Saturday 14 December 2019

Obama must use US military might to wipe out Isil

A fighter of the ISIL holds a flag while standing on an armoured vehicle in Mosul
A fighter of the ISIL holds a flag while standing on an armoured vehicle in Mosul

James Downey

Anybody who has watched events in Iraq must have reacted with horror at the brutalities perpetrated there, but also with dismay when they take a peep at the White House and the US State Department.

Once upon a time, the US President and Secretary of State relied for information on official briefings, not always accurate or up to date. Now, through an electronic spying network of astonishing size and complexity, they have instant access to every "secret" in a world where privacy no longer exists.

But the new system is evidently much inferior to the old.

Either the Golfing President is very poorly informed, or he has closed his eyes to the realities of Iraq, Syria, and the threat posed by the Islamic State group (now dubbed Isil) to the peace of the Middle East and the world. Or is there a third possibility?

His presidency has not been a success. He has disappointed the millions who once had high hopes of him. But he has two big scores on the credit side, healthcare and withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

Can he be so vain, or so deluded, as to seek endlessly for any "solution" that would permit him to refrain from putting American military boots on the ground?

His own utterances are contradictory. In one breath he says that he will destroy Isil, in the next that he wants a manageable solution, in other words a compromise.

But the time for manageable solutions has gone by.

That was demonstrated starkly - to anyone paying attention - by the shocking mistakes the US administration made in Syria.

In the cause of overthrowing the dictatorship of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, the Americans armed their own enemies. Assad has survived. American credibility has not.

Now we hear the interesting proposition that the Western powers may enter into a formal alliance with Assad. If that comes to pass, we can surely bid goodbye to any pretence of morality in international affairs.

But nobody need spend time deploring this absence. Violence, deceit and - worst of all - stupidity have always marked the actions of states, especially powerful states. Can we expect anything better from the Golfing President?

The answer is clear. In his own most famous phrase, yes we can. To put it more accurately, yes we must.

At stake here is not just good and sensible behaviour between nations. At stake is survival: of the region, and maybe more.

We are living in an extraordinary period, marked by the existence of two major crises at the same time.

There is a reasonable chance that the Ukraine civil war will end with a more or less reasonable settlement and without a major escalation of the fighting. The settlement will have to be such as to please Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The US and the EU, for their part, will have to learn to live with a distasteful outcome. They should give thanks for the option. No such easy way out applies in the Middle East.

Isil is terrifying. Cruel, ruthless, fanatical, yes, but even more frightening is its access to arms and money. Also, it evidently has in its ranks men who understand quite a bit about both economics and military strategy.

In their planning, they must have taken account of the certainty that the belated Western response to their occupation of large territories in Iraq and Syria would consist of air strikes.

A fanatical army will not be frightened by air strikes. It has the will and the ability to hang on for a long time to the territory it has gained - it is quite likely, indeed, to consolidate in Sunni-dominated central Iraq and set up its own administration.

Only one viable course of action is open to the United States and any allies it may have. Isil must not merely be defeated. It must be wiped out. And that means more than just "boots on the ground".

It means, in the first place, brains in the heads. In Washington DC, it would appear, brains tend to reside only in the heads of the generals, not those of the politicians.

Contrary to what one might have gathered from the blunders of the recent past, Mr Obama has readily available to him men able to wage war in any circumstances.

Secondly, it means that as soon as they win then a civilian administration must take over.

And not an American one. If we have all learned anything in our own time, it is that the Americans are not very good at ruling other peoples.

At school, we learned how fond the British were of boasting about their own expertise, but I leave that to the academics. For the present, I refuse to believe that there are no honest, competent Shias, Sunnis, Syrians and Kurds capable of reconstructing their countries.

Unfortunately, these honest and competent people tend to be in prison or in exile. They must be rescued. They must play a part in the settlement.

In this settlement, unlike that in Ukraine, compromises will not do. There must be regard for local circumstances. More important, there must be regard for human rights. And what of democracy as we understand it in the West?

I have often wondered whether hypocrisy or naivety, or both, inspired the Americans' idea that they could impose Western-style democracy on different cultures. They were less keen when those cultures did it for themselves.

Does anyone remember nowadays that Iran once had a democratic government?

That was long ago. Has the time arrived at last for rapprochement with a new regional power?

Better by far than golf.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss

Editor's Choice