Obama’s Middle East Legacy

By Sal Bommarito

In defense of President Obama, it’s obvious he really wants peace in the Middle East. Unfortunately, his non-confrontational approach has made it clear that he does not wish to engage any evil forces with the full military and diplomatic might of the U.S.

The problem with this strategy is that our adversaries are playing by different rules. This is a function of several issues. The Shiite/Sunni feud is responsible for the intransigent attitudes of many Arabs. Neither sect will rest until the other is annihilated. Iran and Saudi Arabia lead the two groups of combatants.

The U.S. cannot negotiate with one of the sects without offending the other. Each group relishes the thought of the U.S. engaging militarily and/or diplomatically against the other. This is the reason why the Iran nuclear negotiations are so profound. If the U.S. spurns the Iranians, plays hardball regarding the production of nuclear material and increases economic sanctions, the Saudis will be overjoyed. Conversely, if the U.S. deals with Iran, the Saudis will be dismayed.

The ISIS war has surfaced many of the contradictions prevalent in the Middle East. The U.S., Iran, Russia, Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia oppose ISIS. Yet, Iran and Russia support the Assad regime in Syria. It has been difficult to coordinate military operations with such dramatically different perspectives pertaining to Syria.

The U.S. has chosen a seemingly benign approach to ISIS. It is prepared to kill ISIS fighters with bombs, but unwilling to engage them on the ground. Most observers and participants in the war believe that effective ground support is critical to defeating ISIS. Without it, ISIS will recruit, fortify, terrorize and survive.

It’s likely that most opponents of ISIS would prefer that the U.S. go all-in with a massive invasion and finish off the relatively impotent ISIS force, even though Arab countries would publicly criticize such an action. Obama has a dream that U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers will be capable of providing ground support necessary to kill ISIS some number of years into the future, a questionable strategy to say the least.

The issue of leadership has been swept under the rug from the start of the ISIS crisis. Most observers expected the U.S. to lead the fight. This has not been the case; Obama is influenced by some combination of reticence and ambivalence about leading the charge against the insurgents; he probably fears another multi-year occupation. Bombing alone is more of a support function in this type of war. ISIS needs to be rooted out with foot soldiers.

Ironically, the brave King of Jordan has exhibited real courage in the face of the gruesome execution of his hero pilot. Many of us are wondering why the U.S. is not stepping up even as the threat of ISIS is proving to be greater every day.

The legacy of the American president will not be favorable. The U.S. is no longer considered a reliable ally by Arab countries and by Israel. The president has chosen to lead from behind, an absurd and ineffective way to prosecute a war. Negotiating with a charter member of George W. Bush’s axis of evil (Iran) could prove to be destabilizing. There are millions of refugees and those displaced by ISIS that are in dire need. This could result in a catastrophic humanitarian disaster that will be assigned to Obama and the U.S.

The principal problem with President Obama’s current plan is that he does not seem to appreciate the ramifications of not dealing with deadly forces now. By punting, he has allowed them to have successes, which will make them stronger and more difficult to defeat in the future.

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