Yesterday, unilateral support for an attack on the Islamic State was ratified into law by the U.S. Congress. But insofar as related international attempts to establish a U.N. resolution on the Islamic State group situation are concerned, the Obama government has yet to achieve any satisfactory outcomes. Although an agreement has been struck between 10 nations in the Middle East, key members Iran and Turkey have not signed up for the plan. The traditional Western allies of the U.S. are united in moralizing their objectives, yet both the United Kingdom and Germany have staunchly declared that they will not take part in any air attacks on the Islamic State group. In tracing the cause for these divisions back to its source, we can see that America’s current difficulties with its allies stem from its own psychological “affinity for war,” the conditions it imposes on its allies and the unrealistic expectations it has for its alliance model. When all is said and done, it boils down to the ever-growing flaws inherent in the foreign policies of “Obama-ism.”
To begin with, the United States does not want to waste its energies on this battle against the Islamic State group. Right now, a strong ambivalence toward military intervention permeates U.S. society. Americans fear the resurgence of terrorism in their homeland, and they don’t want their country wasting its manpower and resources on yet another war. An even larger problem is that the general public has lost faith in its government’s foreign policy, and they are pouring out their feelings of discontent right on Obama’s doorstep. With midterm elections drawing near, both Republican and Democrat candidates will naturally want to avoid the spotlight over the Islamic State group issue, for fear of it tarnishing the rest of their election campaigns. Consequently, the attack on the Islamic State has become President Obama’s “one man war.” Since the U.S. itself has not showing a committed strategic response to the Islamic State issue, its allies can hardly be blamed for being “sectarian” in their responses.
From another perspective, America’s demands from its allies are rather shameless sleights of hand. In this war on the Islamic State group, the Obama government is actually continuing on with the Bush administration’s war on terror. When taking the moral high road in the political arena, one need not pay heed to critical voices directed against your objectives and, in truth, the whole war on terror can be distilled into a simple war between democracies and non-democracies. Since the beginning of the Islamic State issue, the impression that the Obama government has been giving off is that they want other countries to share the burden, while simultaneously excluding them from the traditional, tightly knit circle of allied democracies. So, apparently, it’s best to prevent old enemies from plucking food from the shared campfire and not get blinded by the potential spoils of victory that lay ahead down the road.
Meanwhile, as the alliance is mobilizing itself for action against the Islamic State group, the issue of how to deal with the various types of “sideline profits” that will arise from the ongoing conflict is becoming a key issue. Only recently, the government of Iran posted a clear statement on its website requesting that the U.S. refrain from providing assistance to any groups attacking the Islamic State. America’s request for Iran to assist in the fight is also mere camouflage because, in truth, the “cooperative” airstrikes that the U.S. is carrying out are also likely to support Iraqi Shiite forces that are operating within Iran.
The last problem is the impossibility of the America’s allied strategy. Under the imposed conditions of “self-restraint” in this military commitment, the U.S. is left waging an “agent” war—limiting its strength and scope and gambling its results on mobilizing local forces to rise up and take arms against the Islamic State group. However, coordinating this “mob attack” from Syria is likely to be more difficult than walking a tightrope.
Organizing an international alliance to respond to the Islamic State threat is the crux of Obama’s strategy. However, if the White House doesn’t make a concrete commitment and take stock of America’s internal issues, as well as the international climate surrounding them, the U.S. could, over time, find itself friendless and surrounded by chaos.
The author is an assistant professor at the Beijing Foreign Studies University