Barack Obama is a man who desperately wishes that foreign-policy wasn’t part of the job description that comes with being President of the United States. After six years of trying to “pivot” away from the Middle East, Obama is discovering that just because one doesn’t have an interest in the Middle East, is no immunity from the Middle East biting one in the ass.
With the terror group ISIS rampaging over much of the Levant and executing Western hostages, Obama has found himself forced to commit America to going to war again in the region. A broad regional coalition of (mainly) Sunni states is, according to Obama’s thinking, an essential ingredient to legitimizing America’s latest military foray in a region Obama would dearly love to be rid of.
Alas, Obama’s efforts at coalition-building have so far proven a dismal failure, with no country yet willing to openly commit to joining the USA in any military action against ISIS. But the reluctance of Middle Eastern governments to join an “anti-ISIS” coalition is not due to any imagined sympathies towards the group.
Simply put, countries in the region are understandably reluctant to commit themselves to a man who has himself not kept a single commitment to any of America’s allies. From Ukraine, to Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Turkey and the Gulf, America’s friends and opponents have noted what little value the Obama administration’s “commitments” are actually worth.
After six years of weaseling out of “red lines”, throwing Lebanese and Ukrainian allies under the bus, treating Turkey and Israel with open disdain, and going behind the Gulf’s back to sign an appeasement with the Iranian Ayatollocracy, the scale of which outdid even Chamberlain’s Munich agreement with Adolf Hitler, Obama comes as a supplicant to the Middle East; a supplicant with not even the credibility of a used-car salesman.
Join an Obama-led “anti-terror” coalition? Speaking as a Syrian refugee, I tend to regard Barack Obama as one would regard a neighbor who never lent much more than a glass of water while my house burned, but now expects me to join his vigilante neighborhood gang because someone broke his windows.
Six years into his administration, Obama is learning that there is a price to be paid for screwing over America’s allies and breaking commitments. And it doesn’t help matters when Obama confides to the American press that he foresees the ISIS problem as being one “for the next president, and probably the one after that.”
The “next president”. Obama may very well prefer to coast through the rest of his presidency, and eventually enjoy the post-presidential bounties of big fat speaking fees and appearances. But those of us who actually live in the region aren’t so lucky, and Obama is going to have to display an unprecedented level of commitment if he wants his “anti-ISIS” coalition to amount to more than himself and some Iranian Shia proxy militias, most of whom have proven to be as bad as ISIS.
No American boots on the ground? That may sound good politically, but it’s a policy that flies in the face of any serious military strategy that has a snowball’s chance in hell of defeating ISIS.
ISIS will not be defeated by airstrikes alone, someone’s boots are going to have to go toe to toe with the Jihadis. What kind of an imbecile telegraphs their own pain-thresholds to an adversary well before a battle. All it does is raise doubts about one’s resolve in the minds of both one’s opponents, and potential allies (good luck Obama, on getting any Turkish or Arab “boots on the ground” after displaying your reluctance to put your “boots” where your mouth is).
Obama is no George Bush Senior. In 1990, Bush managed to build an impressive regional and international coalition against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Before a single bullet was fired in Desert Storm, Saddam was completely isolated politically. While the military contributions of many countries in Desert Storm would eventually prove peripheral, the political legitimacy they afforded to the campaign was invaluable.
So why did George Bush Senior succeed where Barack Obama has so far failed? By any measure, Obama’s task should have proven the easier of the two. While Saddam initially had some international support, ISIS has none. The Iraqi military at the time was the world’s largest, a far tougher nut to crack than ISIS could ever dream of becoming.
No, in the end, the success or failure of coalition building depends as much on the attributes and perceived reliability of those who would lead such a coalition, as it does on the potential target or goals of said coalition. In 1990, America’s resolve, objectives and commitment were unquestioned. American boots were the first to go into battle. America’s allies knew what they were signing up for when they got behind the USA. America’s allies trusted America’s president.
A stark contrast to the fuzzy, muddled approach of America’s current president. It is difficult to have confidence in a man whose own self-confidence is so lacking, his best hope of fixing the greatest threat of this decade is to leave it to be solved by “the next president, and probably the one after that.”