President Barack Obama is channeling George W. Bush in launching a new Mideast war. Why is Washington involved?
The Islamic State is evil, but the organization’s raison d’etre is establishing a Middle Eastern caliphate, or quasi-state, not terrorizing Americans. In fact, grabbing territory provided the United States with a target for retaliation in response to any attack, something lacking with al-Qaeda.
The murder of two Americans captured in the region was horrid but opportunistic. Morally abominable, yes. Cause for war, no.
Washington has never had much success in fixing the Middle East. The United States has been bombing Iraq since 1991. ISIL would not exist but for America’s 2003 invasion.
Washington has been battling al-Qaeda since 2001. While the national organization is largely kaput, the group has spawned multiple national off-shoots.
The Bush administration justifiably overthrew the Afghan Taliban as punishment for hosting al-Qaeda. But 13 years of nation-building has been far less successful.
Three years ago, the Obama administration declared that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad had to go. Since then, “moderates” have lost ground. The Islamic State’s capture of the city of Raqqa created a base for attacking Iraq.
Washington joined European states in ousting Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi in the name of the Arab Spring. Today the country is in collapse. Yemen, the subject of a lengthy and heavy drone campaign, appears headed in a similar direction.
Now Washington plans to rid the world of ISIL.
Targeting the “caliphate” removes the most important deterrent to terrorist attacks by the Islamic State. If it finds its conventional ambitions frustrated by Washington, the group might switch direction and cooperate with groups such as al-Qaeda.
The administration almost certainly will be drawn ever deeper into the conflict. Pinprick aerial bombing won’t wipe out ISIL adherents.
U.S. policy in Syria, the scene of the group’s initial success, is bound to fail. The administration intends to step up efforts to train and arm the “moderates,” some of whom cooperate with ISIL. The likelihood of these groups defeating both Assad and Islamic State is small. While American bombing will hamper the latter’s efforts, the organization has been adapting and advancing. The administration could end up helping ISIL plant its flag in Damascus.
The administration’s campaign is particularly misguided because there are so many other candidates to take on the Islamic State. The organization is essentially at war with every major country in the Middle East.
ISIL’s territorial claims directly threaten Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, as well as autonomous Kurdistan. The group’s stance as self-proclaimed Sunni guardian challenges Iran and Israel. ISIL’s Sunni radicalism targets Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf kingdoms, as well as assorted Islamist and secular insurgents in Syria.
No doubt, Washington’s allies prefer that the world’s superpower take care of the problem. But they obviously are capable of acting. Indeed, since its spectacular summer successes, the Islamic State has lost momentum and the element of surprise.
However, the United States is determined again to “lead.” Other countries will help out a little, but most coalition members are likely to do only as much as they believe necessary to limit Washington’s kvetching.
America should leave ISIL to its neighbors. Only they can create stability. As I wrote on Forbes online, “they must adopt economic and political reforms to satisfy discontented publics, nurture popular loyalties to thwart triumphal ideological and theological movements, and employ competent militaries to suppress security threats.”
Obviously, such a regional effort would take time. But administration officials are saying the same for the American-led campaign against an enemy that has not seriously threatened America.
Washington has made a hash of the Mideast. Yet President Obama is continuing Washington’s policy of endless war in the Middle East. As Yogi Berra said, it’s “déjà vu all over again.”