Taking On the Islamic State
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Hopefully the President has it right this time. In one of the most important speeches of his Presidency, President Obama appears ready to engage the threat posed in the Middle East and elsewhere by the radical Islamic forces of the Islamic State. The American public, according even to the most recent polls appear genuinely scared of what these forces represent. They were duly shocked and alarmed by the violence depicted in the beheading of two American journalists. The American people may not really want another war—at least not at this time– but they clearly do not want to be made fools of, ridiculed, or belittled by radical forces in the Middle East who appear totally unable to accept anything approaching Western norms.
Aside from the domestic political battles that he faces over his conduct of even the most obvious foreign policy venture—and these partisan skirmishes will not be simple—it has been reported that the President has opted for a very logical and well thought through approach. Use American and allied forces to provide aerial and drone support; use aircraft not only for surveillance but to attack ISIS forces and leaders; encourage all local political authorities to create broad coalition political authorities; build a regional and international coalition to support this venture; join in providing training for opposing forces; use all available intelligence information (including Israeli) to identify the nature of the resources being used by the Islamist radicals; and encourage the creation of a multilateral regional force to directly engage the Islamic State.
The true rub in this entire proposal is the creation of a Muslim force to attack and defeat another Muslim force. Historically, Islam has seen numerous religious and ethnic wars and battles between various opposing Muslim groups. The war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980’s was as violent and vicious as imaginable, wherein hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed as the Sunnis and Shiites battled to a draw after almost ten years. On other occasions, including Desert Storm, Muslims have permitted Western surrogates to do their fighting until they no longer wanted their Muslim brethren—even their enemy–being beaten up by infidels.
All of this leads to the key question which will remain unanswered when the President concludes his remarks tonight. If bringing an end to the threat posed by the radical Islamic State—which undoubtedly will take years–is the President’s goal, and the U.S. will not commit ground forces to destroy them, where is the Muslim coalition which is ready to truly mount an attack against them? If there is no such force, how will the Islamic State be prevented from spreading the Caliphate throughout the region?