Obama’s offensive against the jihadists

The US began expanding its mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) this week, following President Obama’s pledge to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Isil.

On Monday, leaders and diplomats from 26 countries met for talks in Paris on how to defeat the jihadists and, on the face of it, they built a “formidable” coalition, says The Times.

But so far it is “little more than a diplomatic confection” likely to “founder on the harsh realities of two overlapping civil wars”.

Obama’s plans have plunged the US “more deeply into a regional feud between Sunni and Shiite states”, says Stacy Meichtry in The Wall Street Journal.

According to US and Arab officials, the hesitancy of many of the Middle East’s major Sunni leaders is driven in part by fear that American air strikes against Isil will benefit the region’s three main Shiite-dominated governments in Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Aside from the fact that the “burgeoning coalition” is “incomplete” and brings together some “strange bedfellows” with “mixed and conflicting agendas”, the other major obstacle is that Isil is not a clearly defined organisation, says Bill Park in The Daily Telegraph.

It is better understood as the extreme extension of an Islamic radicalism that can be found in al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the streets of European cities and elsewhere. Isil could be disbanded, “but its radicalism will live on”.

The US is making a “tragic foreign policy mistake”, says Ramzy Mardini in The Washington Post. Washington has interpreted the “barbaric” beheadings and the fall of Mosul as evidence that Isil poses a “threat of terrifying proportions to US interests”.

In reality, the beheadings were intended as retaliation for US air strikes in Iraq; it is Obama’s restraint in the use of military power in recent years that has helped to keep Isil’s focus regional.

The more visible the US military, the greater the propaganda value for Isil and the more of a threat it will become. This is not to suggest that the US should ignore Isil, but any effort should be driven by regional powers.

It should be driven by America, says Jennifer Rubin in the same paper. Our allies look to
us for leadership. While we drag our heels, Isil’s ranks and coffers are swelling.

They raise nearly $85m a month in revenue just from oil and (according to Robert Fisk in The Independent) now control territory the size of the UK. There are certain military capabilities that we have invested in for decades, from the ability to control air space to the ability to put troops into hostile territories, and now is the time to use them.

That may not mean dropping an “entire manoeuvre corps” into Iraq, but it does mean “boots on the ground”, from advisers to soldiers, “ushering every player towards the same purpose… The question is not what the best strategy is – it is whether we have the fortitude to use it.”

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