PRESIDENT OBAMA’S OVAL OFFICE TALK, THE SYRIAN CONFLICT, AND DOMESTIC POLITICS

 

obama
Photo: CNN


By

Harry C. Blaney III

The president was hardly out of the Oval Office before the Republican candidates and the largely Republican owned main line media were attacking him for being “weak” and saying comments such as “nothing new.”  None of these pronouncements had a single realistic and intelligent word that was creditable for an alternative strategy that Obama has not already put in place or has announced.

The only implication of these statements and criticism is that many Republicans and neo-cons really want American combat troops on the ground without directly saying it,  so that they can be killed, captured, or tortured and beheaded by the ISIS. These same right-wing pundits, editorial writers, and TV networks and radio talk shows, to say nothing re the GOP presidential candidates would then be asking for Obama’s own head!

For example, Republicans are auguring that the air war might have a larger international ground component which would include American combat troops. On Wednesday December 9th at a House Armed Services Committee hearing with DOD Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Chairman Senator John MaCain demanded more aggressive strategy against ISIS implying the present strategy was not working, too weak and that his approach would work. But clearly that strategy would require considerably more American troops on the ground and higher casualties.   Further,Trump and his GOP colleagues want un-fettled bombing without consideration of innocent civilian causalities.

In a recent appearance on CNN with Sen. John McCain (R-Az.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called for the creation of a 100,000-strong “regional army to go into Syria” to fight the Islamic State, claiming that Qatar and Saudi Arabia were already on board with the plan.  We are already urging  greater military support from these states and the reality is that Saudi Arabia has taken their planes out of the Syria theater and into the Yemen battleground. No official Saudi troops are fighting in Syria now.

There is much talk and little action and statements of Arab states helping, but as one presidential candidate put it “regional countries must bear part of the burden” in the Syrian fight. But they still assume the US and Western allies will do the real major fighting. Senator Graham — who is running for president on the Republican ticket — also called for more than doubling the number of U.S. troops in Iraq from 3,500 to 10,000.

What is a good smart man to do? My answer is to continue a careful, cautious, and effective long-term multiple tools strategy to “degrade and destroy ISIS.” That is what Obama and his team are doing and despite all the right-wing rhetoric it is in fact working bit by bit with some setbacks  in a murky and difficult complex landscape. This strategy includes using the tools of diplomacy, not least the effort to bring other actors to the forefront for the solution of getting rid of ISIS, as an Islamic State with land  able to expand is a serious threat to the US and its allies.

Let’s look at a bit of the real facts and the trend line of the strategy:

First, the president said this would be a multi-year effort even one of a decade given the spread of ISIS to other lands other than Syria or Iraq. But my view is that already in place and what is planned is not just a likely effective and careful strategy to degrade ISIS, but to eviscerate its ability to hold significant territory and larger populations. But this will not happen overnight. There are too many forces with conflicting goals.

Second, Obama and our allies have now been reinforced by fighters from France, and Britain has agreed to hit Syrian targets. Further, Germany will help to supply logistics and intelligence resources. The anti-ISIS coalition has launched over 8,000 air strikes against the Islamic State over the past 16 months in Iraq and Syria. These attacks have killed some 20,000 fighters, according to U.S. estimates. New supplies and weapons are being put on the ground.

The administration also recently proposed to utilize U.S. Joint Special Operations Command to launch targeted raids against Islamic State leadership across Iraq and Syria, copying the way U.S. commandos previously hit the ranks of al Qaeda in Iraq and Taliban leadership in the past. The military is working on added programs to hit the heart of ISIS. Already, according to Secretary Carter on Wednesday, ISIS oil sales are down due to the bombing and the start of closing the Turkish border and other actions have been taken to stop funds and fighters from getting into Syria.  Assistance to key anti-ISIS and yes anti-Assad fighting forces, with mixed objectives, is starting to put real local pressure on ISIS. Russia is a problem that needs and is getting diplomatic attention.

Third, and most important, America and some allies are working the key tract of a short and long-term strategy for defeat of ISIS in its home ground and create the framework for a future stable and peaceful society. The key hard challenge will then be to put together a coalition of the existing diverse players to create the conditions for peace and some measure of fair and broad based governance in the region.

