In some respects, ISIL has done the world a favor. I say this not to make light of the seriousness of purpose they have placed on others to combat the cancer they are spreading, as innocent people are being killed, tortured, sold into slavery and made to convert from their religious beliefs or die. The favor they are doing is showing the world three things.
- First and foremost, this is what evil looks like. ISIL has usurped reasonable concerns of Iraqi Sunnis and Syrians who had been marginalized and taken their cause hostage. I wish leaders could be more like Nelson Mandela and be inclusive, but his inclusivity is unfortunately more an exception, than the rule. In Iraq and Syria, the leaders marginalized others who were not in the religious sect in power.
- Second, ISIL has shown the world that the significant majority of Muslims are not like they are. Muslims, who adhere to their faith and want to raise their family and worship in a peaceful manner, may be sympathetic to addressing underlying causes, but deplore the ISIL tactics.
- Third, they are galvanizing both Muslims/ non-Muslims and countries inside and outside of the Middle East to defeat their efforts. I recognize people are being cautious as any support can be demonized by ISIL and other extremists, but the conversation is changing about who the real enemy might be. Islam is not the enemy. America is not the enemy. It is extremists who kill innocent people.
Taking time to build this coalition following the changes made in the Iraqi government is good. This cannot be an American play and it needs the support of countries in the Middle East. I think there is recognition that too much time cannot pass, but doing this in an orchestrated manner will pay dividends to the region and world. Also, the issues are subtle and complex. You have different stakeholders on different sides of several equations in the Middle East and North Africa. Two countries may be together on a cause in one country, but at cross purposes in another.
I say this, as President Obama has taken grief for not having a strategy. Much of this criticism is due to “gotcha politics” which uses any and all issues as levers to win votes. Yet, as noted above, this issue is complex and takes time. It also takes the coalition that is being built. We do not have an abundance of time, but the strategy and goals have to be articulated along with the time line and buy-in from a coalition.
I would offer one criticism, though, and that is the “no boots on the ground” statement. Yesterday, I heard the right comment made about this issue from a spokesperson whose name I did not catch. He said, “To say, we will not have boots on the ground is wrong. It is also wrong to say we will. It is too early to tell.” I know why the President said this, but he really does not know at this point and neither do his critics.
The final point I want to make about developing a strategy is to ask why are people heeding the advice of former Vice President Dick Cheney on this subject? Cheney, along with President George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Karl Rove, took America and its allies into Iraq under false pretenses – they said Iraq had WMDs. They also did not follow the advice of their lead general to use more troops to secure the country which led to the need for the “surge” several years later. They followed the local advice of some dubious advisors, did not have a robust plan to stabilize the country, did not have enough Iraqi Arabic or Kurdish speakers to understand who was being forthcoming, and sent our soldiers into battle with poor equipment. They also fired the police force who could have helped secure the country.
They also chastised people in the US as unpatriotic if they spoke up and asked why are we doing this (remember the Dixie Chicks being vilified for criticizing President Bush)? When CIA operative Valerie Plame’s former ambassador husband learned his reconnaissance of not finding a WMD trail in a supplier to Iraq was used inappropriately by Cheney/ Rumsfeld, he wrote a piece in the New York Times called “What I did not find.” Rove’s man Scooter Libby outed Plame as a CIA agent and Libby went to jail for it. And, to top it all off, when they had Osama Bin Laden cornered early in Afghanistan, they left it to others to get him and he escaped.
The reason I mention this, is if we are going to send Americans and our allies to die, we should damn well have our facts straight, develop a plan with a goal, staff the mission well, and equip or soldiers. We owe it our soldiers, our allies and the civilians in those countries. Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld and Rove did not do this and 4,000 Americans died as well as many more civilians. So, please excuse me if I take Cheney’s advice with a grain of salt.
Let’s get this right. Too much is at stake.