I voted for Obama (twice) and was a huge enthusiast when he took office. His performance since then has been disappointing, but I blame a lot of that on the Republicans, whose program for the country seems to consist entirely of “block whatever Obama wants to do.” But in general, his views have been aligned with mine, i.e., liberal, and in favor of disengaging from futile wars in the Middle East. I don’t particularly like his stalling on immigration reform for purely political reasons, but what most bothers me now is that he seems directionless about the ISIS affair.
First he said he had no plan, then his plan was airstrikes, and now his plan is U.S. airstrikes combined with “boots on the ground” from other countries, like Turkey or Lebanon. And that plan is just dumb. Not because it’s unworkable in principle, but because it’s unworkable in practice. Really, who thinks that countries like Turkey are going to sacrifice a lot of their people while the U.S. just rains death from above? They risk the lives of their citizens; we don’t.
This is already clear as John Kerry scurries around the region trying to drum up support for ground troops, but without success. That was absolutely predictable. And that leaves us with U.S. and European airstrikes, and that’s not going to eliminate ISIS—or so the military experts say.
What do we do? I have no idea. Half the time I think that we should just disengage from the region completely, at least from the futile wars in which we’ve already lost so many lives. Let ISIS do what they can; is it our responsibility to police the world? But then I think of all the innocents being slaughtered by that group, and how nobody but the U.S. can do anything about that, even if only by leading. Not only that, but clearly ISIS, if it becomes a dominant force in the region, will export its methods to our own country. It needs Lebensraum for its religion and its Caliphate.
Perhaps Obama is stymied by an unwinnable situation, and that accounts for his waffling. But right now all I see is that we’ll be pouring money and effort into a venture that is doomed to failure.
94 thoughts on “Obama vs. ISIS”
Subscribe. I have no ideas on what should be done.
Military intervention makes sense only if there is some plausible reason to believe that such intervention will bring about conditions that are better (for us and for the locals) than those existing now. As far as I can see, no one has even attempted to explain how bombing ISIS will increase US security, much less improve the lives of ISIS’ victims in Syria and Iraq.
Any military intervention against ISIS should be led by the countries who have the most to lose from ISIS’ success, i.e., Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, UAE, etc. They have plenty of cash and weapons with which to fight ISIS but they are not doing so because they fear their own populations and believe (with some justification, alas) that they can get the Americans to do the job for them. They should be disabused of that notion and informed that the US and the other Western powers will wholeheartedly support their efforts against ISIS under the auspices of the UN.
The US and Western powers invaded Iraq WITHOUT a UN mandate, to bring Bush’s Dimahcracy to the region. It seems to me that the real agenda is to destabilise the area so that it wastes its resources on strife instead of infrastructure so that the West can get the bulk of the oil.
I don’t disagree with your description of the Iraq War. Toppling Saddam Hussein destabilized the region infinitely more than Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait ever could have. And do the Iraqi people deem themselves better off with ISIS than they did with Saddam? I seriously doubt it.
The lesson: Every time we touch other people’s stuff, we turn it to sh*t (in fact, even the stuff that was already sh*t turns sh*ttier through our influence). So let’s stop touching other people’s stuff and cultivate our own garden for a while. Goodness knows it needs tending.
Couldn’t agree more!
“It seems to me that the real agenda is to destabilise the area so that it wastes its resources on strife instead of infrastructure so that the West can get the bulk of the oil.”
That’s the funniest thing I’ve read all day. How much outside influence do the Arabs need to waste their resources on strife? It comes naturally to them. It’s virtually the only thing they’re good at.
And as for “getting the bulk of the oil”, has it ever occurred to you that the oil goes to whoever is willing to BUY it? These countries have to sell their oil on the world market because they have absolutely no basis for an economy apart from that. This mantra of “it’s all about oil” makes it sound as though it’s being siphoned off without the Iraqis’ permission and pumped free of charge straight into the gas tanks of American SUVs.
That’s the funniest thing I’ve read all day:
“How much outside influence do the Arabs need to waste their resources on strife? It comes naturally to them. It’s virtually the only thing they’re good at.”
You could substitute various things in that phrase for an ethnic designation such as Arab, depending on context: Negro, Slav, Jew, Irish. I’ve heard all those. Why not say Caucasian or European for once. It fits.
