In June 2014, the militant group that Obama refers to as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, grabbed the world’s attention after it took over much of northern Iraq in roughly four days. Islamic State accomplished this by building a massive, sophisticated virtual network of fighters in addition to those on the ground. Indeed, its expansion online has been as swift as its territorial gains. It is this virtual power grab that will be most difficult to combat.
The Great Debate
Who is the world’s No. 3 arms exporter, after the United States and Russia? Surprise. It is Germany, a country bound by law to supply only allies and peaceable folks like (neutral) Switzerland or Sweden. Off limits are “areas of tension” — bad neighborhoods that actually need the stuff.
Few countries are in a better position than Turkey to help the United States fight Islamic State. The moderate Islamic country shares a 750 mile border with Syria, is a NATO member and a long-time ally of America. But don’t hold your breath for Turkey’s support.
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.
“We are now living in what we might as well admit is the Age of Iraq,” New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks recently wrote. There, in the Land of the Two Rivers, he continued, the United States confronts the “core problem” of our era — “the interaction between failing secular governance and radical Islam.”
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.
One of the most troubling aspects of the slaying of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff is that a well-spoken man with a British accent appears to have been the killer. The fact that an educated Westerner slaughtered other educated Westerners and then put their murder tapes on the Web was enough to dominate the news cycle.
In her recently published memoir Hard Choices, former Senator Hillary Clinton recounts the meeting, nine days after the election of 2008, when President-elect Barack Obama first asked her to be his secretary of state. He “presented a well-considered argument,” she writes, “explaining that he would have to concentrate most of his time and attention on the economic crisis and needed someone of stature to represent him abroad.”
In the summer of 2012, I spent three weeks in the besieged Syrian town of Qusayr working as a freelance photographer and writer with a group of young anti-Assad activists in a second-floor apartment next door to a field hospital. Regardless of whether I was working or sleeping, I raced downstairs to shoot photos whenever I thought heard casualties arrive.