21 August 2014
US President Barack Obama’s decision to launch air strikes against the Islamic State, the jihadist group that controls a large swath of Syria and Iraq, is fraught with pitfalls. Even if it succeeds in stalling the group’s advance in Iraq, the air strikes could persuade the Islamic State to refocus its attention on Syria to consolidate its position in the knowledge that Obama is less likely to intervene to salvage the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Obama’s reluctance to support non-jihadist Syrian rebels in the early days of Syria’s civil war has produced the very nightmare he had tried to avoid: the emergence of a well-organised, well entrenched, competent and ruthless jihadist force that not only threatens to partition, if not take control of Syria but also Iraq, and poses a serious threat to Lebanon and Jordan. Also Obama left the door open to regional Sunni states to support the Islamic State often through non-official channels while allowing aid to jihadists to go unchecked.
Obama is banking on the establishment of an inclusive Iraqi government capable of reaching out to the country’s non-Shi’ite communities, to undermine support for the Islamic State’s popular base, foremost among whom are Sunni Muslims. While there is no doubt that many Sunnis were driven towards the Islamic State by outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s pro-Shi’ite sectarian policies, that gambit is countered by the fact that the United States and its allies have allowed the jihadist group to flourish in a festering sectarian milieu in which US allies like Saudi Arabia were as much drivers as was the outgoing Iraqi leader.
… James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, and a forthcoming book with the same title.
RSIS / Online
Last updated on 21/08/2014