I do believe that soon some kind of humanitarian zone is needed and practical if an effective international peacekeeping force is also included along with the enforcement of a “no-fly zone.” Syrian displaced citizens which must form the heart of a future nation need to stay in their own country and be part of a future government and help with nation building. Already the current millions of refugees have denuded the nation of among its best talent which is needed more than ever. That meas resources to support these people who have lost so much.

Finally, what we do not need is more calls for American ground troops in the fight, we do not need those that create, at home, a divisive and anti-Muslim bigoted rant of the nature of Trump and many of his fellow GOP candidates which play into the hands of ISIS. Obama’s caution is wise as he noted that most Muslims are our fellow citizens, and we should be mindful of our words and actions given our past experience of unneeded recklessness calls for war and hate towards others.

Nothing in this world of conflict is certain but stupidity and lack of counting the costs and risks is true disaster and complicates solving the problems of the Middle East.  The time has come for the U.S. to apply wisdom, smart power, and due forethought and act with others while looking at what needs to be done when the fighting abates.  Sadly the right-wing Republicans have no answer to these questions and only seem to want endless costly war and not, it seems, peace. If America is to continue to be the key accepted wise world leader and to win in a conflict filled globe we need to avoid fascism, racism, and hate to be our call letters.

Please click on the title of this post where we welcome your comments! 

MIDDLE EAST AFLAME: WHAT CAN BE DONE? PART III

U.S. President Barack Obama waves alongside delegation leaders following the Gulf Cooperation Council-U.S. summit, May 14, 2015, at Camp David, Md. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

By
Harry C. Blaney III

We have tried in our earlier posts in this series to look hard at some of the challenges of the many elements that have created the Middle East. We have also suggested some paths for American long-term policy and strategy that might, just might, mitigate some of the worse disasters that seem to be the fate of this region absent some major interventions inside and from without that can change the trajectory of that chaotic and conflict ridden region. My assumption is that continuation of this trend would be a threat to world order and peace while setting a precedent for the further spread of disorder and conflict. America’s fundamental interest is in a secure, prosperous and peaceful world system.

As many experts in the region have pointed out, the fundamental mutual distrust and history of outbursts of brutal conflict over decades has brought alienation, deep sectarian hatred and insensitivity to human life.  This has undermined not least the building of cohesive moderate nation states. It has created a lack of a simple sense of community within Iraq, for example, and in other states that no American army can alone repair with force of arms.

What we have seen in recent days is very complex conflicts in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. These are manifestations of exactly the kind of murky, always shifting, and not least, intransigence and extremism of the worst of Middle Eastern ethnic and religious elements. If anything our actions under Bush II only created or exacerbated these conditions by the chaos we caused and bad decisions for dealing with terrorism and inter-ethnic warfare.

SYRIA

In Syria we are rightly against both main fighting groups – the brutal Assad regime on the one side, and the even more brutal, if that is possible, ISIS or Islamic State on the other. If we take the side of the Assad regime we are supporting a mass killer of his citizens while ISIS has killed even more indiscriminately and in the most horrendous ways. President Obama’s reluctance to commit massive ground forces to this cauldron is quite understandable.

There are no good or even palatable options here as both sides are beyond the pale. The “bad” guys outnumber the “good” guys here. The need here is of for some kind of diplomatic and political arrangement that gets rid of both antagonists while also finding a space for a government of unity and conciliation. This will provide security and stability for all groups and a measure of stability in the country.  No one so far has the right formula for putting back together the broken nation. The only strategy that makes sense is a long-term goal of getting rid of both malevolent entitles but having in place some substitute.

IRAQ

In Iraq, where the Sunni and Shia divide has cost hundreds of thousands of deaths, there is a weak, largely Shia government influenced by Iran. The Iraqi army consists of mostly Shia soldiers who too often disrespect the Sunni and don’t seem to believe enough in their own government to fight for the government.  We have a skeptical alienated minority Sunni population which includes Sunni tribes that have some well armed tribal militia with mixed loyalties towards either Baghdad or ISIS. These Sunni tribes are however confronting a largely Sunni-ISIS brutal insurgency that kills non-conforming Sunni in large numbers.