Iran/Iraq has been a zone of US/Soviet influence since the Second World War (the Europeans had their fingers in the pie before that). Trade agreements for arms as part of political strategy. Iraq was dumped economically when this game was no longer convenient (the Irag/Iran War finished) and Iraq turned on its neighbours (FOR THE OIL!!!!).
I never claimed that the countries concerned are not in part responsible, but they are under extremely heavy external influence.
“Did it ever occur to you” that oil is cheaper when the seller’s country is crippled by war and that you can ensure that he will sell to you and not your enemy if you sell him arms? An oil country which is affluent and well structured can play the market and even withhold supply (Europe is particularly vulnerable to this as seen in the 70’s). It can also become a political world player in its own right. But we wouldn’t want that would we?
The final paragraphs of that article are powerful:
Yep, Bacevich hits the nail on the head, as he so often does.
It’s almost as if the US political class is simply incapable of learning. And it’s not just that our Government is failing to learn from the past; it also seems unable to learn from *the present*! We haven’t even dislodged ourselves from Afghanistan before we set off looking for other dragons to slay in Iraq and Syria? It is madness.
Yes, once again Bacevitch seems to have it right. That’s the diagnosis – now what is the/a cure?
At least we need to keep Lindsay Graham and McCain as far away from the decision making as possible; good luck with that…
“It’s almost as if the US political class is simply incapable of learning.”
Oh, no, it’s exactly as if that.
Things are trite for a reason. No one learns from history, old men send young men to fight, etc. We thought we had it licked after Viet Nam when we totally learned never to send US boys overseas to fight uncharted wars with no exit strategy, yada yada yada.
Forty years and several wars later, it’s easy to look back and realize they’d said that after Korea, too. And of course there was all that war-to-end-all-wars jazz. And before that…
We haven’t quite got the hang of this tribe-based history in the age of globalization thing.
Yes, still using old Cold War moves. They need some new material.
This presupposes we know what the goal is. If we assume instead that the goal is to maintain US (and a few other US allies) *control* over regions, then most of what is done actually makes sense in that narrow way. That this ruins peoples lives at home and abroad is just not a concern.
But even if that is the assumed goal – maintaining NATO/Western/US interest in the Middle East, nothing they’ve done has worked for very long.
I’ll go on record saying that i think Obama is handling this situation as well as it possibly could be handled. His restraint is yeoman-like given the screaming war-cries for every quarter,and he’s certainly more reasoned than any alternative president candidate would have been. McCain would’ve nuked Syria into rubble by now.
Bacevovish is thoughtful, but he offers no solution at all. Perhaps the fact is that Bush broke the region beyond repair. i don’t know much but i do know that ISIS would not be around if Saddam Hussein were left in power or the Republican Guard were not disbanded.
Obama is playing this as best as he can. Congress won’t declare war but they goad him about the “threat to our homeland.” Right-wing media pushes for war and then criticizes Obama for acting unilaterally.
Obama is saying to the other stakeholders, hey, if all your knuckleheads want to pursue a policy to preserve the region we’re here to support it, but it’s gotta be you guys who formulate the plan. Otherwise, f**k it, we’ll just protect our corner of the world.
You are correct, I think, to point out that we are all very easily diagnosing the problem, and Bacevovich does a great job of describing it.
Obama’s got the hopeless job of trying to devise policy to handle the problem. I personally think he would be in a better position to devise a long term successful one if he would first stop pretending (whether he believes it or not) that this has nothing to do with religion.
But I can’t bring myself to blame him for the US being rudderless. We destroyed our rudder long before he was elected.
Obama has chosen the appropriate middle path to trying to stop the Islamic State. Air power is a lot easier to pull back from then “boots on the ground” and much less expensive in blood though costly in money. It also requires buy in from the people most affected by IS, the Iraqi’s and the Syrian’s. Hopefully other powers in the region will see the danger of IS and join, especially Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
On another note I hope that politician’s will call the Islamic State by the name it has called itself in order to emphasize the danger of a sharia based ideology and not call it ISIS or ISIL which hides its true purpose which is to spread their virulent form of Islam to the entire Middle East and beyond.
