The Great Debate
Yemen is witnessing another bout of instability, as Shi’ite Houthi rebels seized the presidential palace on Tuesday in the capital Sanaa demanding power-sharing concessions from President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is being held as a virtual prisoner in his residence. In the ensuing chaos, some worry about whether the volatile political situation could end up strengthening al Qaeda.
It’s easy to get depressed about the Middle East these days. The bloodshed continues unabated in Syria. Islamic State advances across Iraq, sacking towns and slaughtering innocents. Millions are refugees. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seems well ensconced in Damascus, on track to outlasting President Barack Obama in office.
One irony about the fight against Islamic State is that the nations now striking the extremist group the hardest also dislike each other the most.
When the United States began bombing Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra positions in Syria last month, it entered into a conflict that has been grinding on for more than three years. Here are five major questions America needs to answer as the fighting unfolds in the weeks ahead:
Muslims in the Middle East are fighting wars of religion. Like the carnage between Protestants and Catholics that haunted Northern Ireland during the last third of the 20th century, there is little anyone can do until local peoples crave peace so intensely they are willing to cultivate it.
President Barack Obama delivered a speech Wednesday night designed for an American public that has been losing confidence in its commander in chief. Much of his address was about attitude — we are tough, we will act, we will prevail, but we will do all this with airpower, not boots on the ground (or not many) and in cooperation with friends and allies. This mission will not be a repeat of Afghanistan or Iraq (President George W. Bush’s wars), Obama promised, but will be more like Obama’s campaigns against al Qaeda — don’t forget he killed Osama bin Laden! — and the continuing strikes against radical Islamists in Somalia and Yemen.
When President Barack Obama makes the case for military action against Islamic State militants on Wednesday night, it won’t be hard to convince Americans to get involved in the conflict. The hard part will be explaining how we get out.