President Obama Talks Strategy with Anti-ISIL Coalition

iraq_isis_rebels_460 (1)When a war is finally over, its outcome assumes an air of inevitability, as though we always knew which side would win. We find strains in the harmony of events that support our contention. We see evidence everywhere that one side or the other was doomed from the get-go. But the very real fact is that, at the time, nobody knows who will win.

At the moment, the ISIL tide is lapping at the doorstep of Baghdad, and the defenders of the Syrian town of Kobani seem to be on the verge of collapse, with the U.S. military admitting ISIL has “tactical momentum.”

But German armies once had momentum as well; they stood at the gate of Moscow and St. Petersburg (Leningrad, as it was then) was encircled by the invaders. Huge swathes of territory had been lost. The Germans thought they had won.

Thousands of Muscovites had fled. There was panic and looting. Stalin had sent his government to Kuibyshev, 600 miles away on the Volga, and his personal train and DC-3 were waiting for him to join them. He proclaimed that “Moscow will be defended to the last!” but it could as easily have fallen, had not Hitler’s mistakes ultimately been more egregious than his own.

Events like this demonstrate that there is no inevitability in history until it is assigned later by historians or politicians. We know how desperate the course of World War II was. Until the United States entered, it seemed certain to all – including the British, the only Western power still fighting Hitler -they would lose.

But the Allies won.

A new set of allies must now face the challenge of ISIL, a challenge not limited to the battlefields of Iraq and Syria. This is not our fathers’ and grandfathers’ war. Iraq is a country we have already invaded and occupied. Imagine 1948. The Allies have won in Europe but now the United States is forced to send its army back to Germany, to crush an insurgence that threatens to destabilize the region. We don’t know that the war-wearing Allies could have done that; we do know that it is very difficult for a war-wearing United States to do it now.

Yesterday, at Andrews Air Force Base, President Barack H. Obama met with twenty-one coalition military leaders in the war against ISIL, in order to discuss strategy. Represented were Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Britain Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

There was no way to sugarcoat events, and so Obama did not even try, nor did he attempt to pop the Republican alternate reality bubble. Rather, he stuck to the business at hand. He acknowledged concern over Kobani and Anbar Province, and said that “This is going to be a long-term campaign.” There are, he said, “going to be periods of progress and setbacks,” but that the coalition remains committed to degrading and destroying ISIL.

Republicans want boots on the ground. But President George W. Bush’s missteps in Iraq have made it very difficult for Obama to put troops on the ground outside limited numbers of advisors. CBS News said that the strategy session yielded “no new plan,” but it is unclear what new plan could have been devised. You can also be assured that if Obama laid out a new plan, he would be attacked for giving his plans away. The simple truth is that America does not want another war in Iraq. Iraqis, outside perhaps, of Anbar Province, do not want another American war in Iraq. This leaves President Obama with a limited number of options.

But the president did say that this campaign calls for a different approach from a conventional war. He pointed to the ideological component and to the economic conditions which contribute to ISIL’s recruitment of young men from across the region. These conditions, and not only the soldiers on the front lines, must be combated.

Here is the full text of his remarks regarding ISIL:

THE PRESIDENT: Well, good afternoon, everybody. I want to thank Chairman Dempsey for bringing us here together to review coalition operations to degrade and to ultimately destroy ISIL. I want to thank General Austin of Central Command, and General Votel, down at the end, of Special Operations Command for their outstanding leadership as well.

At this stage, some 60 nations are contributing to this coalition, including more than 20 coalition members who are represented here today — among them, Iraq, Arab nations, Turkey, NATO Allies, and partners from the world. So this is an operation that involves the world against ISIL.

So far, we’ve seen some important successes: Stopping ISIL’s advance on Erbil. Saving many civilians from a massacre on Mount Sinjar. Retaking the Mosul Dam. Destroying ISIL targets and fighters across Iraq and Syria.

Obviously, at this point, we’re also focused on the fighting that is taking place in Iraq’s Anbar Province, and we’re deeply concerned about the situation in and around the Syrian town of Kobani, which underscores the threat that ISIL poses in both Iraq and Syria. And coalition airstrikes will continue in both these areas.

One of the things that has emerged from the discussions, both before I came and during my visit here, is that this is going to be a long-term campaign. There are not quick fixes involved. We’re still at the early stages. As with any military effort, there will be days of progress and there are going to be periods of setback.

But our coalition is united behind this long-term effort. Our nations agree that ISIL poses a significant threat to the people of Iraq and Syria. It poses a threat to surrounding countries. And because of the numbers of foreign fighters that are being attracted, and the chaos that ISIL was creating in the region, ultimately it will pose a threat beyond the Middle East, including to the United States, Europe, and far-flung countries like Australia that have already seen terrorist networks trying to infiltrate and impact population centers on the other side of the world.

So we are united in our goal to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL so that it’s no longer a threat to Iraq, to the region, or the international community. But one of the things that’s also been emphasized here today is this is not simply a military campaign. This is not a classic army in which we defeat them on the battlefield and then they ultimately surrender. What we’re also fighting is an ideological strain of extremism that has taken root in too many parts of the region. We are dealing with sectarianism and political divisions that for too long have been a primary political, organizational rallying point in the region. We’re dealing with economic deprivation and lack of opportunity among too many young people in the region.

And so one of the interesting things to hear from our military leadership is the recognition that this cannot simply be a military campaign. This has to be a campaign that includes all the dimensions of our power. We have to do a better job of communicating an alternative vision for those who are currently attracted to the fighting inside Iraq and Syria. It is going to be absolutely critical to make sure that the political inclusion that Prime Minister Abadi of Iraq is committed to is actually translated into real progress. It’s going to require us developing and strengthening a moderate opposition inside of Syria that is in a position then to bring about the kind of legitimacy and sound governance for all people inside of Syria.