Good point. Just spelling it out makes it damn near impossible to deny that Islam has anything to do with it.
I agree that Obama has shown admirable restraint so far, but his resolve seems to be weakening as the mid-term election draws near.
You point out (correctly enough) that Bacevich has not proposed a solution to the ISIS problem, but to me it is a fallacy to view ISIS as a problem which *the US* must solve, any more than the collapse of the Morsi Government in Egypt or the deterioration of Syria were uniquely American problems.
The only way ISIS will be defeated is if it is overthrown by its Muslim neighbors. The proper job of an American statesman, then, is to work patiently to align the incentives of those neighbors in such a way that they have no choice but to do the job. And then help them do it, quietly, thereby laying the foundation for improved relations once ISIS is defeated.
But as long as the US signals that *it* will do the job, what incentive do the locals have to step up? Participating as junior members of a US-led coalition makes them look like American stooges to their own people. Why spend the blood, treasure, and prestige if they can get the US to spend its own on their behalf?
That makes so much sense.
There don’t seem to be many statesmen/women on the horizon, though.
I think Obama is acting very statesman-like.
I wholly agree too. Another country that is now endangered is Lebanon.
When John Kerry ran for president he continually made a point about how the Bush administration let those most directly responsible for 9-11 off the hook in Afghanistan. In what was basically a turf war between Rumsfeld and the CIA, Rumsfeld unfortunately won and fucked up the CIA operation to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden and eleements of Al Qaeda. (This version of events is described in Ghost Wars by Steven Coll.) That operation wouldn’t have solved anything in the Middle East, but it would have alleviated the pressure on the American government to get further involved.
I think that Obama should be putting top priority into getting intelligence informing him of who is most directly involved in beheading people and killing those people off. Of course, that will not solve any of the problems Becevich listed.
What it might do is help to solve the only problem on which Obama might conceivably maske progress: alleviating the pressure in the American political system to get further involved in problems we can’t solve.
What we need to do is keep from getting mired in problems we can’t solve for the short and medium term. In the long term we need to get ourselves out of the Middle-Eastern oil consumption racket.
Make it a law enforcement issue and not a war.
“Make it a law enforcement issue and not a war.”
Exactly. As Dubya should have done, back in the day.
And here’s the rub. I don’t know anyone who knows what to do. Religion and half a century of bad policy decisions have set the region up for catastrophe. It is very hard to see a good way forward. There are only bad choices. I don’t know which of them is best, but some are clearly worse. (Anything proposed by Dick Cheney and his clown-car full of neo-cons.)
oh… and sub.
“There are only bad choices.”
This is the reality that most people refuse to acknowledge in foreign policy. The search for an antiseptic, easy choice on this matter will never present itself so we may as well get used to the hard stuff. It is a mistake to constantly cry havoc, but it is also a mistake to say that we’ve made foreign policy missteps in the past, so we must limit our options now by adopting a kind of 21st century Monroe Doctrine.
And I wonder what ISIS’ calculation is in this thing. One the one hand, maybe they fear US airstrikes and that’s why they are beheading US and British nationals, to dissuade any more intervention.
On the other hand, there is no better recruiting tool for ISIS than having the Great Western Satan kill righteous Islamic warriors. Germany and France want no part of it. Even Turkey and Saudi Arabia are officially mum, so why should the US stick our necks out?
I think our influence in the region is limited. Obama is trying to polish the turd that was left him.
(Sorry for the typos on my previous comment.)
Hmmm… I think the Iraqi Kurds are already fighting ISIS with troops (the Peshmurgas) on the ground. So that part seems to be working. But none of the other locals have shown much interest in waging a ground war. Turkey evidently isn’t even willing to let us use their airbases, so that part isn’t going so well.
I think we pretty much owe it to the Iraqi Kurds to help them. And my guess is that Turkey, Syria, and Iran will respond with troops on the ground if we are sucessful in pushing ISIS out of Iraq, because those countries are where ISIS will go to try and establish their caliphate.
I don’t think ISIS will try for Iran. They are too strong and Shia. But Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia… I can see them moving in those directions.
I think they are going to be in a lot of trouble with Israel if they over run Jordan – and that will probably get a lot of peoples’ attention. I imagine the Mossad is already giving a lot of intel to the allies.
