A serious anti-IS/ISIS strategy urgently requires greater clarity on two key regional players: Iran and Bashar al-Assad. What is the projected role for Iran, a major regional player and a key actor in Shia Iraq, with which the Obama administration is evidently keen to strike a comprehensive deal on nuclear issues? How can a successful anti-IS campaign be pursued in Syria while there is this ongoing U.S. ambivalence about the only military force capable of countering the jihadists on the ground, the Syrian government army?
Chuck Hagel’s firing was caused, prima facie, by his bungled attempt to get the answers from Susan Rice. The causes of his demise go deeper, but the dilemma will remain unresolved regardless of the loyal nonentity Obama eventually selects for the post. We are in a war of uncertain duration with an ill-defined enemy and no definition of victory. I have written about the problem in some detail (this summary was posted ten weeks ago), and as we near 2015 it remains unresolved.
The Turkish leadership is increasingly unhinged. The Muslims discovered America three centuries before Columbus, President Tayyip Erdogan insists, and the Ottoman Empire was a paragon of enlightened tolerance. A belated echo of its multi-culti offerings was painfully visible during Pope Francis’ futile visit to the reliquiae reliquiarum of Christianity in what used to be Constantinople. Erdogan wants to see his fellow-Sunni fundamentalists in power in Damascus, ISIS or no ISIS. His strategy entails brazenly blackmailing Washington. It is no longer “if you don’t commit to removing Assad I will do nothing” (Kobani last month), it is now “if you don’t act against Assad I will help ISIS” (Kobani in recent days).
Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states are even worse. Having financed, trained and equipped ISIS, the royal cleptocrats now pretend to be willing to join the “coalition” for as long as the primary objective is the regime change in Damascus. The Saudis and their fellow-thieves in the Gulf, as always, have the oil weapon that Erdogan lacks – but which the “foreign policy community” in Washington respects for all the wrong reasons. Their current manic overproduction is hurting the Russian economy, as desired by the Obama team, never mind the disastrous consequences for America’s own shale oil and gas extractors.
Let me end with a rare voice of reason:
Given that it is the Assad regime dealing with ISIS on the battlefield, is there not a case for deferring the confrontation with Assad, until after we neutralize the Greater Evil? Is Assad worse than Stalin, our WW2 ally? Regardless of how you answer the question, clearly the Obama administration’s tactics and resource allocation are seriously out of sync with its professed strategy.
Pending strategy review, this remains a bad war – fought by inadequate means, for ill-defined objectives, and reliant on some very bad “allies.”