Tonight the President will speak to the country and propose a strategy for dealing with ISIS. The President is late coming to the table with a plan, and not just concerning ISIS.
“The Tide of War is receding," President Obama has declared. Except when it's not.
Just ask the people of Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. These conflicts, while complex and distinct, collectively represent the most serious threat to global peace and stability since the end of the Cold War. And I’m alarmed. We need decisive leadership and action.
These on-going situations raise two questions: When will the United States develop a real strategy to deal with ISIS? And when will Europe understand the threat posed to the post- Cold War order by the Russian revanchist Vladimir Putin and respond accordingly?
Both questions need coherent answers. I sense President Obama is too passive, disengaged and defeatist in tone at this point to deal with these real threats. Members of his Administration including – UN Ambassador Samantha Powers, General Martin Dempsey, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and even Attorney General Eric Holder – have made stark, sobering assessments about ISIS and Russian aggression only to be contradicted by the Commander-in-Chief. Caution and circumspection are laudable traits, but these attributes should not be excuses for inaction or indecision.
Putin is a determined, ruthless autocrat who knows what he wants as he seeks to establish a renewed Russian sphere of influence. By contrast, the hideous monstrosity of hatred, barbarism, fanaticism and delusion – better known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) – is a cancer that continues to metastasize as it works its wicked will across the Arabian desert – murdering, plundering and pillaging every gruesome step along the way.
The good news is there is a genuine consensus that ISIS must be defeated and that a containment strategy is not a viable option. The United States, Europe, the new Iraqi Government, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, the Kurds, Iran, Russia and what's left of Assad's Syria all agree on that point. The Sunni's of the region, especially the Sunni Arabs, must realize it is in their best interests to end ISIS and shoulder more of the responsibility in fighting the ISIS menace.
The United States, the indispensable nation, is conducting limited air strikes, reconnaissance missions, training and arming the Kurdish Peshmerga, protecting Christians, Yazidis and Turkmen -- while encouraging political reconciliation among Iraqi Sunni, Shia and Kurds. These actions by themselves have slowed ISIS but will not defeat them. If President Obama intends to establish a coalition of the willing, then he must lead the effort. The coalition will not form on its own without our leadership – period.
President Obama must have frank conversations with our partners and allies in the region, starting with Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Saudi Arabia needs to engage militarily. The Saudis have a capable, American trained and equipped Air Force. What is the House of Saud waiting for? ISIS is an existential threat to the survival of the Kingdom. It's time for Saudi King Abdullah to move beyond grand rhetoric and start acting.
ISIS is on the border of Turkey. Instead of inciting Islamists, cracking down on dissenters in his own country and making belligerent statements against Israel, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan should join the fight with ground forces. He should reinforce the courageous Kurds on the frontline, rather than taking comfort in a buffer zone provided by the Kurds along its southeast border.
If the United States continues to act as the region's Air Force, Americans must demand more leadership – skin in the game – from the Sunni nations who too often privately support American intervention but are too afraid of their own people to provide full throated public and material support.
And then there is tiny Qatar, mighty financier of Hamas and radical groups in Syria including ISIS. It is time for Qatar to choose sides: ISIS or the civilized world. We can move our military base elsewhere if they answer incorrectly. Stated another way, we can easily remove the American security blanket that protects them.
Our friends in Europe, too, must move beyond strong advocacy in support of NATO, ahem, the United States, to lead the charge against ISIS, which represents an immediate threat to their nations. Of course, Europe will always reserve the right to complain about their American protector, which provides nearly three fourths of NATO's funding. This is particularly galling given that only three of NATO's twenty five European members – the United Kingdom, Greece and Estonia – spend 2% or more of GDP on defense.
If ISIS isn't enough of a threat to move Europe to lead and act decisively in its own interest, then maybe Vladimir Putin is. And, let's not forget the three famous reasons for the establishment of NATO: to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down. Thanks to Putin, a repurposed NATO still must keep the Russians out and the Americans in.
But, what about the Germans? I say let them play to their weight.
Same goes for the Japanese, as an increasingly aggressive China threatens stability in the Pacific.
The civilized world that operates within the “rules-based order” needs Japan and Germany – the 3rd and 4th largest economies in the world – to shoulder more of the global security burden that falls almost exclusively on the United States. The challenges are simply too great and too many for us to take on such a disproportionate share of the responsibility. These two nations cannot remain mighty economic forces while outsourcing too much of their security interests to the United States.
With Putin's recent escalation and overt invasion of Ukraine, it's time that European leaders get serious about stronger sanctions. Business is pretty good with the Russians for Britain, France and Germany, but accommodating the crocodile Putin to protect commercial interests while he violates the territorial integrity of his neighbors hearkens back to darker days when another European tyrant was "appeased" for eerily similar behavior – until it was too late.
And, yes, it is past time to provide defensive weapons to the Ukrainian government, which simply wants Ukraine to be a territorially secure, sovereign, independent nation. While I oppose admitting Ukraine into NATO, Ukraine must be free to form economic and political associations however they wish. Moreover, Ukraine is ground zero in this latest clash between east and west. The proud and thriving Poles once lived this brutal reality. That ground has now shifted. Ukraine is the new Poland.
Where do we go from here? No need to re-litigate the past – such as President Bush's controversial decision in 2003 to invade Iraq, or President Obama's decision to remove all American forces from Iraq in 2011 over the objections of so many in the national security establishment. Both decisions are history.
Yes. We must learn from them, but we must also deal with the here and now.
President Obama must provide real leadership in both the Middle East and Europe. Hitting the links after condemning the beheading of James Foley sent a terrible message that the President is not only disengaged, but detached from what's happening in the world. It’s time for President Obama to get off the 15th Tee, and stop blaming social media for the cause of people’s concern about the very real crises taking place. Facebook didn't send the “Little Green Men” (non-uniformed Russian soldiers), artillery and tanks into Ukraine, nor did it dispatch ISIS on its terror parade through Syria and Iraq. The Commander-in-Chief saying he has no strategy or plan for ISIS is dismaying to say the least.
Vice President Joe Biden says: “we will follow ISIS to the gates of hell.” I assume hell is ISIS-controlled Syria. If that’s the plan – to return American ground forces to Iraq and into Syria – what is the exit strategy from hell? And will our friends, allies and partners join us on this mission to hell and back?
Congress will insist on a say in this matter. That’s why President Obama should view Congress as more than a speed bump on the road to enacting his agenda. Congress must be a partner with the President in addressing these grave challenges that our country and the world face today.
Events are unfolding rapidly. As I said earlier, I’m alarmed. I wish there was some indication that the President is too.