Just looking at a map of the mideast, I think they are logistically stuck going for Syria or Turkey (if we say no Iran, running with your idea). Jordan, maybe. The leaders will be able to move further afield, but I don’t see how they could move their troops and armaments into Kuwait or SA from where they are now.
I haven’t watched the news for a couple of hours but last I looked Turkey was offering nothing but ‘humanitarian aid’.
That, in my view, is what *we* should be offering *them.*
But why would Turkey earnestly want to help Kurds fighting against ISIS, while Turkey itself is fighting its own Kurdish separatists of PKK?
I expect(ed) Turkey would help because the territory ISIS is trying to carve their Caliphate out of is northern Iraq and Syria. Map-wise, Turkey is the obvious next target. But obviously I’m wrong about that at the moment.
ISIS can only do what it’s doing with money. Where is it getting the money? Cut the money supply.
Oil fields it controls is one source.
They also looted a bunch of banks in Iraq. Soon they’ll probably start with the heroin trade if they haven’t already.
That oil has value only is some country or corporate entity is buying it.
Well, we just need to stop the trade in oil! That should be easy.
I thought through a network of donations.
Which suggests some very black humor about kickstarter…
My PM, Harper, keeps saying “it’s not a combat mission” in sending Canadians to be “advisors”, along with US troops, providing tactical guidance to Iraqi troops and Kurdish fighters. I sense this is only the beginning. Today it’s a “non combat mission” until all of a sudden it isn’t. Canada is also having cargo planes transport weapons to the Kurds. I don’t think anyone really knows what to do, so they are just dusting off their old playbook & trying to adjust what’s in it to meet today’s crises. What they really need is for help from the Middle East – at least the Arab League finally started seeing ISIS as a threat.
Notice the similarity between the advisors Canada sent and how early US stuff in Vietnam was spun?
I suggest that Western personnel stay out of Syria and Iraq altogether, so that ISIS cannot take any more hostages; (dumb evangelical Christians can go and martyr themselves if they like, but they are responsible for themselves). Let ISIS have their Caliphate in those two countries, but then bring down an Iron Curtain so as to ring-fence them into their own ghetto, and declare them a rogue-State, and have no dealings with them whatsoever. If they try to break out and extend their boundaries, bomb the hell out of them.
Yes, but “letting them have” Iraq means letting them have the country with the fifth largest crude oil reserves in the world. It’s hard to put an Iron Curtain around a country that you need to buy oil from.
I fear, that not knowing what to do is not the real issue. It’s not wanting to go down that road. Liberal democracies are hard pressed to admit that true evil exists (human created of course). We cling to the notion that reason can or will prevail, in the face of strong evidence to the contrary. Would these guys be murderous thugs without Islam -I suspect yes. They’d have had to find another rallying point, but despots have before.
Sadly, I think our choices will become limited before too long, if they haven’t been already
Yes, but “letting them have” Iraq means letting them have the country with the fifth largest crude oil reserves in the world. It’s hard to put an Iron Curtain around a country that you need to buy oil from.
I don’t disagree. I don’t think letting them have Iraq will be an option
Oops, I meant to reply to wads42, not Pliny the in Between. Sorry ’bout that.
No problem. I agree,-very tricky.
Killing people doesn’t kill ideas. Maybe we can get accomodationists to drop leaflets explaining how to best practice Islam 😁.
Drop ISIS food and water lunch boxes that can only be unlocked if they answer math and science questions. I am not sure if that would help, confuse or make them more efficient at what they do (like Terminators on the desert).
“Killing people doesn’t kill ideas. ”
It does if you kill enough people.
There are too many through-out the mid-east that dream of a caliphate. ISIS is like a dream come true to them.
Yes, but the number of people to be killed might well be the entire species. No thanks.
Well, how about we stop selling arms to Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi, who:
1. Wont help us fight ISIS (So what are they arming them selves to the teeth for??)
2. Are funding ISIS
We should be sanctioning these countries simply because of their human rights abuses, never mind the fact that they harbor the biggest financial donors to these terrorists.
Also, think back to a few years when McCain wanted us to arm the Syrian rebels? Good call by Obama NOT doing that. We would have been arming ISIS!
