Questions On Obama’s ‘ISIS Strategy’ – OpEd


The US’s inaction vis-a-vis ISIS’s recent assault and capture of the Iraqi provincial capital of Ramadi has raised fresh questions about the true intentions and motives of Obama’s “ISIS strategy.” According to reports from Iraq, despite a passionate plea by the Iraqi military officials to rush air cover for the Ramadi defenders, the US responded with token delayed action — that proved a remedy too little and late.

Hardly surprising, this actually fits in with the pattern of US’s behavior already observed with respect to, among others, Mosul and Kobane, as well as Tikrit. Despite a loud pledge of putting the US’s mighty power to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the ISIS terrorists, President Obama has been considerably less than forceful in his commitment, thus raising questions about the US’s motives.

In the past few days, the US media and some US politicians have been critical of Obama’s “failed strategy” to contain the menace of ISIS, yet few have raised the pertinent question of whether or not the egregious shortcomings of this strategy are deliberate and self-imposed, in light of US’s overall Middle East and Persian Gulf strategy, which is nowadays fully geared to the objective of carving up nations, e.g., Iraq and Syria, and thus sustaining the traditional U.S. hegemony? Such questions are simply not entertained by the mainstream U.S. media and its various think tanks.

As a result, there is a growing gap between the U.S.’s declared anti-ISIS policies and the actual policies that fall dreadfully short of the latter and, worse, indicate a built-in ambiguity regarding U.S.’s ISIS intentions, as well as the intention of other members of the “coalition,” which has dwindled since last September to a handful from over two dozen nations. Some local members of that coalition, namely the Arab states of Gulf Cooperation Council, have been too busy attacking the Shiite Houthis in Yemen to focus on ISIS, although as the UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-Moon has rightly warned, the war in Yemen opens the “corridor to ISIS.”

In fact, Obama’s “ISIS strategy” increasingly looks like a half-baked non-strategy consisting of limited air sorties and rare ground operations, such as last week’s special operation deep inside Syrian territory, which has raised other questions in terms of whether or not the actual motive was a ‘trial run’ at military intervention in war-torn Syria, where the armed opposition is slated to receive U.S. military training? In other words, is the U.S. using the excuse of ISIS to other ends?

If so, undoubtedly Washington is playing with fire that will backfire and enhance the threat of terrorism against it, all the more reason to avoid short-sighted policies that ignore the multiple side-effects harmful to U.S.’s own interests. To remove the ISIS’s “tumor” as pledged by Obama requires a much greater degree of U.S. policy transparency than hitherto observed, otherwise the current mix of token action and inaction will have long-term deleterious consequences for both regional stability and global peace.

As the Iran nuclear talks make steady progress toward a final deal, the stage is set for broader U.S.-Iran dialogue on regional and security issues, in light of the recent statement of Iran’s Supreme Leader that once the nuclear issue is resolved then “other issues” may be discussed as well. The evolution of the nuclear talks to broader bilateral talks is, however, only possible if the U.S. backtracks from its occasional menacing posture toward Iran, which in turn invoke the image of an unreconstructed U.S. approach terminally wedded to Manichean enemy image of Iran, which is hardly in tune with the more complex reality on the ground featuring areas of shared U.S.-Iran interests and concerns, such as with respect to Afghanistan and narco-traffic. The chasm between the subjective misperceptions of Iran and the objective reality aforementioned must be addressed by U.S. policy-makers, who are constantly engaged in a balancing act with respect to competing allies.

Clearly, sacrificing the U.S.’s interests for the sake of other parties, including some states in the region, does not hold for a rational policy. Unfortunately, some of those states, who view the ISIS as operating on the Shiite-Sunni ‘fault line,’ are equally blind to the negative results of their hidden and sometimes not so hidden support for ISIS and other like-minded takfiri groups. A region-wide security dialogue involving Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and other stakeholders in regional stability is desperately needed today, which is held back partly as a result of U.S.’s divisive approach that inhibits regional cooperation.and manipulates the “Iran threat” for its own hegemonic purposes.

In conclusion, Obama’s “ISIS strategy” increasingly reminds one of General Electric’s ‘planned obsolecence’ of its light bulbs, that could have a longer life-span in the absence of corporate greed. Same thing with a Western superpower that can achieve greater success against the ISIS terrorists if it were not handicapped by the inherent defects of that strategy.– that are in dire need of correction.

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Ph.D. is an Iranian-American political scientist and author specializing in Iran’s foreign and nuclear affairs, and author of several books.

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