The Coalition of the Kind of Willing?

Barack Obama announced his new strategy for ISIL on 9/10:

“So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultation with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.” —

The coalition partners are important because our efforts

“will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. The counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL, wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partners on the ground. This strategy…is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

Leaving aside the reference to Yemen and Somalia, let’s consider the coalition of our “partners on the ground.” On September 11, a number of Arab nations joined to sign an agreement to assist in the campaign against ISIL, that included providing humanitarian aid and “as appropriate, joining in the many aspects of a coordinated military campaign.” The “as appropriate” clause might give one pause. As the New York Times explains:

While Arab nations allied with the United States vowed on Thursday to “do their share” to fight ISIS and issued a joint communiqué supporting a broad strategy, the underlying tone was one of reluctance. The government perhaps most eager to join a coalition against ISIS was that of Syria, which Mr. Obama had already ruled out as a partner for what he described as terrorizing its citizens.

To be more specific:

  • Egypt: “complained that Egypt’s hands were full with its own fight against ‘terrorism,’ referring to the Islamist opposition.”
  • Jordan: “King Abdullah II had told Secretary of State John Kerry ‘that the Palestinian cause remains the core of the conflict in the region’ and that Jordan was focusing on the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.”
  • Turkey: Declined to sign the joint communiqué: “Speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, an official advised not to expect public support for the American effort.”
  • Iraq: “Members of Iraq’s Shiite majority cheered the prospect of American help. But many Sunni Muslims were cynical about battling an organization that evolved from jihadist groups fighting American occupation.”

I am a bit puzzled that one would announce a coalition before knowing that you have a coalition that is firmly committed to placing troops on the ground.  To borrow from Nancy Pelosi, perhaps you have to announce the coalition before you can find out who is in it?

Without the coalition, the administration’s options are reduced to two: (1) US troops on the ground—which has been ruled out—or (2) no troops on the ground, which essentially means that the new strategy looks a lot like the old strategy (perhaps the examples of Yemen and Somalia make more sense in this context).

There is a third option, of course: exit. It would clarify the stakes and incentives for the reluctant partners and free us to intervene when there is clear evidence that there are genuine (not hypothetical) threats to our national security.

2 thoughts on “The Coalition of the Kind of Willing?

  1. I think that the ‘strategy’ is managing a complex and really difficult situation when most of the parties involved hate each other, and are seeking to use each other against each other.

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