Again is there a better path with a chance to change this trajectory?

Under President Obama we correctly have tried to bring both sides together and we are now committing added arms including shoulder held missiles. In addition, we have some 3,000 “advisors” in country maintaining still the wise rule for our main troops to not be in direct combat. Taking sides with either group would be a disaster for any effort to bring both sides to some kind of accommodation not just in Iraq, but in the entire region.

That means we need a wider regional set of solutions and actions.

What we are finding in the Middle East is a series of authoritarian, theocratic, military dominated, sectarian and divisive governments. The governments are filled with corruption and ruling by either extreme religious ideology, simply power mad leaders or groups that are the enemies of modernity and democracy. That does not give a lot of room for moderation and compromise.

Yet there are glimmers of hope in this barren desert of intolerance. Not least is the need for recognition of the brutal fact of “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”  We need profound recognition by the leaders in the region of the reality and danger of imminent end of nations with so much dissent and discontent externally and internally. What both rulers and citizens need, want and should seek is stability, economic security, and space to run their own lives and see prospects for their children. This can’t be done in the landscape of the Middle East today.

We are, as we noted, also at a point when there are a multitude of voices that criticize the present American approach to the Middle East. Some are proposing simply to send in more troops without directly saying that, and some even are proposing war against Iran for example. Further, some favor giving the Sunni states a kind of NATO alliance status, others to take the side of Assad in Syria, and still others like Rand Paul who would have us withdraw almost entirely from the region.

Richard Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations would have us go back to the early “Biden option.” This would mean accepting the breakup of Iraq between the three major factions and helping each directly fight ISIS, supplying arms and training. But that means accepting at the end of the day that the country would be redrawn as loose federation along ethnic lines or totally broken up. Nice if it would work, but it just might create a new three way war within Iraq without some external peace keeping force to prevent mass ethnic killings.

I will not here go into all the possible blowback that any of these opposition “proposals” would have on the region and on our interests, but suffice to say they might not have the results that their proponents assume or want. I above all doubt that any single of these “solutions” would themselves totally stop the advance of the ISIS forces or terrorism in general.

What few of these voices will tell you is exactly how to get there without great costs, or the possible secondary and tertiary consequences of such ideas for peace, and if and how any of these alternative ideas would stop the killing.

So what can be done? What path just might have a chance, if only a chance, of making it better rather than worse?

Obama, has rightly said that these issues will take a long time to reach some kind of solution, indeed likely decades in many expert’s views, if at all. But my view remains that America, with its key allies, are just about the only power that might, just might, be able to mitigate some of these conflicts. There must be some recognition within the region’s nations and their leaders that these upheavals must be dealt with by conciliation, compromise and diplomacy. Hopefully that creates some peace and mutual security with accommodation to the vital interest of all responsible sides.

This is what I believe President Obama has started to do with his GCC Camp David meeting summit. This is also what Secretary of State John Kerry is also working on in his meeting of regional leaders and with outside powers, even including Russia, in order to help reshape the Middle East’s chaos and trajectory of endless killing.

Thus, the reality is the Sunni and the Shia divide can’t be bridged by more U.S. troops in the region. Nor can American military bring Iran or Saudi Arabia together.  Long-term diplomacy by those nations within and outside the region might help if a fair firm framework of security and dialogue were created and major “sticks” and “carrots” (in effect rewards) were on the table for all sides.

The question is, does the West, writ large with our Asian allies, have the wisdom, patience, resources, and political will to undertake such a difficult, perhaps thankless, task of putting back together a more peaceful Middle East “Humpty Dumpty?” It is a still an unanswered question. But only the United States has the capacity to lead such an effort.

Yes it is a huge task especially in a fractured and less capable “West” with so many challenges. Yet in some ways a joint effort might just energize these nations and have a wider benefit. The dialogue this week of the G- 7 is likely to have put on the table some glimmers of what our strategy towards the Middle East should be.

Building trust and taking on the enemies of peace and cooperation can only be done by putting on that table an offer that can’t be refused – and clearly showing the way towards a better landscape for all. That must include all the major players, such as Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel. And it is a task for a decade. 

