that the President should have done this in private, and not as a public scolding).
As for what the US may do to reverse this Iraqi strategic debacle, well, stay tuned. We are probably going to do something –added Obama– but not much, and not very soon.
This is not an American problem
What is the direct and indirect message here? The way I read Obama’s preliminary assessment of this sudden tragedy is that this unprecedented military and political crisis affecting Iraq is really no big deal from the standpoint of America’s national interest.
This is an Iraqi domestic problem –we are told by Obama– in large part caused by the ill-advised sectarian policies pursued by the al-Maliki government. They should change course. They should become more inclusive regarding the Sunni minority, and this would help deflate the support that regular Sunnis seem inclined to give to ISIS at this point.
This is a bit like responding to someone having a heart attack by giving them a nice list of healthy food they should start eating. This is all very well and good. But right now there is an emergency. And this requires swift action, not advice.
ISIS is no threat to America
But, again, does ISIS represent a problem for America’s security? Apparently not. Are we concerned that the establishment of something like an Islamic radical state in significant regions of Syria and Iraq may have negative consequences? Apparently not, even though this radical core may attract other radicals who from that base may over time resume plotting attacks against America and other Western interests. Does the history of al Qaeda and how it got itself established in Afghanistan teach us anything at all?
Well, it would appear that ISIS does not represent a threat to America. This is an Iraqi problem. Mercifully Obama got us out of the Iraqi mess back in December 2011. And we have no intention of revisiting that nightmare. Besides, all opinion polls indicate that Americans would not support any US intervention in any Iraqi fight, whatever the motives.
Follow the polls
So, President Obama is correctly interpreting the popular sentiment. In the spirit of our times, he believes that leadership is just this: follow what the polls say. So, he is prepared to give al-Maliki advice; but not much else.
As to the fact that al-Maliki is already getting military help from Iran, a country that (in theory) we would like to contain given its dangerous hegemonic aspiration, apparently this does not matter either.
This is America’s foreign policy in an age of myopia and retreat, rationalized as superior wisdom.