Mean while the white house is so timid and afraid of threatening Syria (and by proxy, Russia) that they refuses to call ISIS by their acronym and instead prefer to call them ISIL.
What a mess.
How about stop selling arms to anyone?
That would have to include the US, France, Britain, Israel, Russia, Canada, Iran, and the other dozen or so countries who sell arms.
No problem with that.
I can go with an arms embargo on many of the mid-east countries. But Britain and Israel especially can get what they want from us.
The benefit of our corporations, mostly. IIRC, the “sale” of arms to SA actually goes something like this:
1. Congress earmarks $X million for aid to Saudi Arabia.
2. In the same legislation, Congress stipulates that the aid money can only be used to buy US-made arms, training, and related stuff
3. SA then does exactly what is expected (and what’s perfectly logical from their perspective): takes the money and sends most of it back to US arms companies, with some taken off the top as fees (or corruption).
I’ve got to think most Muslim countries are worried. This is is a destabilizing force that could draw support from inside their borders.
When your power is based on being ideologically pure, then someone ‘more pure ‘ comes along …
Even more pure than Ivory Soap’s 99 and 44/100 purity?
“Really, who thinks that countries like Turkey are going to sacrifice a lot of their people while the U.S. just rains death from above?”
That depends. If other countries (Saudi Arabia comes quickly to mind) feel strongly enough against ISIS that they would consider sending ground troops, they would certainly prefer to do so with the aid of the dominant air force on the planet.
On the flip side, how many people should we kill in order to save them? In Iraq, the estimates seem to vary between 100 to 200,000.
Ideally there would be a way to lead without bloodshed.
As someone here will soon be saying, first, do no harm. I mostly come down on the previous part of Jerry’s statement*:
Stop the futile wars.
Disengagement isn’t a realistic option. 1) Too much support for Israel in the US, 2) We need to protect oil supplies.
That’s just it. And how many innocent people will we end up killing in the effort, even if inadvertently? Just ask the Afghans.
Perhaps the best we can do at this point is to send flotillas of helicopters into Iraq at random times, airlift as many Yazidis and others out of there as want to come, and give them asylum in the West. Leave ISIS with a Caliphate bereft of women and girls.
The less we meddle in the affairs of middle-eastern countries, the lower the risk of a terrorist attack against the USA.
And I am not persuaded that ISIL/ISIS is a threat to our country or will become one any time soon.
“But in general, his views have been aligned with mine, i.e., liberal, and in favor of disengaging from futile wars in the Middle East.”
I have come to disagree with Obama more and more over time as issues such as his continuation of massive surveillance, treatment of whistleblowers, etc. have come to light. But I do not believe that Mitt Romney nor any other Republican would be doing better.
Even Rand Paul seems to be going over to the interventionists.
Jeebus Christ himself ( no, wait…) could not have had great success with the hand dealt him by Dubya and “Chainsaw” Cheney.
It seems to me that the most likely ultimate target for ISIS is Israel. With this in mind it is hard to see how any islamic country would help in an anti-ISIS effort. I can’t understand how our dithering State/Defense establishment could miss this point. The same can be said for most of the commenters to this post.
So only you get this and everyone else is wrong? They are killing thousands of Muslims (men, women and children) so they can get to the Israelis?
If you’ve paid attention to the Islamists, the ultimate target is the world. Allah is not interested in having any non-believers hanging around.
ISIS should endure mandatory attendance at a Nuremberg-style trial while the event is broadcast on global pay-per-view.
For one thing, the hawks have to stop war mongering and terrifying the average, “don’t pay much attention to the world,” Americans. I find it astounding that polls are showing Americans are more afraid of terrorist threats now than after 9-11. The military industrial complex is addicted to war and will keep war going forever if it was up to them. Politicians like McCain and Graham need to tone down their rhetoric (but they won’t). Their only solution is “might makes right” and their motivation is money. As people have stated, this is one big mess with no easy solution, but full-out war with American troops is morbidly stupid.
