WASHINGTON – The Obama inspired anti-ISIL (also known as ISIS and IS, for Islamic State) coalition is growing –on paper. In reality, it remains to be seen how nominal expressions of support to fight this terror threat will translate into meaningful actions, be it military engagement, funding for the campaign and/or humanitarian aid for the countless victims of this new conflict.
Broadly speaking, the Arab world should be fully engaged. After all, ISIL is attempting to get itself established as a viable “country” in parts of Syria and Iraq. Its radical ideology calls for the creation of a modern “Caliphate” that will embody true Islamic values. By definition, all existing Arab governments should feel threatened by this bizarre, but very real, organization that now can lead thousands of fanatics into battle, as we have seen in both Syria and Iraq.
But will the Arabs rise to the occasion? I doubt it. Arabs are rarely united on anything, (except for ritual condemnations of Israel and Zionism).
A threat to America
President Obama’s decision to take additional and more forceful action against ISIL stems from the conclusion that the Islamic State represents now a threat to US national security.
The consensus in Washington is that a brand new hotbed of terrorism –with a lot of appeal for fanatics all over the world–sooner or later will become the launching pad for more violent actions against the West and the US in particular.
True or false? Well, there are different opinions on this. Some experts argue that ISIL is mostly concerned with consolidating its power base in Mesopotamia. Others worry of an “al Qaeda 2.0” about to lauch a global jihad, targeting America and Europe to begin with.
Be that as it may, assuming that the US will pursue this new enemy, it is going to be hard to “win” this war. While the Arabs are nominally on board, most Europeans are unenthusiastic followers. The memories of the Iraq semi-disaster are still vivid. Starting all over, with another war, in the same region, looks supremely unappealing, even though this time we are fighting a different enemy.
But the main difference between the Spring of 2003, when President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in order to destroy (the non-existent) stockpiles of WMDs secretly (all Western intelligence services believed) stashed away by evil Saddam Hussein, and now is money. Or lack thereof.
Simply stated, most Western countries are still trying (with no success) to grapple with non performing economies, high unemployment and huge fiscal imbalances.
America is doing so-so, or poorly, at least compared to historic averages. Its economy is growing, but slowly. (A bit more than 2%). However, the federal budget deficit continues to increase, albeit a slower pace.
As a result, US defense spending has already been slashed, with more and bigger cuts coming. A major, sustained (and expensive) operation in a distant theatre is the last thing that a rather anemic Pentagon needs now. And, given the context outlined above, with little real help coming from various “allies”, this is going to be a long, long operation. No quick resolution.
Well, if America is limping, Europe is virtually paralyzed. The projected growth rate for the Eurozone in 2014 has just been revised down by the OECD. It was 1.2% in May. Now it is 0.8%.
Europe still in a crisis
Dismal economic growth is not a good foundation for getting into any protracted conflict. And some Eurozone members, like Italy, are in even worse shape. Italy’s economy will contract even more (-0.4%) in 2014. Its economy is in a virtual coma. Do you really expect the Rome government to provide real help in the difficult fight against ISIL?
War will drag on
President Obama declared the objective to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. Destroying ISIL will require more resources than “containing” it, as previously envisaged. However, given the combination of tepid sentiment and lack of money, in both America and Europe, I do not envisage a massive effort.
Given all this, most likely when Obama’s successor will be inaugurated in January 2017, the war against the Islamic State will still be dragging on.