Despite its military supremacy, the U.S. under the command of President Barack Obama is at risk of having an upstart group of Islamic terrorists take over Iraq -- all because politically straitjacketed American military might has struggled against unrestrained guerrilla warfare, and the president has failed to absorb the lessons from America's past mistakes.
Obama's first mistake was to repeat the error that led to the creation of al-Qaeda in the first place: training and funding locals, then abandoning them. This was exactly what happened 30 years ago with America's support of the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan -- from which Osama Bin Laden rose to prominence. Today, it's happening with the so-called "rebels" in Syria, some of whom have now regrouped into this virulent ideological cancer now destroying everything in Iraq that isn't Islamic.
That brings us to Obama's second mistake: waiting over a month to act on the problem beyond putting in a $500 million funding request to further arm and train locals to fight these Islamists themselves. You know, just in case there were any other Syrian opposition rebel groups who hadn't yet benefitted from the terrorist group venture capital startup program being run by the U.S. government.
It's not that the U.S. couldn't theoretically wipe out the Islamic State. But that would require actual boots on the ground, favorable public opinion and substantial international backing as typically exemplified by a U.N. Security Council resolution. At this point, Obama has none of the above.
It's not a good sign that even Jordan -- an American ally that has hosted covert CIA training for the Syrian opposition -- rejects American boots on the ground, fearing a Syrian backlash, U.S. officials have told Reuters.
"It's up to Iraqis to lead this fight," said French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius. He added that France and other European nations would explore the idea of providing arms to Iraq and Kurdistan. And it's in that little detail -- the funding of nation-states rather than unaccountable rogues -- where a crucial difference lies.
Compare Obama's interventions with France's current and incredibly successful anti-jihadist Operation Serval in Mali.
When France fights in Africa, it co-opts a proxy army of a nation-state -- typically Chad's. It doesn't just dump cash and weapons onto some random locals, as Obama has been doing, and hope for the best.
France ticked all the boxes with Serval: public support both at home and in Mali, a request from the Malian interim government, and U.N. Security Council authorization.
Because Obama has none of these elements, the result is lip service and half-measures. Even Obama himself admits it, saying that there is "no American military solution" Lt. Gen. William Mayville Jr., director of operations with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the recent airstrikes "are unlikely to affect [the Islamic State's] capabilities or its operations in other areas of Iraq and Syria."
So, what's the solution? It's essentially the same one that Obama nearly ignored when it was staring him in the face roughly a year ago at the height of the Syrian crisis. He needs to find a reliable, accountable nation-state partner with a vested interest in resolving this conflict.
Obama had been seriously contemplating military action in Syria to curtail civil unrest. Many Americans were contacting their congressional representatives in a panic over the possibility of U.S. troops being sent into battle to resolve a crisis that seemed to come out of nowhere. Then Obama did something right. He called on the assistance of a nation-state (Russia) with much greater proximity and economic ties to Syria to take the lead in resolving the conflict.
Obama needs to repeat the same strategy with Iraq and let go of what will otherwise be inevitable failure -- again. China has the bulk of Iraqi oil contracts. Russia has a vested interest in wiping out Chechen Islamists who have joined the Islamic State in their quest to participate in the nearest available jihadipalooza. Saudi Arabia, a supposed U.S. ally, should be offering to prove its value by snuffing out a regional pest it is largely responsible for having funded (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait funneled money to the Syrian opposition from which the Islamic State evolved.)
There are plenty of other nations capable of doing the heavy lifting in wiping out the Islamic State. Obama needs to start putting America's allies to the test, calling on them to step up and giving them a chance to prove their reliability. How about starting with Saudi Arabia? Let's kick the tires on that special relationship. The Saudis just gave Lebanon $1 billion in aid to beat back the Islamic State domestically. It's a start -- but why isn't Obama insisting on more?