President Barack Obama unwittingly discredited his own strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State (IS) on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
The president observed: “What we learned from the previous engagement in Iraq is that our military is always the best. We can always knock out, knock back any threat. But when we leave that threat comes back.”
The U.S. military will never succeed in permanently destroying the Islamic State. Even if we destroy it initially, IS or a variation will return as soon as we depart. So what’s the point? Why waste the money and miltary personnel for nothing?
IS was born of the tyrannies, bigotries and corruption that earmark both state and non-state actors in Iraq, Syria and neighboring countries. Unless they are reconstructed from top to bottom to achieve popular, non-sectarian legitimacy featuring the rule of law — a utopian fantasy — IS or its equivalent will bedevil the Middle East indefinitely.
Arab Spring taught that citizens will resort to violence and extremism if peaceful political channels to redress grievances are denied.
In Iraq and Syria, Sunnis have been politically marginalized for years by Shiites. And thus IS was born.
Iraq’s government is controlled by Shiites. It is snug with the government of Iran, which is exclusively Shiite. Sunnis are subjugated and routinely brutalized by Shiite militias. Sunni fury is exacerbated by their previous domination of Iraq under President Saddam Hussein. They have no hope of acquiring sufficient power through peaceful means to protect against oppression under Iraq’s current constitutional dispensation.
One day after the United States withdrew its last combat troops from Iraq, the Shiite-dominated government ordered the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi. He was accused of operating a death squad to assassinate police officers and government officials, and convicted and sentenced to death.
The vice president fled to Turkey, where he elaborated in an interview with Reuters: “[Islamic State] is just part of the dilemma. What about the Shia, what about the political process that has been kidnapped by [Shia Prime Minister] Maliki and drifted? After a while, the United States is going to discover that they have changed nothing with these air strikes.”
Sunnis are likewise excluded from the corridors of power in Syria under President Bashar al-Assad. He is an Alawite, a Shiite sect. Unless President Assad is overthrown in favor of a dispensation more receptive to Sunnis, Syria will remain fertile territory for IS recruits. Yet Mr. Obama has specifically renounced the ouster of Mr. Assad as a war objective.
In Egypt, President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi has shut down all political opposition. Egyptian terrorist organization Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has responded in part by declaring its allegiance to IS. Meanwhile, Mr. Obama has declined to decry President el-Sisi as a dictator.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are similarly intolerant of political dissent. Indeed, Saudi Arabia was the birthplace of al Qaeda. Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, two were from the UAE, and one each were from Egypt and Lebanon.
The conclusion that Mr. Obama’s war to destroy IS is a fool’s errand is reinforced by Mr. Obama’s war against Libya to oust Muammar Gaddafi to uphold human rights. Gaddafi was ousted. The military departed. And human rights violators immediately returned to splinter and to control a convulsed political landscape. So what was the point?
In sum, Mr. Obama’s strategy for destroying IS was dead on arrival according to his own analysis. But the president cleverly set a timeline for victory long after he departs the White House. He will then fault his successors for losing the war.
But what is good politics for Mr. Obama is not necessarily good for the country.
Who in Congress will stand up with the courage of Hans Christian Andersen’s little child and shout that the Emperor has no clothes?
For more information on Bruce Fein, visit brucefeinlaw.