AN ACTION PLAN FOR MIDDLE EAST RECONCILIATION AND PEACE BUILDING 

The start of this effort should include the following broad set of policies and actions:

ISIS AND THE SUNNI-SHIA DIVIDE 

The first goal is to deal with ISIS and attacking its fundamental strengths and exploiting weaknesses. That means getting both Sunni and Shia factions and key nations to assess their venerability and address their own weakness. Together with Western help, they must undertake a full court press on ISIS’s own vulnerabilities and jointly undermine their military and financial capacities.

But this will only work, as I have outlined in earlier posts, if there is a diplomatic initiative that can at last bring together a measure of common interests and cooperation between the Sunni and Shia factions. This would be based on a common threat and realization that the present “war” between the two needs to be halted for the common good. Strong incentives are likely required to gain their cooperation.

This means getting rid of the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb and the Saudis and Gulf States playing a constructive role in the region. These states and developed nations need to provide financial help and investment to develop the region and put youth back to work. It also means the key “linchpin” states Egypt, Turkey, and their allies join the effort. A tall requirement. Addressing the nuclear issue of the region has to be on the table as the spread on nuclear weapons in the region can only bring catastrophe.

No matter what the GOP hotheads and neo-cons say, we are already starting to do this but under destructive resource constraints because of the Republican distaste for Obama success in any undertaking and their hate of the concept of “nation building.” Yet America and allied countries must put on the table a kind of “Marshall Plan” for the region and create an appropriate security framework that gives to all sides assurances of long-term security and stability short of a NATO type alliance.

As part of this we need other states and actors who are accepted by all sides to fully cooperate in this effort. This includes effective emergency resource interventions on the ground and civilian economic assistance on a more massive scale. 

When, for example, ISIS distributes food to the Sunni population (yet chops off their heads), and when the Iraq government does nothing to help the same population, that is a condition for defeat.  There is then a requirement  for a reformulation of policies that permit an international group to provide, if needed outside the control of a weak Iraq government, food and necessities of life to threatened Kurds, Sunni, and Shia in crisis areas or retaken territory. Also putting people to work to rebuild communities immediately would strengthen their loyalty and commitment to peace and moderate, uncorrupted government. We need a reason for people to fight for their society.

The time has also come to think about the insertion, in selected areas, of an armed broad international peacekeeping force that will enter threatened but defended communities and retaken areas to provide to the local population of any ethnic group a measure of security and protection.  It has worked elsewhere. They would help to create local entities that can long- term provide basic services and requirements for a vulnerable population. Early resettlement of refugees and displaced population should be a high priority to stabilize regions that were battlefields.

One option that needs to be examined is creating “neutral” armed and robust, incorruptible peacekeeping/peacemaking forces from within the region and without, under command of a respected neutral commander. This might be done through the UN or even NATO or another ad hoc body under a new international framework. This needs to be examined now.

IRAN

Getting a strong nuclear deal is a sine qua non for a peace framework in the Middle East. Keeping the security of the sea lanes is another item that the West can insure.  Also getting, as we have noted, Iran to think beyond endless aggression against fellow Islamic states and not least seeing a “win-win” solution being in their best interests. A more responsible Iran will be difficult but over time probably not impossible if we provide the necessary incentives.

ISRAEL- PALESTINIAN PROBLEM 

Not least as part of this framework to bring peace to the region is a new approach to the Israel-Palestinian problem. The new realities call for drastic action. A far right-wing brutal Netanyahu government, with many in this new regime calling for the destruction of the Palestinian people’s hope for a state is not the answer. Given the marginalization of them as a people by the Israeli regime, combined with a weak divided and angry Palestinian leadership, it seems to be sadly, at last, time for a new external “force majeure” to enter the equation.

That may include at long last a UN Security Council compulsory resolution that mandates an international agreed outcome to create a fair and balanced solution to this conflict along lines that all know must be the basis of a fair deal. That deal must provide firm security for both sides and an independent state for the Palestinian people based on the agreed 1967 boundaries with possible exchanges, including a division of Jerusalem so both states can have it as their capital.

