Rami G Khouri writes: President Barack Obama’s bold move to lead a coalition of countries to degrade, contain and defeat the “Islamic State” group in Syria and Iraq through a combination of military and political means is sensible in principle, but it is likely to run into a serious problem — one that has plagued other such endeavors.
The combination of foreign-led military power and local Arab government partners that must anchor a successful attack to vanquish the Islamic State is the precise combination of forces that originally midwifed the birth of Al-Qaeda in the 1980s and later spawned its derivative — the Islamic State — today.
The United States and its fighting partners in the Middle East and abroad face two profound dilemmas that have no easy answer.
First, the combination of American militarism and Middle Eastern (mostly Arab) autocratic regimes can certainly contain and rattle the Islamic State in the short run, but in the long run, as recent history confirms, it is likely to generate new, more dangerous and more widely dispersed groups of militants and terrorists.
Second, there is no easy way, and few other options, in the short run to contain ISIS today before it spreads further and causes more damage to the region, so there seems to be no alternative now but to repeat the questionable patterns of the last 20 years of war against Al-Qaeda and its successors.
The biggest weakness in Obama’s coalition is its Arab members, all of whom are autocratic and paternalistic states that share several embarrassing traits:
- They are reluctant to use their formidable military arsenals in the fight against ISIS, either from political fear or technical weaknesses;
- They face strong problems with their own public opinions at home that are very dubious about partnering with the American military;
- Their own mistreatment of some of their prisoners in their jails incubated the birth of Al-Qaeda in the 1980s;
- Their sustained mismanagement of social, economic and political development in the past 40 years was the leading contributor to the mass grievances that sparked large-scale Islamism and emigration from the 1970s, the retreat of the state from some quarters of society, and the birth of militias, tribal groupings, and criminal gangs as powerful new actors in society.
The most troubling symbol of how hard it is for Arab regimes to fight the Islamic State and other such phenomena is the Arab jails in the 1980s and 90s that were the incubators for many of the early recruits and leaders of Al-Qaeda. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Secretary of state John Kerry said on Saturday that Egypt has a critical role to play in countering the ideology of Islamic State, the militant group known as Isis.
Kerry was speaking in Cairo as part of a regional tour to build support for President Barack Obama’s plan to strike both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi frontier, defeat Isis Sunni fighters and build a coalition for a potentially complex military campaign in the heart of the Middle East.