Obama’s ISIS strategy revealed – follow behind Russia (and Iran)

A vacuum in leadership will be one way in which Barack Obama’s 2 terms are remembered. But in Syria and concerning ISIS, US “strategy” has been of avoidance, if not quite of denial, of the issues.

And the vacuum provides Putin (and therefore Iran and even Assad) the chance to set the agenda. Of course a strategy implies having a picture of what is to be achieved and the available paths to lead to achieving that picture. I suspect Obama and Kerry are not even very clear of the end-scenario to be targeted.

Since 9/11, the entire US Middle East “policy” (if it could be called a policy) has been of short-term actions without any clear picture of what is to be achieved subsequently. From removing the Taliban (temporarily) from power in Afghanistan, to the removal of Saddam Hussein without a vision of a subsequent Iraq, support of a “democratic” Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt followed by support to the Egyptian army, and the removal of Gaddafi which helped create and arm ISIS and now the attempt to remove Assad without an end-game, US policy, I think, has consisted of ad hoc actions without any coherent, underlying strategy.


For the second time this month, Russia moved to expand its political and military influence in the Syria conflict and left the United States scrambling, this time by reaching an understanding, announced on Sunday, with Iraq, Syria and Iran to share intelligence about the Islamic State.

Like Russia’s earlier move to bolster the government of President Bashar al-Assad by deploying warplanes and tanks to a base near Latakia, Syria, the intelligence-sharing arrangement was sealed without notice to the United States. American officials knew that a group of Russian military officers were in Baghdad, but they were clearly surprised when the Iraqi military’s Joint Operations Command announced the intelligence sharing accord on Sunday.

It was another sign that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was moving ahead with a sharply different tack from that of the Obama administration in battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, by assembling a rival coalition that includes Iran and the Syrian government. ……….

Russia’s moves are raising difficult questions for the Obama administration, which remains deeply conflicted about American military involvement in the Syria conflict. Ensuring that the Russian military and the United States-led coalition, which is carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State, “deconflict” and avoid running into each other is only part of the problem: The Obama administration and the Kremlin do not appear to agree even on the main reason for the conflict.

American officials, who have long cast Mr. Assad as the primary source of instability in Syria, assert that the Syrian leader’s brutal crackdown provided an opening for jihadist groups and that the crisis cannot be resolved until a political transition is negotiated that requires him to leave power. But Russian officials see the Syrian government as a bulwark against further gains by groups like Islamic State and Nusra Front and sometimes suggest that the defeat of the Islamic State should come before a negotiated solution for the Syrian conflict. ……..

Just as with the Taliban, a short-term military win is of little value if the political climate still leaves them with physical space to move in and ideological air to breathe. ISIS will not disappear until they are

  1. defeated first militarily,
  2. and are given no physical space to occupy,
  3. and a political climate exists which gives them no air to breathe.

But then, what do I know?

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