With this there may need to be the possible imposition of the strong and armed peacekeeping force made up of NATO countries and other neutral states to enforce the peace. This move will either drive both sides to find a solution between them or have it imposed by the entire international community as part of the UN mandate to provide international security and prevent war. The process may take years but would at least give a clear path to peace. Unfortunately U.S. corrosive political climate may prevent its realization, but there is clearly a need for a new set of external forced conditions to move both sides to peace.

Finally, to make all this work there is a vital need for the key outside powers, North American, Europe, key countries in Asia like Japan, South Korea, and others to support an effort to secure their own interests. These interests include access to energy, and prevent the spread of conflict to their own regions, and to at last address fundamentally the threat that unlimited brutal conflict in this region imposes on the entire international community and human rights. Its frankly a long bet but a start needs to be made and with Obama and Kerry we have a team that at least has the intelligence and heart for such an undertaking.

We welcome your comments!

 
 

REVIEW OF PART II IN THE MIDDLE EAST: WHAT IS TO BE DONE? (DON’T BLAME OBAMA FOR THE MIDDLE EAST PROBLEMS!)

President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

By

Harry C. Blaney III

 

The recent debate over American policy in the Middle East and most recently the criticism of have engendered much debate, most of it misguided.  (See Post of 5/27/15)

There has been a profusion of comments and advocacy in our national security debate. They aimed at digging us deeper into a dangerous military alliance with those that do not share our values or interests and also a perverse kind of military adventurism beyond rationality.  In an area of conflicting powers, mixed loyalties and motives, and few  good, if any, national powers with the same outlooks and values of Western democracies, finding good partners for the long run will not be easy. But it is necessary to try. 

In the same vein, the critics recent simplistic and partisan knee jerk responses to the recent fall of the provincial capital Ramadi of Ambar province in Iraq and other events, underlines the absence of long-term critical thinking. Critics fails to look at the nature and depth of the Middle East’s woes and what can and can’t be done to mitigate these age old conflicts and their newer manifestations.

Further, there is no single leader, no single group, no single country, nor one single failure of society that can be attributed to all of the many sources of these upheavals and hatreds. Thus no single “silver bullet” exists to redeem these tragedies or can put to rest all the injustices and conflicts that we now see in this tragic “rotting” Middle East conundrum. 

The entire Middle East has and is undergoing cataclysmic changes and upheavals in local communities, within whole nations, and beyond national borders, indeed throughout the whole region.  Those causes of instability that otherwise might be seen in a century or more of violent change now appear rapidly and widely. 

Nor is there yet in sight a serious abatement of these conflicts, and the sad part is that “new” and “old’ regional leaders, with a few exceptions, do not seem able or willing to put a stop to these conflicts. Many leaders even have exacerbated them and contributed to their savageness.  

Forces and divisions long dormant have risen up. New political and military groups have asserted their power and used the tools of armed conflict, bigotry, religious extremism, and sectarian hatred to gain power and to enforce brutal rule without restraint. Powerful leaders without any moral sense have used the hatred of “the other” for narrow self-interested, and in the end likely self-defeating, political power.

All this is illustrated not only by ISIS and their mass killings, but in the mass convictions of a former prime minister and hundreds of citizens to death sentences in Egypt by a rigid authoritarian military regime. Not to mention the killings in Gaza of 1,200 largely civilians including woman and children by Israel and the use in the last election by the right-wing Prime Minister Netanyahu of denigrating statements about Palestinians citizens within and outside Israel.  

Equally, this corrosive environment is shown by the deadly civil conflicts in Yemen, Libya, Syria and beyond.  This all indicates not only a new level of extreme mass killings by the jihadists but also official use of the power of the state to kill or jail political opponents. There appears to be widespread indifference to the value of life and sense of justice. Civil society and institutions have become weakened.

The lack of tolerance, reconciliation and of compromise among the conflicting parties of the region in recent years has only exacerbated the problem of poverty, un-employment, prejudice between sects and ethnic groups that have lived with each other for centuries and indeed millennium. Corruption also has undermined civil society as has sizable inequality.

