I’ve been waiting for news that the promised air campaign has commenced. No joy! Apparently we will not do what we can do now, as we seek to build a Potemkin village alliance to fight ISIS on the ground.
Turkey says no — which is no surprise as the Turks delivered the same answer when Prime Minister Erdogan used a parliamentary vote to deny use of Turkish territory to the U.S. on the eve of the invasion of Iraq. Turkey has been on a ten-year slide to ever more significant Islamist control of the Erdogan-led government. Erdogan has made his view of moderation clear:
The term ‘moderate Islam’ is ugly and offensive; there is no moderate Islam; Islam is Islam!
This might explain why Turkey has been the key trans-shipment point for Western fighters “finding” ISIS. Turkey’s aspirations for regional hegemony are reliant on broad-based Sunni control ranging from North Africa through the Levant. They may have a Frankenstein monster on their hands, of their own making.
Syrian rebel groups have apparently engaged in “non-compete” agreements with ISIS in an attempt to blunt the Obama administration’s attempt to find appropriate partners in Syria. Robert McFarland, former National Security Advisor under President Reagan has been looking for moderate Muslims for 40 years. McFarland never found them, and now the Obama administration has now taken up the gauntlet.
Jordan is overwhelmed with refugees and remains more concerned with protecting its border from ISIS and its monarchy from internal pressures than in weakening its defenses to fight ISIS in Northern Iraq and Syria. ISIS is a mere 300 miles from Jordan’s border. Jordan could however be a critical source of intelligence.
Egypt says no, exacting a price related to U.S. support for the Muslim Brotherhood and feckless U.S. policy regarding the ouster of former President Morsi. Egypt is not directly threatened by ISIS, for the moment, and remains more concerned with insurgencies in North Africa and the Sinai that pose a more direct threat.
Saudi Arabia demurs, as usual. It has committed to providing a base for the training of Syrian rebels. But where will the trainees come from? Will there be enough of them? How do they get there? How is moderation judged? Saudi Arabia has looked the other way in terms of funding for ISIS, likely funneling “charitable” donations through Kuwait. While that support is no longer necessary, it was there in earlier days and is an ever-present reminder that Saudi Arabia is a fulcrum in the shadow dance of Byzantine politics of the Middle East. The Saudis should be reminded that ISIS had declared them a near-enemy as well with a prequalified base of support. ISIS has adopted both the fundamental governing ideology and the language of the Wahhabist interpretation of Islam. This factor, above all others, should frighten the Saudi government into significant action as the powerful clerical class, despite public statements to the contrary, has no significant divergence with ISIS.
The Saudis are like a corrupt cop who needs the occasional “bust” to maintain credibility. The fact is that ideologically, Wahhabism and ISIS ideology are consistent only by tactics. In a conversation with MI6 Director Sir Richard Dearlove, Prince Bandar, former Ambassador to the U.S. and head of Saudi Intelligence, said:
The time is not far off in the Middle East … when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.
Germany and the U.K offer no military support, but they may provide humanitarian assistance, actions significantly separated from their frantic rhetoric. France may send reconnaissance flights over Syria and provide ammunition; to France’s credit, it was part of the operation around Amerli. Canada will provide ammunition. Australia will deploy up to eight F/A 18 combat aircraft along with airborne early warning capabilities.
The context of this broad-based reluctance is a multi-headed hydra. There are concerns beyond a vapid military strategy, not the least of which is Obama’s narcissistic impulses. Is going into Syria about ISIS or is it about getting rid of Assad? Will Obama use Assad’s conflict with ISIS as a red herring to do damage to Damascus? Our military experts cannot be the only ones who realize that anything short of a battalion (about 5,000) on the ground in support of an air campaign is doomed to some degree of failure. They see the American military being gutted both in terms of physical capability and in terms of the fact that the politically incorrect warrior class has been being shown the door for some time now.
They further see that as of today we are still engaged in air strikes at the Mosul Dam (read: pin pricks failing to fully secure one of the most significant potential terror weapons in the Middle East). They have seen Obama abandon promises to allies in Eastern Europe, they have watched as Crimea fell and red lines vanished in the sand. Opportunities to confront Iran have gone begging and many have watched in horror as the U.S. stood foursquare with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, conducted secret negotiations with Iran, and provided support to Israel’s enemy Hamas. Even those who oppose Israel are aware of the pressures brought by the U.S. on a supposed ally under attack.
They see continual messaging disconnects between the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon. The interpretation is that when Secretaries Hagel and Kerry show up, what they say, what they promise may not, in fact, be U.S. policy. They see outrage at American beheadings but do not see such outrage in other, much worse circumstances such as Somalia and Nigeria and ISIS attempts at sectarian genocide.
Finally, President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron and the whole of the European bureaucracy insist that ISIS is not Islamic! That Islam is a religion of peace. The facts belie that contention: Since 9/11 there have been 23,828 deadly terror attacks worldwide.
Waiting for Godot? Maybe, but Godot never came.