U.S. needs clarity and a plan for Middle East

America’s prime directive in Iraq should be bolstering the Iraqi government so that it’s equipped to deal with Islamic extremists — not intervening directly against the extremists themselves.

That’s the position President Barack Obama has taken in recent months, but the brutal slaying of an American journalist by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) may have created a tipping point.

ISIS is a Sunni insurgent group that has seized about a quarter of Iraq’s territory, threatening to annihilate religious minorities — even Shiite Muslims — on its way to establishing an Islamic caliphate.

Just how scary is ISIS? Earlier this year it was disavowed by al-Qaida for being too brutal. But the Pentagon warned last week that any attempts to stop the well-armed and well-financed group will require military intervention in Syria.

Hillary Clinton recently suggested that the president made a mistake in not arming secular pro-democracy rebels in Syria, which created an opening for ISIS to take root and grow into neighboring Iraq. The president has resisted pressure to get the U.S military involved in Syria’s civil war, but events in the region may force his hand.

The big question for war-weary Americans is whether we’re prepared for a bigger “military footprint” in the Middle East just two years removed from withdrawing U.S. troops in Iraq.

Obama has succeeded in ushering a change in leadership in Iraq. The new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, is expected to be more inclusive, which should help unify the country against the threat of the Islamic State. But the region needs a coordinated international response and a comprehensive strategy to end the threat, according to numerous foreign policy experts.

So far, Obama has responded with limited air strikes against ISIS, but that’s likely to change as the international pressure mounts for a military campaign to defeat ISIS — not merely contain it.

Iraq’s military has been helpless to prevent ISIS-led humanitarian disasters. Some would argue that the U.S. is complicit for withdrawing troops too soon. But there’s more than humanitarian atrocities at stake. ISIS represents a very serious threat to homeland security. Thousands of Europeans and other foreigners (including Americans) have joined the group. They have the passports to carry the fight abroad.

America’s presence in Iraq may have had dubious origins. That matters little today. ISIS is a threat more ominous than al-Qaida; more brutal than the Taliban. A combined political, economic and military strategy supported by an international coalition — including Muslim countries — is needed. Does Obama have the political will to wage such a battle?


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Today’s Sentinel editorial (“U.S. needs clarity and a plan for Middle East”) both employs an oxymoronic (if not simply moronic) title and distorts President Obama’s “position” to disingenuously question his “political will” to effectively engage the latest manifestation of violent Islamic extremism in the Middle East known as “ISIS”.

While foreign policy decisions would certainly be easier to make if there were greater “clarity” in the tangled web of sectarian politics of the region, one lesson we should have learned in Iraq is that any perceived oasis of apparent “clarity” is most likely a mirage.

Remember when Senator John (“bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” and Syria) McCain posed for “selfies” with un-vetted Syrian Islamists he wrongly believed were “moderate rebels”?

Remember when McCain and his NeoCon confederates persuaded Prince Bandar (Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief) to funnel arms to those “moderate Syrian rebels” – who then morphed into ISIS?

As a direct result of the Bush/Cheney debacle in Iraq, the guiding principle of President Obama’s more prudent actions has been “don’t do stupid stuff” again.  Despite Hillary Clinton’s much-publicized critique of that informal vernacular, its substance is equivalent to physicians’ Hippocratic Oath:  “First, do no harm”.

Contrary to the Sentinel’s contrivance, President Obama’s words and actions establish that he is indeed willing to “intervene directly against the extremists themselves” when U.S. interests (including our humanitarian values) are directly threatened – but (unlike his predecessor) is unwilling to “shoot from the hip” reacting to potential/eventual threats.

Consistent with the Sentinel’s opinion-from-afar, the contours of President Obama’s
“plan” are already clear:  employ U.S. air power and Iraqi/Kurdish “boots on the ground” to “contain” ISIS, while facilitating a coalition of regional actors to eliminate it.  The first prefatory “move” in that “long game” was the firing of Bush-crony Bandar.

Meanwhile, don’t expect much more “clarity” than that.

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