Implicit in speeches given at NATO summit held in Wales last Thursday was a western admission that their strategies in Ukraine and the Middle East have failed. Obviously, the West has failed in articulating a plan whatsoever to check Russia’s meddling in Ukraine. All western verbal threats fell on deaf ears. Additionally, Obama’s calling for a coalition against the so-called Islamic State (IS) is a manifestation of the United States failed policy in the Levant. It really is hard to track any sound strategy followed by the West to eliminate the IS.
Against this backdrop, US President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron sought to enlist the European commitment to deter Russia and help defeat the IS in Iraq and Syria. More specifically, the US is seeking to form an international coalition to confront extremist forces in the wider Middle East. The problem is that most of NATO members are not keen on increasing their military spending. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether NATO countries will put their money where their mouths are.
In his speech at the summit, President Obama made it perfectly clear that he would work for a coalition of states to take on the Islamic State but Obama has articulated similar positions in the past without necessarily following up on them. In this part of the world, the majority of people and politicians has lost trust in the US and don’t expect anything concrete from Obama anymore. Therefore, Obama may be pressured to demonstrate that the US is ready to lead.
Seen in this way, I argue that short of mobilizing and coordinating with various countries in the Middle East, Obama will run the risk of further damaging his country’s status in the region. In fact, the willingness and readiness of some key allies in the region to work with the US will depend on their perception of whether the US is prepared to do so. It is not a secret to say that key Arab allies suspect that the United States under Obama is disengaging from the region.
If anything, President Obama is embarrassed as the second American journalist was just killed by the militants of the IS. Many observers, Americans included, began to openly criticize Obama’s failed strategy in the Levant as well as in Ukraine. But the American success in fighting the IS depends by and large on finding partners who will join in the battle against the IS. The problem is that the US is not willing to commit boots on the ground. Many military experts argue that the airstrikes — important as they may be — will not decide the battle on the ground.
Also, the ability of the Iraqi government to take on the IS relies on the success of the new Prime Minister Al-Abadi to put a working inclusive government, a step that is yet to be taken. But, even if Al-Abadi will succeed in overcoming internal obstacles in forming a new inclusive government, the ability of the new coalition to fight the Islamic State in Syrian entails finding partners to do that.
Interestingly, there is no strong partner inside Syria that could help defeat the IS except for Assad. To be sure, Assad sent a clear message that his army will be ready to help the US defeat the IS. In fact, Assad views the American bid to take on radicals as an opportunity to rehabilitate his regime and make it internationally and regionally accepted.
While Obama has sent his senior officials to the Middle East to talk to possible partners in the war against terrorism, the issue of Syria is complicated. On more than one occasion, the US asked Assad to step down to allow for a new inclusive government. Therefore, it would be unthinkable for Obama to justify working with Assad against the IS in Syria. It seems that the US is paying for its failed and shortsighted policy in Syria.
In a nutshell, Obama has a problem of image in the Middle East. Even his closest allies in the region do not think that he is up to the mission. He needs more than saying the right words, should he seek to save any legacy in this part of the world.
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