One of the more interesting stories reported in the last few days was a Reuters article that revealed this surprising situation:
"Rather than help keep the nation together, [US] air strikes risk being used by different factions for their own advantage in Iraq's sectarian and ethnic conflicts...The fallout...risks worsening grievances that helped Islamic State find support amongst Iraq's Sunnis, and allows the militant group to portray the U.S. strikes as targeting [Sunnis]."Further, while Shiite and Kurdish militias had joined forces in the North to stop and push back the recent Islamic State advance. the alliance has proven all too brief:
"Now that [Islamic State] has been pushed back, the alliance is unraveling. Kataib Hizbollah [an Iranian-trained and equipped Shia militia], which controls access to Amerli, is denying Kurds entry to the town and one peshmerga [Kurdish militia] commander described the militia as the "Shi'ite IS". The tensions reflect a struggle for territory which the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad claims, but the Kurds want as part of their autonomous region in the north of the country."
The fact that US airstrikes are achieving unintended consequences that are precisely the opposite of how those airstrikes were supposed to work, has been little noticed, and certainly was not a feature of Barack Obama's Wednesday night speech to the nation, announcing another round of Middle East war for America.
If the usual suspects, meaning the competing, not cooperating, players in Iraq and Syria, do the natural, and some might even say the "right" thing, and take advantage of Obama's naiveté, promising unity against the common enemy (Islamic State) while plotting further self-interested appropriations of territory and resources, the central tenet of Obama's strategy, especially in Iraq, the building of an inclusive, non-sectarian government, is going to fail before his war has even gotten going.
Another serious problem critics have raised is the fact that the United States cannot really hope to take the war to Islamic State in its home base in Syria, without risking having any success in that campaign end up helping America's other supposed enemy, the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.
This concern is already manifesting, as we read today that Assad has won a battle near Hama, against the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda-allied rival to Islamic State. Assad, knowing that the United States is going to be targeting his main problem in Syria, Islamic State, can turn his full attention to degrading and destroying the remaining Syrian rebel groups. Not only this, but Israel, realizing that Assad is a better Syrian regime (in Israel's view) than having some al-Qaeda affiliate confronting its Northwest border, recently realigned its Syrian policy to meet this reality.
One effect of having Assad strengthened by ObamaWar, is that this will make much more difficult the job of obtaining real support from Muslim countries against Islamic State. Turkey, for example, reportedly is reluctant to engage the war against IS specifically because they fear weakening IS will strengthen Assad. The complexities of the situation, and the interests of the players, make pursuing any winning policy in Iraq and Syria almost impossible. The one short-term move that would likely produce a quick US victory would be the one thing Obama says he will not do—commit large numbers of US ground combat troops to fight IS.
In fact, and this is yet another bizarre aspect of Obama's reaction against being compared to George W. Bush, and his 2003 invasion of Iraq, but just the idea of the word "war" is so troubling to Obama and his team, that Secretary of State Kerry told CNN yesterday that he did not think that word was the correct description for the military action the United States was currently engaged in against Islamic State. Instead, Kerry had a special euphemism for it:
"I think that’s the wrong terminology. What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counterterrorism operation...If somebody wants to think about it as being at war with ISIL, they can do so. But the fact is it’s a major counterterrorism operation."Kerry went on to demand that Islamic State was still part of al-Qaeda, despite the fact IS has clearly broken ties with its old mentor. Kerry said this is why Barack Obama does not have to seek any new war authorization from Congress. Obama claims he is still working from the 9/11, anti-Qaeda authorization, made so many years ago in a war that simply will not cease.