Barack Obama does not want to defeat ISIS…YET
For American foreign policy, winning the war against Isil quickly would be pointless and potentially disastrous
America and its allies have not won the war against Isil, and are not even, at the moment, winning.
According to the view of the world taken by President Obama, however, this does not represent failure.
The truth is – and this is no cheap smear – Mr Obama does not want to win the war against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – yet. He thinks winning quickly would be pointless and potentially disastrous.
In Iraq, his professorial mind sees Isil as being one part of a multilateral equation, involving Iraqis who are Sunni Muslim, like Isil, but also the Kurds, the Shia majority, the Iranians, and the sweep of American involvement since 2003.
America supports the Kurds against Isil – but not so far as to encourage them to seek independence. That would involve breaking up Iraq, which America promised not to do after the 2003 invasion – and some American promises have to be kept.
America also supports the Shia majority – inside and outside the formal army – who with enough US involvement could defeat Isil. They are already doing so, in some places outside Isil’s heartland Anbar province.
However, the Shia’s more significant backers are the Iranians, so a swift result would be to make Iraq’s Sunni population captive to Tehran.
More importantly, a combined Shia, American and Iranian victory over Isil would confirm the very narrative of Sunni victimhood that has fueled its rise. Mr Obama believes that this would only be a temporary victory, like his predecessor President George W Bush’s two conquests of Sunnis in Iraq – over Saddam Hussein, and over the subsequent rebellion by the earlier version of Islamic State of Iraq, before the American pull-out.
He has instead pinned his hopes on a combination of the mixed-denomination army, the Sunni community and its tribal fighters to put Isil down, without American guns. That clearly isn’t going to happen any time soon.
Only a few thousand men have been trained to a standard the US military think is up to the task. They haven’t even tried to retake Ramadi – let alone start a serious reconquest of Isil strongholds like Fallujah and Mosul.
So Mr Obama’s policy is to wait – contain Isil if possible, and hope it either burns itself out or that one day, some day, his favoured troops can take it on.
In Syria, the calculations are even more difficult but lead to the same result. In Mr Obama’s ideal world, the non-jihadi, anti-Isil rebels would some day acquire the moral and military stature to establish themselves and eventually extend their sway across the country.
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