So can any of this be solved by added American fighting troops alone? 

In these conditions it is hard to frame a workable let alone effective American and Western military strategy that can mitigate meaningfully the massive instability and brutality in the region. Those that think they have an answer appear to be critical of President Obama’s policies and action. They seem bent on actions that likely will do no good or do real harm and reflect a misguided ideology and narrow view that itself is destructive.

Above all for those supposed leaders who call for the use of U.S. active combat troops on the ground it seems that this is their only answer to these complex forces of unrest and upheavals. While some combat troops can help deal with specific events and crises, their insertion in areas with little understanding of the territory can do much harm.  Their actions too often have escalated the conflicts and problems. 

How can we trust them and our security with this simplistic view of massive complexity and many dangers? Some still think they have the right or arrogance to run for president and under the banner of more senseless war. 

In this context the question our next post will address is how we might advance some measure of actions and policies that might stop the stride toward endless war on this region.

We welcome your comments!

2015: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UNKNOWN CHALLENGES GOING FORWARD?

DANGERS, OPPORTUNITIES, AND CHOICES IN 2015 AND BEYOND

By: Harry C. Blaney III

After looking back at 2014, which was in so many ways a time of change and a time of conflict and tragedy for many around the world but there were also moments of active and sometimes productive diplomacy and renewal that transpired. In some areas of the world, it was lamentably much of the same. The sad questions that remain: Was the globe well served by its leaders? Did the citizens of each nation take the lessons of our times with renewed understanding and engagement? Did the institutions of our international community react, educate, and address with honesty and in comprehensive detail what these changes and trends portend for our frail planet? Does the international community know what needs to be done to safeguard the security and lives of its citizens?

Looking ahead, there are two categories of our analysis: (1) Recognizing the distinctly “macro global” trends of 2015, and (2) an attempt to understand these trends and consequences while devising possible responses to specific functional and regional problem areas.

In the “macro” or what some call the “geo-strategic” level, and what I have also called major global challenges, we are indeed facing the kind of significant risks and dangers which are among the most confounding and complex, along with not as easily understood barriers to progress. We often see across-the-board disruptive forces that impact much of the rest of the specific regional and functional issues we face.

Looking forward, there are two important issues. First, what are the underlying landscapes and trends that are shaping our global system? Second, what can the United States, our allies and friends, do to improve global security, poverty, and reduce violence and secure well being as we move forth into 2015 and beyond?

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S “SECOND WIND” ON GLOBAL ISSUES AND SECURITY

 One of the most important new developments is a tougher, more focused and more innovative stand by President Obama in foreign affairs including national security. This policy is still created with great deliberation, but also with more of a will to act “out of the box” than it did before the November election.

                 

Already, there are several examples of this development. One example is the agreement with China regarding a climate change limitation of greenhouse gasses that bypasses Congress. Another example that has great importance is the decision to open negotiations with Cuba, creating the ability to establish diplomatic relations and to relax decade’s old failed sanctions, overall promoting closer and a more intense engagement. His immediate action to deal with Ebola showed when prompt action was clearly needed he would act.  The very recent decision to continue to negotiate with Iran over their nuclear program as well as to start a quiet dialogue on broader issues, like how to handle ISIS, has also become another signal of this new development.  All show a new tendency to take political risks at home to achieve key American objectives.  

 

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama made it clear that he would be more active in taking the lead on a host of outstanding and difficult issues abroad. As our world grows more conflict prone, he is more assertive to make our best efforts to try to mitigate the worst consequences of upheaval, humanitarian disasters, global health dangers, the rich-poor poverty gap, terrorism and its repercussions, and last but not least the so called “rise” of China and Russian aggression. Presidential meetings in Saudi Arabia and India indicate a game-changing mode. But his caution and deliberation are likely to continue.

 

It is clear that the White House, Department of State, and Department of Defense are all currently going through a “re-thinking” of American strategy to account for the fast moving changes that are developing around the world. Included in this reassessment are relations with Russia; especially dealing more actively with the escalating Ukrainian-Russian conflict. This is extremely relevant as this conflict not only touches the security of our NATO countries, but also shows a perspective for a long-term diplomatic modus vivendi with Russia. But, as this is being written, there is a building consensus on both sides of the Atlantic that some added assistance to Ukraine is necessary.

