Increasingly Russia and their Iranian allies are looking likely to dominate the northern Middle East from Afghanistan to the Levant. This President has been badly outmaneuvered. The next President will have to decide how much he or she is willing to risk in order to try to deal with the feeding of “jihadism… by war and state failure.”
The Islamic State (ISIS) has delivered a new propaganda video showing another gruesome mass execution of fellow Muslims. The group proclaims that the video should serve as a warning to any Muslims thinking of coming to join any of the rebel armies fighting against them in the conflict. Amid Nazi salutes, ISIS soldiers clad in stolen American-made 3 color DCU uniforms promised to fight the “apostates” whom they painted as being on the same side as the Americans.
Yet the Americans have done but little to support any allies in the region. As the Economist notes, US President Barack Obama has kept American forces largely out of the conflict except in an advisory role. This is because, they explain, he views an American intervention as likely to cause more harm than good. His policy has been throughout “cool,” “rational,” and “wrong.”
As America has pulled back, others have stepped in—geopolitics abhors a vacuum. Islamic State (IS) has taken over swathes of Syria and Iraq. A new generation of jihadists has been inspired to fight in Syria or attack the West. Turkey, rocked by Kurdish and jihadist violence (and a failed coup), has joined the fight in Syria. Jordan and Lebanon, bursting with refugees, fear they will be sucked in. The exodus of Syrians strengthens Europe’s xenophobic populists and endangers the European Union. A belligerent Russia feels emboldened….
None of this is in America’s interest. Being cool and calculating is not much use if everybody else thinks you are being weak. Even if America cannot fix Syria, it could have helped limit the damage, alleviate suffering and reduce the appeal of jihadism…. Mr Obama says that Mr Assad eventually must go, but has never willed the means to achieve that end. (Some rebel groups receive CIA weapons, but that is about it.)… [J]ihadism is fed by war and state failure: without a broader power-sharing agreement in Syria and Iraq any victory against IS will be short-lived; other jihadists will take its place.
Russia has been building pressure on the Obama administration in other ways. Since the suspending of talks between the US and Russia, the Putin administration has announced major nuclear war games that will move tens of millions of people to civil defense shelters on very short notice. They have suspended nuclear arms deals with the United States involving plutonium cleanup, suggesting that they fear the US will cheat. The Russians have also deployed one of their advanced missile systems outside of their homeland for the first time. The deployment was made without comment, but as one American official noted wryly, ““Nusra doesn’t have an air force do they?” Al Nusra Front is an al Qaeda linked organization that has been sometimes allied with, but more often at war with, the Islamic State.
All of this means that America’s window to take a more aggressive approach may be closing, if it has not already closed. Increasingly Russia and their Iranian allies are looking likely to dominate the northern Middle East from Afghanistan to the Levant. This President has been badly outmaneuvered. The next President will have to decide how much he or she is willing to risk in order to try to deal with the feeding of “jihadism… by war and state failure.”
The threat is very real, as estimates are that the assault on Mosul might produce another million refugees headed for Europe and America, orperhaps half again that many. The failure to take a more aggressive approach may end up bringing a flood tide of human suffering and terror.