No new US strategy in sight to deal with ISIS

Friday 05/06/2015
US President Barack Obama with Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State organization (ISIS) General John Allen.

Washington - Poor American foreign policy: It is on crutches at a time when the world is looking to Washington to sprint into action against the Islamic State (ISIS), which re­cently scored big victories in Rama­di in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria.
The 60-country, US-led coalition to defeat ISIS is being called a fail­ure and Washington is under strong pressure to change course. US Sec­retary of State John Kerry’s May 31st bicycle accident in Geneva left him with a broken leg and did not make things better for the coalition or the administration.
Kerry’s accident came two days before a scheduled meeting of the anti-ISIS coalition in Paris. In his place, US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken was to represent the United States at the talks, which were intended to take stock of what happened in Ramadi and Palmyra “with the idea of taking those ac­tions necessary for the implemen­tation of the strategy so it will be successful”, according to US Marine Corps General John Allen, special presidential envoy for the coalition, who spoke with France 24.
Influential voices in Washington are calling on the administration to adopt a new strategy, especially in Syria. Jeffrey White, defence fel­low at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote that the Assad “regime’s short- and even long-term prospects seem dim”. He disagrees with the administration’s contention that there is no military solution in Syria. “In fact,” White said, “such a solution is emerging.”
White, who worked for more than 30 years for the US Defense Intelli­gence Agency, predicted that “some combination of the regime’s armed opponents will likely win — that is, drive the regime out of existence or perhaps into a Hezbollah-protected rump state on the Mediterranean coast”. But, he added, “eventually, the regime’s opponents could move to destroy this rump state, which would likely be unstable and unvi­able.”
Another report by the Washing­ton Institute, written by former US officials from both Democratic and Republican administrations, warned that the Middle East state system risks collapse and that it is in the US interest to prevent this. The report cites two principal ex­ternal threats to the system — ISIS and Iran — and calls for a compre­hensive strategy to confront both.
The former officials counselled that the military option alone can­not defeat ISIS and that the United States needs to push back against Iran, whose “strategic view of the region is fundamentally at odds with ours”.
The authors — former national security adviser Stephen Hadley, former deputy secretary of state Samuel Berger, former US ambas­sador to Iraq James Jeffrey, former presidential envoy Dennis Ross and Washington Institute executive-director Robert Satloff — called for a “change in American policy to­wards Syria” and proposed creation of “a different kind of a safe haven inside Syria” to shelter refugees and give the opposition political and military credibility inside the country.
Others, however, like New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, see “only two ways to control the downward spiral” of the region. The first is “if an outside power to­tally occupies them”, and the sec­ond is “just wait for the fires to burn themselves out”.
Since the United States “cannot effectively intervene in a region where so few share our goals”, Friedman prescribed a policy of “containment plus amplification”, combining help to “those who manifest the will to contain ISIS, like Jordan, Lebanon, UAE and the Iraqi Kurds” with amplifying “any constructive things that groups in Yemen, Libya or Syria are ready to do with their power”. But Friedman warns: “We must not substitute our power for theirs. This has to be their fight for their future.”
The White House is not showing signs that it will change course and downplayed the recent defeats. US President Barack Obama called them a “tactical setback” and said, “if the Iraqis are not willing or capa­ble to arrive at the political accom­modations necessary to govern, if they are not willing to fight for the security of their country, we cannot do it for them.”
Allen, however, told French TV that Ramadi was “in fact, a de­feat”. But he added, “Strategies are about long-term objectives, [and] the question is whether we need to change the ultimate objectives of the strategy and we are not there now”.
Allen counselled patience: “We need to take this in stride… This is a long strategy and we’re still rela­tively early in this strategy.”
This echoed what Obama said in an interview in April: “We are eight months into what we’ve always anticipated to be a multi-year cam­paign.”
While the US administration sees a process that may go on for years, people in the region are reeling from the extremist groups’ brutal­ity and their threat to the basic fab­ric of Arab society.
But Obama has been clear from the beginning that he will not fight other people’s battles and that his priorities are ending America’s wars and halting proliferation in the re­gion.
In the April interview, Obama ex­plicitly tied his legacy to the Iran deal and not to winning the war against ISIS.
“Look,” he said, “20 years from now, I am still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this.”
The president has never spoken like this on issues related to the Arab world or the upheavals that are engulfing it. So the adminis­tration’s strategy is on track: It is a long trip and all that is needed is patience.