 

Look for new instruments and modalities from Obama to shape the foreign affairs agenda and debate in the coming months. Also look for Secretary John Kerry to be even more active in setting the stage in places like the Middle East, China, Africa, and India.  Expect a host of added initiatives over the coming months and even into 2016. President Obama is clearly laying a more active and innovative American agenda in the foreign affairs field, even beyond his term in office.

 

A second installment of this post, looking forward into 2015 and beyond,  specifically in key problem sectors describing the difficulties and opportunities that lay ahead for American foreign and security policy will follow in the coming days.

 

We welcome your comments!

THE DEBATE OVER ISIS AND AMERICA’S ROLE: “BOOTS OR SUPPORT”

US Navy F/A - 18 Super Hornet refueling midair after conducting airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq (Photo: Department of Defense)
US Navy F/A – 18 Super Hornet refueling midair after conducting airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq (Photo: Department of Defense)

By Harry C. Blaney III

The Washington Post Editorial in its October 8th edition titled, “A straitjacketed war,” got it largely wrong. They have a long history of advocating a military solution to far too many problems that require more than a knee-jerk, kinetic response. They have criticized President Obama because he “has ruled out such ground personnel despite requests from our military.” They have criticized his “restrictions” on commanders and said they are not compatible with the objectives. On the contrary, they are keeping with our objectives which are not to make this a unilateral fight and endanger our troops unnecessarily, but play a key role with others. This includes Iraqi troops and the new coalition members, specifically Arab nations, in battling ISIS. This is not an easy task.

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THE PARTISAN DEBATE INTENSIFIES ON OUR STRATEGY IN IRAQ, SYRIA, AND BEYOND – NO SIMPLE ANSWER!

F-15E Strike Eagles flying over Iraq after bombing ISIS targets in Syria.
F-15E Strike Eagles flying over Iraq after bombing ISIS targets in Syria.

By Harry C. Blaney III

President Obama has spoken at the United Nations General Assembly and gave an excellent summary of the global challenges that we currently face. He had earlier made a number of short and general statements about his perspective on the U.S. and the international coalition that he has assembled, but now comes the hard part of implementation and fixing the train wreck caused by Bush II’s invasion of Iraq.

Recently, a surge of criticism has focused on President Obama over whether he and the intelligence community misjudged the spread and effectiveness of ISIS forces. This has been used by right wing Republicans, notably Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Michigan), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, to beat up on Obama: “This was not an intelligence failure, but a failure by policy makers to confront the threat.” This is despite the fact that they too were getting about the same briefings from the CIA on the Syria and Iraq security situation all along. Even the New York Times has played the story on the September 30th front page by Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt, the way the GOP hardliners want to see it played. The White House reiterated that the President took full responsibility, but the fact is that nearly everyone, our intelligence, our diplomats, and the media, did not see in advance the capability and power of ISIS, nor the astonishing weakness of Iraqi forces which collapsed under poor, indeed corrupt and incompetent leadership and a sectarian myopic government. 

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COALITION AIR STRIKES OVER SYRIA AND IRAQ – WHERE NOW?

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

By Harry C. Blaney III


“Earlier this month, I outlined for the American people our strategy to confront the threat posed by the terrorist group known as ISIL.  I made clear that as part of this campaign the United States would take action against targets in both Iraq and Syria so that these terrorists can’t find safe haven anywhere.  I also made clear that America would act as part of a broad coalition.  And that’s exactly what we’ve done.” – President Obama’s Statements on the Air Strikes in Syria (September 23, 2014)


With new air strikes over Syria against ISIS, by not only America, but a coalition of countries that included Islamic nations like Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, and Saudi Arabia, a new stage in the struggle against ISIS has started. The significant element is the participation of key Arab states. This is an entirely new stage of the struggle against the ISIS threat with its own risks and also new opportunities to make a real difference in the protection of people on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border that have fallen under the bloody assault of a newly armed, mobile, and well equipped and resourced terrorist group, the likes of which has not been seen before.

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