The Obama administration’s declared end goal is to “destroy” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Achieving it will require time and patience.
A pillar of its strategy is to reinforce the Iraqi government’s credibility, in order to stop the attraction ISIS exerts over the Sunni population. The new government, which the White House has promoted so much, still includes the divisive presence of Nouri al-Maliki as one of three vice presidents. So far, the new cabinet has a smaller Sunni presence than the previous one.
The fact that the posts of defense and interior ministerwhich used to be occupied by Sunnishave not been appointed yet gives the impression that the current Iraqi government was put together in a rush to look presentable for Obama’s message last week.
The recent murder of a British aid worker by ISIS reinforces another aspect of the strategy: incorporating European allies into the struggle, who can cooperate in various aspects, ranging from military to humanitarian. The extremist group’s intolerance combined with its extreme cruelty are the best arguments to support U.S. action.
The problem is that this support gets murkier the closer we get to the region. For example, Turkey, which borders Syria, is more interested in the oil extracted from territory under ISIS’ control than in fighting it. Several Arab nations said they back Obama’s strategy and even pledged to contribute with airstrikes, as has happened before. However, they are afraid of reinforcing Assad’s government in Syria and oppose the Shiite advances of its allies in the region. These same nations at some point helped fund ISIS.
In Syria, the strategy supports moderate rebels in their fight against ISIS and the Syrian government. The issue is that these factions are not so “moderate,” which makes the war in Syria more unpredictable.
Finally, ISIS has tens of thousands of paid, fanatical combatants, an American arsenal, territory it has captured and support from the population.
This conflict is more complex than the one in Afghanistan and the Iraqi wars. Obama’s strategy will inevitably be shaped by unexpected events, not because of a lack of precautions, but because of the very nature of this regional puzzle