Thirteen years after 9/11, the president of the United States is forced to return to war against the jihadists. But his success seems uncertain.
Is it, as BHL [the French public intellectual and author] remarks, because he is obsessed with the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to him when he had only just entered the White House? Is it because he is the most isolationist American president we have known since Roosevelt, pre-Pearl Harbor? Is it because he has decided to take the exact opposite course of his predecessor, who dragged America into the far from successful conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq? Until now, Barack Obama was driving even the most pacifist of the U.S. Democrats to despair with his reluctance to accept the role and responsibilities that go with the position of president of the most powerful nation in the world.
So, we should be delighted by the warlike and solemn speech given on the eve of the anniversary of Sept. 11, in which Obama declared himself determined to strike jihadist forces: “We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, [the Islamic State] through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy” — therefore, using air strikes on both the jihadists fighting in Iraq and those who are leading the fight against Bashar Assad in Syria. However, the American president specifies, these operations will be essentially different from those Bush carried out in Afghanistan and Iraq since, apart from a reinforcement of 475 military “advisers” – joining the 800 already present in Baghdad or in Kurdistan – the United States will not send any ground troops.
This new posture of a determined but cautious war leader is likely to reassure America’s European allies – which will be more or less solicited in this new fight – if only certain recent as well as older details didn’t cast doubt on the American president’s determination.
First because a little over a year ago, upon discovering the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Obama dragged François Hollande into the preparation of airstrikes against Bashar Assad’s troops. These never took place because at the very last minute, the American president entrenched himself behind the need to consult with Congress. This time, strangely, he affirms that he has no need whatsoever for a vote by members of Congress in order to start bombings against the jihadist forces.
Furthermore, at the end of August, when David Cameron reminded him of the “direct threat to every European country” posed by Islamic extremists, Obama recognized that he “didn’t have a strategy” to deal with the jihadists. During a fundraising dinner in the county of Westchester, he even made several remarks that say a lot about a certain American egotism: “Yes, the Middle East is challenging, but the truth is it’s been challenging for quite a while. I promise you things are much less dangerous now than they were 20 years ago, 25 years ago or 30 years ago.”
“Destroying” Means Going to War
Finally, whatever the displayed determination of Barack Obama, by dint of prevarication – notably when the Syrian conflict broke out – the objective of ‘destroying’ the Islamic caliphate seems difficult to achieve, if not impossible. Destroying means neutralizing tens of thousands of fighters in Iraq, as well as in Syria. This signifies preventing them from regrouping in another region, like their counterparts in Mali did following their defeat by French troops, taking over a completely lawless zone in the southwest of Libya. It also means hunting down, arresting and sentencing thousands of Europeans — and Americans, moreover — who, with their Western passports, will pose a permanent threat to democratic countries if they are forced to flee.
“Destroying” also means going to war, and not only airstrikes. It is clear that for this purpose, Obama is relying on trained and regrouped Iraqi forces and on the armies of the Emirates, Jordan or Saudi Arabia. It is doubtful whether this heterogeneous collection of troops, who are not used to fighting together, and belong to rival countries and different faiths, constitutes a strike force sufficient to eradicate the jihadist evil. “Degrading” the Islamic State, as Obama cautiously pointed out as a first step, is without doubt. “Destroying” it, as he promised, is a lot less certain.