Searching for opportunities among contradictions


In the Middle East today, the enemy of my enemy is also my enemy, and every action – including doing nothing – produces a negative reaction.

For example, American disengagement in Iraq and refusal to intervene in the Syrian civil war have been identified as the root causes of the rise of the so-called Islamic State terrorists. Now American air attacks in support of those fighting those terrorists are being blamed for strengthening the genocidal regime of Bashar al-Assad of Syria as well as for stirring anti-American sentiment among Syrian rebels enough to make them join forces with the Islamic State.

These times appear to require the United States to wield its military and diplomatic prowess with the subtlety of a neurosurgeon, teasing out opportunities among the high-stake contradictions. Which begs the question: Is our current leadership up to the task? While we have been told that the fight against the Islamic State will take a long time, we see little evidence of any meaningful plan or pursuit of a long-term solution. Although President Barack Obama announced on Sept. 10 a four-part “comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy” to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State, our prevalent strategy does not appear to be all that well developed and is certainly lacking in clarity or consensus.

The recent crisis over the Syrian town of Kobane, across the border from Turkey and whose residents are threatened with slaughter by Islamic State fighters, is a case in point. While the Islamic State is at the gates, Turkey refuses to engage its powerful military because a weakened Islamic State will strengthen the hated Assad regime.

Turkey has long called for a no-fly zone against Assad along the border. The Obama administration has resisted that option. Now that U.S. fighter planes are flying over Syria, the idea is worth revisiting. Would such a move bring Turkey into a more active role in the fight? That is a question probably worth testing.

Over the weekend, Turkey agreed to make its air bases available to the U.S.-led coalition and to be a training ground for Syrian opposition fighters. But even with that encouraging move, this war has an obvious lack of boots on the ground. While we don’t think American troops should become directly involved in the conflict, we do think that American leadership is essential. But any such leadership needs a coherent and credible plan. We encourage the U.S. to step forward with such a plan. Thousands of lives depend on it.

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