Obama and the consequences of ‘no strategy’

It was good that U.S. President Barack Obama was honest enough to admit that his government doesn’t have a strategy to deal with terrorist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria. His frank confession attracted attention and angered some American politicians. A White House spokesman tried to clarify the situation, saying that while Obama said there is no strategy to confront ISIS, this did not mean that there is no policy towards the situation in Syria, like some observers had thought. But truth be told, this clarification further complicated the situation.

If the U.S. president had a plan to confront ISIS a year ago, the organization may have not have been able to claim such victories

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Syria is now merely a battlefield as there’s no longer a state, even after the Syrian regime succeeded at surviving thanks to Russian military support, Iranian forces and Iraqi and Hezbollah militias. There is no longer a regime, but an organization that represents Bashar al-Assad and remnants of his regime present in some Damascus neighborhoods and coastal town. The rest of the country is divided among other organizations such as ISIS, al-Nusra Front, the Free Syrian Army and the Kurds. When Obama says he doesn’t yet have a strategy to combat ISIS, he’s practically saying there’s no strategy for Syria, and if he doesn’t have a plan to deal with ISIS in Syria then this means he doesn’t have a comprehensive plan against ISIS in Iraq. This is the logical conclusion since the organization’s hub is in Syria while its activity is in Iraq!

If ISIS had been confronted back then…

If the American president had a plan to confront ISIS a year ago, the organization may not have been able to claim such victories and it may not have posed such a grave threat. It could have been possible to support the Syrian national opposition which believes in civil values and whose leaders include women, Christians, Kurds, Alawites and Sunni Arabs. It could have been possible for countries neighboring Syria to prevent foreign fighters from crossing into Syria. Turkey in particular has become a passage for thousands of foreign fighters who arrive from across the world to Hatay province, crossing to northern Syria. If Turkey had succeeded at preventing the passage of ISIS and al-Nusra fighters – especially that Turkey is a NATO member – then perhaps only a few dozen jihadists would have arrived to the battlefield and ISIS may not have been born. A strict stance against Russian and Iranian support to Assad would have stripped ISIS of its reason to exist as it has gained legitimacy during the past two years while urging people to join its fight against Hezbollah militias, Iraqi al-Haq brigades and Iranian Revolutionary Guards who arrived in Syria to save Assad’s regime.

The lack of an American strategy for the past three years – except for their strategy of wait and see – has led to the emergence of terrorist organizations, like ISIS and al-Nusra, who are now stronger than al-Qaeda. It has enabled extremist jihadist movements, like Boko Haram, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, Ansar Beit al-Maqdes in Sinai and al-Qaeda in Yemen, to go public. Jihadists now consider the world’s strongest country – the U.S. – as no longer being in a state of war against them. They believe the U.S. has withdrawn to its own territory, leaving them with a chance to achieve their dreams in countries with a political vacuum and chaos, particularly in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The lack of a strategy to practically confront terrorist organizations helps them spread like cancer and threaten not only the Middle East, but the entire world.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on August 31, 2014.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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