And so, in addition to denying ISIL safe haven in Iraq and Syria, in addition to stopping foreign fighters, in addition to the intelligence gathering and airstrikes and ground campaigns that may be developed by the Iraqi security forces, we’re also going to have to pay attention to communications. We’re going to have to pay attention to how all the countries in the region begin to cooperate in rooting out this cancer. And we’re going to have to continue to deliver on the humanitarian assistance of all the populations that have been affected. And we have three countries here — Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey — who obviously are bearing an extraordinary burden from the displaced persons not just recently over the last few months, but for several years now as a consequence of the civil war in Syria. That all plays a part in this campaign.

But I want to thank all the nations who are represented here in what is a growing coalition. I’m encouraged by the unanimity of viewpoints and the commitment of the countries involved to make sure that we’re making steady progress.

The effort to destroy ISIL is not defined by the rogue actions of an American president careless of international law nor is it constrained by ignorance of realities on the ground. President Obama has built carefully, and with twenty-one nations involved and fully committed, including Middle Eastern countries directly threatened by ISIL advances, we can be sure that every effort will be made to protect not only American security but the security of every other nation involved. Regardless of Republican obsessions and talking points, the current inability to put boots on the ground (and we don’t know how this might change) does not doom those efforts to failure.

The important thing for Americans is that we have a president who is fully cognizant of the facts on the ground, and who is facing it with a head unclouded by Neocon religious or ideological fantasies, or dreams of plunder. America is involved, America is even leading, but America is not going it alone, nor against the wishes of the international community. And Americans should take heart from that, that if the going is tough, we are not going down the road alone.

12 Replies to “President Obama Talks Strategy with Anti-ISIL Coalition”

  1. In these troubled times I feel so glad that
    Obama is our president, he goes about his business calmly and with more patience than
    we deserve.Republicans seem to forget the state of the country sliding into recession
    when Obama was elected, I remember I even felt sorry for him with the enormity of the problems he faced.Now watching the republicans freaking out about ebola I wish someone would ask them if this is what they meant when they said they wanted to shrink the government so it would drown in a bathtub, if so, not having an ebola vaccine is a great success for them.

  2. There will be no grand strategy because all the players in this “game” have their own goals.

    The Saudi’s and the gulf states want a Sunni led Iraq and Syria to counter Iran. Turkey does not want a Kurdish state to the point they wont even help Kobani and bombed Kurdish fighters trying to help. There reason, we don’t want to send civilians into a war zone. You believe that I got a mango grove to sell you in the desert.

    Syria with Assad in control will not give up power and would much rather have the rebels fight each other. Now that ISIS and other rebel groups decided to stop fighting each other and start fighting the crusaders that’s not working out for them.

    Iran who has boots on the ground wasn’t even invited and they have a stake in Syria and a Shia Iraq.

    And finally the 51st state Israel. I suspect they would much rather have Assad in power than a bunch of fiefdoms governed by irrational terrorist which McInsane best buds are.

    Like I said before Clusterf*ck

  3. “Republicans want boots on the ground”. Of course they do, their Masters will make lots of money that way. I have no respect for a party the will allow “other people’s children to fight and die for profit. If the countries that border where this conflict is are not willing to step up, I say the United States should step down.

    If the GOP want a fight so much, I suggest that they and their families stand at the front lines. I bet you anything that the cowards will back off in a hot second.

  4. As I said in another post, this is more a direct threat to China’s financial interests in Iraq, than ours.

    The president should at least be mentioning the fact that their investments there are in danger, and that they should join the coalition for that reason alone, if no other. The world community should be pressuring them to join, so other countries aren’t spending human capital, simply so they can get a steady access to Iraqi oil.

  5. I HATE chicken hawks like all of the neocon foreign policy establishment except for John Kerry, who served in Vietnam, was once antiwar and now sends the troops to pursue “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” foreign policy. He’s even more hypocritical than Dick Cheney, though not anywhere near as dangerous.

  6. I believe American “boots on the ground” would be a mistake. ISIL would propagandize it as a “crusade” by the Christians to further attract more fighters. Look what happened in Iraq. We should have learned that lesson then. Apparently the right wing hawks did not. I believe President Obama is taking the right course and leading the world against ISIL the right way. He needs to lean on some of these allies a bit more as we do need surrounding nations’ boots on the ground.

  7. Thank you for the hope!
    FACT: The world spent $1735 Billion on war in 2012. A fraction would bring every person out of poverty in the US and worldwide. PETITION: Our $1 trillion chance to eradicate poverty worldwide.
    FACT: It would take less than 1% tax on 13 million US millionaires would raise $175.3 billion that would bring 222 million people in the United States up to the poverty line. How Much Money Would it Take to Eliminate Us Poverty?
    FACT: It would take less the .5% tax on 32 million global millionaires worth $98.7
    trillion in personal wealth, to bring every soul on the planet out of extreme poverty that makes less than $1.25 a day.

  8. ISIL have opened up the Bee’s Hive; all of these countries are going to buzz& Sting them to death. How can they and their Caliphate ambitions expect to survive in a world that will be against them until they wither away. Who will want to do business with their band of murderers and crooks. What investments in their besieged lands be made by any worthwhile Arab country or any other for that matter. So, I’ glad to see these other countries “plotting” with Obama to F-them up! Temporary gains by them will falter, then when the Sh–it hits the fan, they will melt away into the population like frightened rats or roaches. Where’s the Caliphate empire then? Oh, and by the way….Every Neo-Con, Warhaw, sabre rattling fool on the Republican side, you and they know who they are should but out, and STFU. Let Obama and wiser men get this thing done—The Right Way, Not the McCain-Graham, et al. way.

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