In an episode of the hit TV series Game of Thrones, one of the lead characters, Theon Greyjoy, rallies his troops as they are getting ready for battle. After an inspired speech, his forces cheer him wildly, raise their swords in the air and proclaim their enthusiasm to take on the enemy. A minute later, one of the soldiers hits Theon over the head from behind, remarks that it was a good speech and flees with the other soldiers, leaving their leader to do battle alone.
I can’t help but feel this is exactly what is happening to America, as John Kerry just went to rally America’s “allies” in the Middle East to fight against ISIS. For all the hoopla that America has a coalition ready to do battle, privately, all of these countries are acting more in their own self-interest than supporting America in this fight.
While Saudi Arabia may help train and funnel some weapons to the Free Syrian Army, numerous wealthy Saudi families provide funding to ISIS and other Islamic Fundamentalist groups in Syria and Iraq. Many young Saudi men are also flooding to Syria and Iraq to fight on behalf of ISIS. These are the same sort of men that took down the World Trade Center on 9/11 and who will be fighting against America in the Levant.
Meanwhile, Qatar is currently engulfed in a political war with Saudi Arabia and Egypt for influence in the region and view everything they do through this lens. They have also been one of the biggest sponsors of Islamic Fundamentalism in the region, funneling money and support to various groups. Remember, they are the only country in the region where the Taliban are welcome and essentially have an embassy.
In Iraq, the Shiite rulers are using America’s muscle to once again help defeat their former Sunni rulers and are much more closely aligned with Iran, Assad’s regime in Syria and Hezbollah, than America. Then in Lebanon, Hezbollah essentially holds power and will turn their guns on America like they did in the Marine barracks bombing in 1983, as soon as they have a chance.
Turkey on the other hand has openly rebuffed America’s invitation to join their coalition. The Islamification and dictatorial rule of Turkey continues to grow under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey’s borders remain the major entry point for radical Sunni fighters fighting in Syria and Iraq, as Turkey works to counter both Kurdish and Shia power in those countries. Turkey was also a major supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and is currently no friend to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Don’t be confused; this is not George H.W. Bush’s coalition from the first Gulf War, but rather an imagined alignment of competing interests who all distrust the “Great Satan” and are using American muscle only so far as it suites their own national interests.
So whom can America count on in the region? The two countries that have been lambasted by the Obama Administration more than any other in the region lately, Israel and Egypt. Maybe instead of condemning Israel and Egypt in their fights against the extremist groups of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, Obama will stand by their long time allies next time. Although I remain skeptical Obama will ever stand by his allies as Russia and Putin have done with theirs.
A year ago, the Obama Administration condemned Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the Egyptian people who overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood; the Islamic Fundamentalist organization that berthed Hamas and the current leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. After the Muslim Brotherhood hijacked the Egyptian revolution, the Egyptian people took to the streets to demand their freedom and booted them out of power.
Israel on the other hand, will once again be America’s only true ally in the region and remains the only country in the region that shares America’s values. Israel probably has better intelligence on what is going on in Syria than any other country and will be counted on greatly behind the scenes in this battle against ISIS. Israel also has supplied military equipment and training to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces currently fighting ISIS in Iraq and has even stated that they will come to Jordan’s defense in the event ISIS decides to expand the battlefield there. America will also undoubtedly have to employ many of the same tactics Israel just used in Gaza, as ISIS is heavily embedded into the civilian populations of both Iraq and Syria. For some reason I doubt we will see the same media storm in the West when America is on the attack, although you better bet ISIS will try to exploit these attacks as a major recruitment tool.
Despite Obama’s initial claim that ISIS is some junior varsity team, the fact is that they are a highly organized, highly inspired, trained and well funded group that will not be easily defeated, especially since they now have the backing and support of many of Saddam Hussein’s former military officers. And make no mistakes about it, this is a war, not a terrorist operation as John Kerry claims, and America is already late to the party. This is going to be a long slog and will eventually require American troops on the ground, not that they aren’t there already.
The defeat of ISIS is also only just the beginning. Once defeated, the questions of how to achieve peace in Syria, Iraq and beyond will still have to be tackled, in addition to figuring out how to deal with the thousands of European and American jihadist fighters returning to their home countries to cause chaos. To do that, it will take a true coalition. “Hello. Mr. Putin, can we talk?”