IMMEDIATE RELEASE 4 September 2014
Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – The outgoing Secretary General of NATO, Anders Rasmussen, could not have said it better as leaders gathered in Wales for perhaps the most defining meeting of the NATO alliance since the end of the Cold War. He said when these leaders look to the East, they see Russia invading Ukraine, changing borders by brute force.
To the Southeast, they see the rise of the radical group that describes itself as an Islamic State (ISIS), and is using the most horrific means of warfare, genocide and beheadings, to achieve its objectives. To the South, in Africa, there is further chaos and violence as an entire region undergoes dramatic change, and not for the better, at least not yet.
Just as NATO must remake itself to meet these new threats, President Obama must find a foreign affairs strategy that will carry him through the remainder of his presidency, one that will leave his successor in a better situation than the one he inherited when he took office in January 2009.
The last month has been perilous for Obama with pressure building for him to take further military action, and when he said the obvious, that he did not yet have a military strategy to combat ISIS in Syria, supporters and critics alike jumped on him. That’s something a president might think, but shouldn’t say, at least not to a room full of reporters.
Obama’s dilemma is that there are no good choices. Attacking ISIS in Syria would help Syrian President Assad, and would be at odds with Obama’s stated goal that Assad must go. It would also inflame the sectarian war between Shiites and Sunnis, making it appear that the U.S. is siding with the Shiites.
Yet if Obama is to deliver on his statement in NATO-member Estonia that the U.S. will “degrade and destroy” ISIS, that will require air strikes in Syria, and it will also require those dreaded boots on the ground, not U.S. boots, but somebody’s, Turkey’s perhaps?
To mount air strikes in Syria, Obama will need a coalition that includes Sunni-led Arab countries, so it can’t be said the U.S. is waging war on Sunnis. It is possible to put together this kind of coalition, but it will take a great deal of diplomacy, and it can’t be done overnight.
The model is the coalition of the willing that President George H. W. Bush assembled in 1991 to push Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army out of Kuwait. It had NATO at its core, and it included Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The elder Bush’s foreign policy is the one Obama most clearly admires, and while the threat ISIS poses is far more complicated than Saddam’s cross-border excursion into Kuwait, the solution requires the same focused diplomacy coupled with credible military power.
The NATO meeting in Wales comes at a critical time, and it is arguably one of the last opportunities for Obama to show that he is up to the task of leading the Western world through a complicated set of interconnected challenges. Obama is right to be deliberative and thoughtful, and to challenge those who demand more action, as long as he acts in time.
If Bush One is the model, the emphasis is on diplomacy so when the time comes for military action, there is broad support. Lobbing bombs at the trucks and tanks that compose ISIS’ arsenal in Iraq has helped the Kurdish and Iraqi forces reverse some of ISIS’ gains, and that’s a good thing. But if Obama wants to follow in Bush One’s footsteps and be remembered as the architect of Desert Storm Two, he has a lot more work to do.
© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND