Originally Published 2014-09-15 00:00:00 Published on Sep 15, 2014
If the War on Terror-2.0 is to be carried out only by drones and the US/NATO Air-forces, one can be certain that the 'Islamic State' will retain control over its territory in Iraq and Syria for a long time to come.
Fighting the 'Islamic State', with Islamic States as Allies?

US Secretary of State John Kerry has wrapped up a series of meetings with Arab leaders in Beirut, Jeddah and Baghdad, from September 10 to , in an attempt to find allies for the American military campaign against the ISIS led 'Islamic State'. As President Obama, declared in the style of Voltaire that the 'Islamic State' is 'neither Islamic, nor a State' and went on to outline his intent to expand the air-strikes into the ISIS bases in Syria, a fresh controversy erupted as to whether he could unilaterally expand the Congressional mandate to bomb the Al-Qaeda into bombing another terrorist group and further, whether he could launch air-strikes into the territory of a sovereign member of the UN without a UNSC mandate. Such minor inconveniences normally do not deter US Presidents, particularly in their resolve to bomb someone.

Meanwhile, Secretary John Kerry was finding the search for allies a tough call, especially in view of the fact that his President, lacking the simple-minded clarity of his predecessor, did not tell the Arab leaders "you are either with us or against us". In the first leg of his tour in Beirut, Secretary Kerry found that Egypt, Jordan and Turkey prevaricated. As per the New York Times report, Egypt said that her 'hands were full with its own fight against terrorism' (read Muslim Brotherhood), Jordan said 'the Palestinian cause remains the core conflict in the region' (at least one Gulf monarch still remembers the Palestinians! Or what was he really miffed about - that the Americans were not paying for all the costs of maintaining the Syrian refugees?), and Turkey, concerned about the safety of 49 of its government employees in the custody of the ISIS, 'refused to express any public support for the American effort'. Turkey has more reasons to worry. It should certainly fear the killing of so many soldiers of the Free Syrian Army, it so laboriously recruited, funded, trained and equipped, in the ensuing 'friendly fire' of the American planes. And what about the fall-out of this on the Syrian refugee camps on its side of the border.

Nevertheless, at a meeting in Jeddah on 11 September, at least 10 Arab states pledged to join "in the many aspects of co-ordinated military campaign" but with the qualification 'as appropriate' and without any specifics". Turkey attended the meeting but refused to sign the joint communique (NYT, 12th September 2014).

A closer look at the news report indicates a rather cold response by the Arab Islamic States to the 'American effort' (a much maligned word in the region, now) to fight the 'Islamic State'.

What exactly were the mission objectives of Secretary Kerry's visit to the region? Was he asking the Arab leaders to put their boots on the ground, since President Obama had made it abundantly clear that there would be no American boots on the ground? But none of the Gulf monarchies have any army worth the name. The only worthwhile Arab Sunni Army was the Baathist Army in Iraq, which was decimated by George Bush Jr., at the behest of the House of Saud in 2003. Now what we are seeing in ISIS is a re-grouping of the ex-Baathist soldiers under the leadership of Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi.

The Gulf monarchies have always outsourced their security to the Americans. What is the use of the US Navy's Fifth fleet if they have to spend money on protecting themselves? Between the Suez Canal and the Persian Gulf, the US has positioned one of the largest arrays of naval and airpower on earth. With such a mighty presence, it would be churlish to ask the regional satraps to do their bit in fighting such a localized war. However, the Saudis seem to have agreed to grant certain bases to train the 'moderate forces' to fight the ISIS in Syria. But the question is, who are the moderate forces in Syria? Even the Jabhut ul-Nusra appears moderate in comparison to the ISIS. And so does the Al-Qaeda too, which has now lost its sheen and glamour as the hottest Jihadi outfit.

More important is the question: are all the Sunni Arab leaders convinced that the 'Islamic State' should be vanquished? What for? Is it not serving a useful purpose in confronting the rise of the 'Shia Crescent', a phrase so thoughtfully coined by the King of Jordan to describe the rise to power of Iran, Iraq and Syria? Now that Iraq and Syria are slowly disintegrating, how can the Americans come in and reverse the trend?

That is where the rub is. There is no discernible unity of purpose in the 'American effort' and the vision of its allies for the region. America wants peace and stability in the region, after all that death and destruction. Its allies consider the present situation as a work in progress, not to be disrupted when the two countries- Iraq and Syria, are finally heading to the brink.

Whether the Arabs like it or not, the US President appears determined. Significantly, President Obama unveiled the opening of the new front in Syria (initially, to target the ISIS bases) on the 13th anniversary of 9/11. This new American effort should have been honestly termed as 'War on Terror -2.0' but has been announced without much fanfare, because President Obama is not in the business of launching wars, but ending them. The new version is far more advanced than the one launched by his predecessor because this involves no American boots on the ground. And perhaps no boots of any allies, either, for they would be foolish to rush in where the Americans fear to tread.

If the War on Terror-2.0 is to be carried out only by drones and the US/NATO Air-forces, one can be certain that the 'Islamic State' will retain control over its territory in Iraq and Syria for a long time to come. For drones and air-strikes target buildings and vehicles and do not eliminate thousands of foot soldiers who will continue to terrorise the innocent civilian population into subservience. And being a target of the Americans greatly enhances the star-status of any jihadi group in the Arab street. This will enable the ISIS to go forth and multiply its strength.

(The writer is a Visiting Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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Anjali Birla

Anjali Birla

Anjali Birla is an Indian Civil Services Officer(Batch 2020) working in the Ministry of Railways and has done her graduation in Political Science from Delhi ...

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