No, Obama is not taking the US to war in Iraq again (over ISIS)

3:36 pm - September 11th 2014

by Sunny Hundal    

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Last night President Obama delivered a speech on how the United States would tackle the threat of ISIS. It rightly deserves a lot of parsing and discussion.

There have broadly been two types of responses:
“Oh no, the USA is back to fighting a war in Iraq again! This won’t end well!” … or…
“Oh god, this won’t do anything to destroy ISIS. The President isn’t doing enough!”

Both are wrong and exaggerated. Here are a few thoughts.

1) The aim of Obama’s speech was primarily to reassure the American public that he was doing something about ISIS. It’s more right to say he isn’t doing enough, but that’s probably a good thing as I explain below. In fact his strategy now isn’t any different to a few weeks ago when he said he had no strategy. And there are good reasons why there is no clear strategy.

2) The President didn’t announce anything new other than the prospect of some air-strikes in Syria against ISIS (and possibly Assad). There was a mention of training moderate Syrian rebels in Saudi Arabia, but there are some reports this is already happening in Jordan. That’s about it. He ruled out U.S. troops going back into Iraq or Syria, until he is President anyway.

3) There is some merit to the complaint that Obama isn’t doing enough. Air-strikes will dent ISIS but not destroy them, which will take ground troops in both countries. But the USA hasn’t been able to persuade any outside partners (Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Jordan) to commit to troops to destroy ISIS yet. This is why Obama’s announcements amounted to little; there is little the US can do by itself that won’t make the situation worse.

4) In the short and medium term I suspect the Islamic State will expand in size and strength. The Arab countries and Turkey are too scared to confront ISIS (militarily and ideologically) and are still hoping the US will do their dirty work for them. Obama, wisely, isn’t buying it. He has avoided falling for the ISIS trap.

5) I asked others what they would have wanted to see instead.

Well, I’m with Hend on that. Part of the blame for not intervening in Syria lies with those lefties and Muslims (across the US and UK) who opposed such action…but there’s little we can do about that now.

6) If a terrorist attack is committed in the name of ISIS in mainland Europe (most likely France) or the United States, then this will all change.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Foreign affairs ,Middle East

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Reader comments

I think this is a good piece.
American policy has infantilized the Middle East. None wants to act for fear of Isis turning on them. Isis hasn’t touched the west as yet.
Obama needs the Sunnis to turn on Isis, as they have done in the past.
Obama and Cameron are right not to include Asad in their coalition, as that would set a dangerous precedent.
We’ll see how the policy goes. As I’ve said before, Isis isn’t as tough as they look. They’ve had an easy time of it lately. That now looks like its changing.

‘There was a mention of training moderate Syrian rebels in Saudi Arabia…’ Training moderate rebels in Saudi Arabia? I’ll believe that when I see it. Saudi Arabia has been the source of so much extreme manifestations of Islamism over the decades that the best one can hope for is a bunch that is ever-so-slightly less rabid than ISIS. Still, if that is what passes for a ‘moderate’ these days…

Do we have an update on the positives from intervention in Libya? Surely it must be a paradise by now, thanks to the bombs.

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