The president is taking part in a meeting of military chiefs from the 20 countries of the coalition.
The summit taking place at Andrews Air Force Base just outside of Washington is important for one reason: Barack Obama will seek to involve Turkey and Saudi Arabia in the war against the Islamic State, the two recalcitrant allies which battle against the Islamists on paper, but in reality have decided to maintain a low profile in the fight against the Islamic State group.
Presided over by General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the meeting will be attended by military chiefs from the 20 countries of the coalition and will not be expected to make any major political decisions apart from those involving Ankara and Riyadh.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the Key Countries
Obama needs the commitment of these two countries in order to win the war. However, for different reasons, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are far from providing the support that Washington is waiting for from them; Ankara, because it doesn’t wish to reinforce the Kurdish militants, opponents of the Islamic State group; Riyadh, because it is not averse to a reinforcement of Sunnis in the strip of territory between Syria and Iraq, which has historically been in the hands of the Shiites.
Obama will ask the military chiefs from the two countries to give signs of availability regarding the needs of the international coalition and to lead the combat training of the moderate Syrian opposition forces. It would be a first step towards bigger involvement. As is known, the White House would like a Turkish ground intervention to overcome the Islamic State group in the north of Syria, but Ankara does not want to do so for fear of handing an advantage to the Kurds.
The Encounter Over Incirlik Air Base
Relations between Washington and Ankara are not good. Turkey would like to maintain a low profile, but the U.S. is asking for more. An example is the standoff regarding the use of Incirlik Air Base for raids against the Islamic State group. Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice stated in a television interview that an agreement had been reached for the base to be used by airplanes from the international coalition, words that were immediately contradicted by the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. “There is no new agreement on the Incirlik issue,” Ankara’s head of state made clear.
For Obama, the Andrews meeting is an important test. The commander-in-chief, a reluctant warrior, will be acting as first-person shooter in front of a platoon of militia, an environment in which Obama does not feel fully at ease. This is apparent in the off-the-record but commonly known disagreements with his generals concerning the use of American ground troops in the war against the Islamic State group. The White House is firmly against it; General Dempsey, on the other hand, continues to maintain that sooner or later their involvement will be inevitable.
At stake is his credibility as president. Three weeks before the midterm elections — which will be a referendum about him — this is no small thing; also because his Republican rivals are on the attack. “They’re winning, and we’re not,” stated John McCain. The ex-candidate for the White House touched a nerve. With Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Obama hopes to change the outcome of the conflict. We will see if he succeeds in involving the reluctant allies.