Obama, Lost in the Middle East (but What Elegance!)

Phew! August is over! It was a miserable month for Obama, for his vacation and conspicuous golf game, while some regions of the world, such as the Middle East, fell into even deeper holes. The shots of the American president were, to say the least, unfortunate, such as the legendary “we don’t have a strategy yet” to deal with the terror group, the Islamic State, in Syria. And while Obama displayed his slightly flashy rhetoric, Twitter was awash with a debate over his tanned summer suit. I like it. It’s cool, breezy, but my wife said I know nothing about fashion, even when it comes to Obama.

How does he get out of the hole without digging it even deeper? Steve Coll, who writes for The New Yorker and who published a biography about the Bin Ladin clan, has good balconies, good shots. For now, Obama looks at the hole of Siraq — Syria and Iraq — and gives a green light for air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq. The casus belli* has three components: The Islamic State massacres religious minorities, such as the Christians and Yazidis, and air strikes could minimize mortality; the second imperative is to reinforce the defense of the Kurds and their semi-autonomous region, which is rich in oil, in northern Iraq; Obama’s third reason, with more appeal to the American public, is self-defense — attack now before the Islamic State tries to attack Americans in the region or in the United States — the urgency of this argument is wide open, with the information about the beheading of a second journalist, Steven Stoloff.

Steve Coll makes pointed arguments. The question is not if returning to war in Iraq is justifiable — after so many promises from Obama to jump out of that hole — but to where this return will lead. Air strikes are insufficient, but ground intervention by the U.S. and Western countries would be catastrophic. The options in Syria are even more thankless. The moderate rebels are powerless to defeat the dictator Bashar Assad or the demented jihadists of the Islamic State. In this scenario lie alternatives such as leaving Syria to rot or supporting the infamous Assad against the jihadists.

Using Steven Coll’s expression, Obama and his advisers, rather than strategy, seek the sanctuary of self-absolving logic. And this realistic and amoral withdrawal has appeal within the country, after the two years of arrogance and ignorance that marked American foreign policy in the Bush era. And within these dilemmas, there is an argument I consider convincing: It is not clear if the Islamic State, in spite of its current barbarity, or due to its barbarity, can persist as a threat. In the end, the caliphate is not a government project in the 21st century.

The rise of an excrescence such as the Islamic State is a symptom of a profound instability in the Middle East, to which the rest of the world contributed. And how to find sources of stability, governability, security and justice in Siraq? Obviously, there are no packaged answers.

Obama claims not to have a strategy, but Steve Coll points out that the American president has a collection of allies in the region, not all trustworthy or palatable, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. Some of these allies, who support the Sunnis in Siraq, are even friendly to the jihadists. The point to emphasize is that any project of stability will require more power sharing and more autonomy for the Sunnis in Syria and Iraq — something that is clearly missing, when one combines the hegemonic power of the Shiite majority in the region, Iran, the patronage of Bashar Assad and the majority Shiites in Iraq.

Steven Cole ends by saying that Obama admires the realism of George H. W. Bush — the father — who coldly watched various genocides but put together a large coalition to defeat, without overturning, the Saddam Hussein regime in the 1991 Gulf War. To do something similar, Obama will need to engage personally in a very intense way, taking off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves.

*Translator’s note: Casus belli is a Latin expression meaning “an act or event that provokes or is used to justify war.” (Wikipedia)

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About Jane Dorwart 202 Articles
BA Anthroplogy. BS Musical Composition, Diploma in Computor Programming. and Portuguese Translator.

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