When all the aerial bombardment is over and the Islamic State forces are softened up; when the wide coalition is all assembled; the critical question will be whose boots will be on the ground. The successful display in New York of a more activist engaged Obama is all well and good. The coalition which includes a number of Arab states now willing to fund the attack on ISIS is significant, but for the billionaire regional sheiks easy money. Their willingness to participate in the aerial attacks is more significant, but not very costly. Similarly, providing training grounds for Iraqis and anti-ISIS forces even if conducted by Westerners is not unprecedented although significant as well. Engaging Turkey in the fight against ISIS despite its ties to the Assad regime is a function of effective Obama/Kerry arm-twisting. The real test is yet to come when the Islamic State remains well and functioning and its destruction will require ground troops.
After 9/11 the Bush/Cheney bogus pretext to go after Saddam Hussein was later followed by an American effort to create a new military in Iraq. This was followed by America’s exit. After America’s departure, it gradually became evident that Iraq’s political and military leadership clearly was not ready to manage its affairs. The U.S. is thus back on the scene only this time it faces the Islamic State forces in Syria as well as in Iraq. How long an aerial campaign will might continue, how effective it will be, and how sustained is the coalition remains to be seen. The real challenge will be when the confrontation will need to be raised to the next level.
Arab forces fighting under Western command against other Arab forces; killing Arab brothers on the orders not of their own leaders but infidels probably will be another matter. Shiites fought Sunnis to a standstill for almost nine years in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980’s but there was no Western involvement in their religious, family fight. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed by Muslims killing Muslims but they were not fighting on behalf of Western goals and ends. This next phase of the war against ISIS will be the real test; not only as to whether it will be in the U.S. interest to put American boots on the ground against the Islamic State, but whether Muslim Governments will do so. Hopefully, the planners in the Pentagon, in Langley, and in Foggy Bottom have already gamed this phase of the ISIS War. In addition, hopefully the White House as well has discussed this aspect of joining the coalition with America’s partners.