If oil-money didn’t rule our government, the best solution as I see it is to develop energy independence here, by importing oil from non-middle east countries (since we can’t realistically abandon oil altogether) and develop green energy utilizing wind/solar/geothermal/bio energy etc. This would also produce thousands of jobs and cut greenhouse gasses. I think it’s time to leave the middle east to their own devices and leave their oil as well. Without oil revenue from the US, they wouldn’t have any power over us or guide our foreign policy. But alas, that will never happen in the near future or far future. The oligarchy of America continues its insidious governmental control while the public is distracted and terrorized by 12th century religious barbarism on the other side of the globe. Why continue to wring our hands over untenable situations? It seems insane to me. Sorry if leaving the middle-east and its oil sounds callous, but can’t we ever learn from our mistakes? It’s about time we move on.
As a now total pacifist (except for self-defense) I say, bring back the draft.
While that would probably have the intended effect of making the public much less hawkish and Congresscritters far less likely to commit US troops to conflicts, it has several big downsides (IMO).
1. That would just push politicians further into the “bomb it using drones” attitude. In my mind, that’s the wrong way to go because it doesn’t really control territory and the collateral damage is higher.
2. Bigger military. Which we don’t need, we’re already bigger than the next N militaries (where N is, what, 3? 4?)
3. Less military respect for soldier’s lives. This was one of the problems with Vietnam; the military didn’t place a very high value on its soldiers’ lives because, hey, we can always call up more.
Three thoughtful points. But I just can’t see any other way to get Americans to care about what’s going on at a level beyond saber rattling. But of course, I was indeed thinking of Viet Nam; if we’re not sending ground troops than even a draft might not work.
Why rock the boat when everything’s going so swimmingly? If you’re a Saudi royal you’ve got everything under the Sun, can go anywhere, anytime and have a wonderful time and people will kiss your ass to boot! If you’re a cleric you can strut around condemning this, admonishing that and people will bow and scrape and kiss your ass to boot!
If you sell luxury goods to the mid-east life is good! Lots of orders, nobody will quibble about price. If you sell equipment or arms, life is good! Business is brisk, nobody asks questions, product returns are so low they hardly exist! Seriously, how many RPG’s have been returned because they’re scratched?
If you’re a warlord or village elder or a poppy farmer life is good! People bow and scrape in your presence and kiss your ass to boot! Who wants to change that?
No, you see, the main problem is that nobody who actually lives in the mid-east and has more power and authority than two goats and a camel doesn’t want to change anything. There’s no motivation to change.
It’s good to be king.
My 2 cents: It is wrong to speak about the “ISIS affair” when it is really the “ISLAM affair”; this distinction muddles the water gratuitously. The real problem is Islam, not ISIS; ISIS is just a branch of ISLAM that targets US/EU citizens, but we have to realise that what ISIS is doing to US/EU citizens ISLAM is doing to millions of innocent human beings every day. I don’t know what is the solution, what I know is that the solution is not doing what the US is doing now because it simply does not work and just worsens the problem. Most people agree that Jihadism (Islamic terrorism) was born is Afghanistan, during the cold war. The US government understood that giving money to Afghan religious organizations (madrassas, weapons, training, etc) that promoted violence against the soviet invaders would be a great way to stop them (the soviets). They were right: in a few years the jihadism movement was strong and powerful and effectively clashed against the mighty Soviet Union. But the Soviet Union collapsed and all the jihadists and their poisonous ideas and violent disposition spread throughout the world. What we see now are the fruits of what was planted then. Maybe what we should do now is reverse the process. How? 1st: Giving money, A LOT OF MONEY, not to the madrassas and religious organizations that promote blind adherence to savage creeds but to schools and universities, to political formations that root for democracy and human rights. 2nd: Total troops withdrawal and stop the bombings and drone killings (is it any wonder that foreign troops, bombings and drones fuel jihadism?). 3rd: We should let them see clearly that we will not interfere in their affairs at all but that we will only help them, only deal with them, only let them enjoy the great things our civilization has achieved if they respect human rights and democracy. If they want to live in the bronze age so be it but we will not deal with thenm in anyway (that means no commerce of any kind with US/EU corporations, no happy retirement for their elites in the US/EU, etc).
Honestly I don’t think current situation in Iraq and Syria can become any worse. I mean if genocide and slaughter of religious minorities is not trigger to do something I don’t know what else is. There shouldn’t be any discussion of whether we should defeat these islamist fascists or not and instead how to do it.