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?