Robbie Travers – Executive Director & Bryan Nelson – Deputy Executive Director
Despite his foreign policy being increasingly more vague, President Obama has made one thing crystal clear: he will not commit troops on the ground to fight ISIS in Iraq, let alone take ground action in Syria. In our minds, we couldn’t help but think this was the best thing for Obama to do. As a coalition of nations, we really can’t – and most definitely shouldn’t – put more troops into fights in the Middle East. Obama isn’t ready for it, his administration isn’t ready for it, our nations’ economies aren’t ready for it, and more importantly, America and the UK aren’t ready for it.
But sadly, it has to be done.
Interventionism is often faced with the irritating and wrongly critical assertion that all interventionists want to place troops on the ground in every circumstance, and have our perceived nemeses face the full wrath of the NATO alliance. We are not arguing that we should just begin pouring money into some expansive all-encompassing blitzkrieg in the Middle East to oust the ISIS insurgency.
We are not saying that at all. But we equally aren’t going to tell people what they wish to hear, and that our air strikes have eliminated any threat posed by the Islamic State. We must face the uncomfortable political reality that airstrikes in and of themselves are not going to solve the ISIS problem, and America, alongside her NATO allies, is one of the few nations that has a large enough standing army ready to fight. It’s not just about size however, it’s also about being thoroughly well equipped, something NATO militaries boast, and NATO alliance armies are the only militaries willing to involve themselves with enough experience in the area to fight ISIS.
In terms of marketing this strategy to an electorate, It’s the hard truth that America needs to accept, and it will be even more difficult in the UK to market further forays into interventionism surrounding Iraq.
This US and UK are tired of intervention however, the general public is beginning to rapidly ask cynical questions, dismiss interventionism as a clear declaration of war, and argue that we need to focus more on home affairs than affairs in the Middle East and across the globe. The collective mood amongst the public is of reluctance for intervention, not the enthusiasm of the later years of the Clinton administration and early Blair premiership.
Our conclusion could easily be this, then: we don’t have any energy left to fight ISIS, let alone get involved in any further conflicts arising.
But that’s an easy answer to an incredibly complex question. But it also assumes that ISIS is only a threat to the stability of the immediate area of the Levant and Persia it controls in the Middle East. This isn’t the wooly, “Neo-con” political rhetoric you would expect to find in a UN resolution’s pre-ambulatory clause. We may not like that the Islamic State exists, we may dispute the causes from which the movement has come henceforth, and we may furthermore dispute how best to fight ISIS.
However, we must come to one conclusion: our fight against ISIS isn’t just a fight for the fundamental freedom from persecution and unequivocal support of human rights for those suffering from ISIS rule, but it is also an existential fight for the West to counter.
Existential sounds much like an exaggeration, but it isn’t. ISIS are dangerous and have repeatedly claimed that Westerners must die and have declared that their jihad on their enemies must conclude with the defeat of the West. Furthermore, they have called for death to our women and children, saying that “all must be slaughtered to reclaim purity of God.”
And as much as we find it difficult to say this, America and her allies need to resume their tattered mantle of global leaders. If the US, UK and allies don’t step up, who will?
No armies are more experienced, strong enough, or technologically advanced than the United States and United Kingdom’s combined military might. The only nations that rival the US in military might, and are potential answers to our earlier question are Russia and China, and they most certainly are not willing to put troops in the Middle East to fight ISIS. Not only do they have little reason to intervene in the Middle East, but removing ISIS would focus attention back onto Assad’s regime in Syria, something that Moscow is especially keen to avoid. As for Beijing, these fights aren’t those of the Chinese government; China enjoys a relatively detached position from conflicts surrounding the Middle East and North Africa, hence there is little reason for her to become involved.
One could argue that we should leave it to other Middle Eastern powers to solve their own problems; but do we wish to have Iran, pushing a sectarian agenda, trying to solve a terrorist organisation with its army of mercenaries and its supporting pantheon of terror organisation? Many have noted the strength of the Saudi military, but any action by the Wahhabist Saudi Arabia would suddenly prompt its regional rivals and neighbours to feel the need to also extend their influence into the region, and with the strongly inflamed ethnic tensions, we would argue this would not end well.
But the US and UK do have strong reasons, and it’s because of those reasons that we should fight.
The United States and United Kingdom have long wanted to bring sustainable democracies, better human rights, and lasting peace to the Middle East. Admittedly, in the past the US and allies has attempted to do so by putting in power people who the US deemed favorable to our interests. Now that is not saying that the US or other governments shouldn’t support a candidate, or even advocate their election, but replacing leaderships in the Middle East was a fundamental mistake. That’s just bad foreign policy, and the worst part is that is has been the policy for decades.
It is why Saddam Hussein got in power in Iraq, and the reason Osama bin Laden managed to gain trained militants to fight for him.
Sadly, the United States and her allies have not realized that our current problems are what we believed to be solutions in the past. We need a new doctrine to guide our international relations and intervention within the Middle East. Our “interference” in Iran put the Shah in power, and now due to the revolution that ensued Iran is one of our most dangerous opponents of regional peace and a major frustration in the Middle East. Sadly it seems as if Western relations and Iran’s behaviour will remain that way for some time.
While China remains a significant ally economically to the West, with its juggernaut economy providing investment globally and strengthening the world economy in a period of fiscal uncertainty, one cannot dispute the tensions in Sino-Western relations. Western interference in the Chinese revolution is why America and other Western nations are perceived in such a poor light there today. Our preoccupation with fighting communism may not have hurt us in its time, but it hurts now.
In fact, following the swift downfall and dissolution of the USSR in the early 1990s, the United States decided to not pursue the issues and conflicts in Somalia much further. Because we didn’t believe there was a communist threat to the United States, we didn’t feel the need to step in and make any further attempts to bring democracy to Somalia. The civil war still arguably rages on today, although one could argue that the conflict is hardly civil, since there is little state remaining to fight over in Somalia. Where has the United States been? Well, certainly they have not made an effort to intervene in the brutal situation in Somalia since Mogadishu in 1993.
There is no doubt that our prolonged stay in Afghanistan and Iraq will come back to hurt us in the long run in terms of ability to intervene in other political crises. While it’s strongly arguable the longer we stayed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fewer problems we would suffer today, the public appetite has eroded. Look no further than the UK and the 2012 Westminster vote surrounding intervention in Syria, and the enforcement of a No Fly Zone. Even a No-Fly Zone, so publicly unpopular in Libya failed to pass. No troops, no war: the simple protection of civilians from harm and the prevention of Assad using his airforce was too controversial for the UK. And when will erodes in one NATO nation, the entire front loses morale, with the US and France suddenly reconsidering intervention in the Levant.
But now there is an opportunity for the United States and her allies to do the right thing this time. We must do what needs to be done, do the job in its entirety, and actually be done with it. Obama has a chance to mark a change in his failing and floundering US foreign policy, and show that we are committed to helping nations around the world achieve stability, improving their human rights, providing better infrastructure and bringing democracy to their door. Admittedly, this ambitious aim may take more than his predecessor, and their predecessor to achieve.
What is clear: the help does not come in the form of a prolonged military intervention, but in a strongly planned, sustainable intervention with international support and an exit strategy.
Tony Blair in his Chicago Speech once said that the “only exit strategy he would consider is success.”
It’s time that the Western nations take Mr Blair’s advice and get the job done.