President Barack Obama’s September 10, 2014 national address is one that clarifies America’s strategy to combat the self-proclaimed “Islamic State,” also known as ISIL, a radical jihadist group formed out of the chaos of the Syrian Civil War. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the president’s decisions, the content of his address is something that all Americans should be familiar with. The speech boils down to nine key points:
1. ISIL is not Islamic. It is a genocidal militant group.
2. ISIL is not a state. It still primarily controls one major city, and a few major roads.
3. ISIL has members from all over the world, including the United States.
4. ISIL, if left unstopped, will carry out strikes abroad, including in the United States.
5. President Obama has the authority to act in the region without congressional support.
6. The United States will track down and eliminate any potential threat to its safety, including ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
7. The United States will train and arm moderate rebels in Syria to fight both ISIL and the Assad regime.
8. The United States will only militarily act in coordination with other regional powers, and will not be sending major ground forces to fight ISIL.
9. The United States, largely due to its military and technological capabilities, has an obligation to aid nations in upholding their sovereignty, if those nations too are willing to fight for their freedom.
To watch the full speech, click
To learn more about ISIL, click
Analysis and questions worth asking:
Obama has been clear that American military action will be designed to aid, not replace, measures taken by other Middle-Eastern countries, who he says are the ones ultimately responsible for security in “their region.” This aligns with Obama’s strategy in Libya, where the U.S. took a back seat (at least officially) during the NATO airstrikes that helped bring down Gaddafi. Obama and Kerry’s ability in recent months to simultaneously rally support for military action against ISIL and economic action against Russia have also proven impressive (as well as far more efficient than the massively expensive military occupations of the Bush years). Even as the United States prepares for greater military involvement on an all too familiar battleground, a much more multipolar approach is being taken than in the past. Our lone cowboy days appear to be over for now.
Still, even though the United States is not likely to relive another Iraqi occupation, there are still some profoundly disturbing possibilities that such a conflict enables. And they raise a lot of tough questions. First off, is it a good idea to arm Syrian rebels? Even if they claim to be moderate, arms change hands in the Middle-East constantly. ISIL, the very enemy the United States is pledged to fight against, is largely the result of what happens when unknown rebels are given heavy weapons. Do we risk stopping one Al Qaeda by creating another?
Raqqa is the largest city held by ISIL. It is subject to beheadings, crucifixions, and the institutionalized murder of women and children who are not Sunni Muslims.
Another question is what Congress’s role should be in this conflict. It certainly looks better when Congress supports the president, but the public obviously isn’t expecting that from today’s executive-legislative relationship. Is it possible that many in Congress would rather abstain from voting on such an issue? The likely answer to that is yes.
In this conflict and beyond, the hardest question for Americans as well as others across the globe to answer is likely to be this—how much in today’s world does global stability still depend on U.S. power? Although it’s easy to say a little or a lot, the truth is that it’s hard to tell. Many claim that America’s withdrawal from Iraq is what enabled ISIL to take over much of the country in the first place. Others make the case that had Bush not invaded in 2003, there never would’ve been such a massive power-vacuum to begin with, and sectarian violence would never have reached this level of brutality. Some argue that U.S. military action only breeds future generations of terrorists. Others say that the people the U.S. protects from terrorism will inspire future generations to be allied to the United States (the number one group of people to die at the hands of modern jihadists so far has been other Muslims).
Syrian activists express their feelings about U.S. involvement in their region.
What’s certainly true is that from Iraq to Pakistan to Eastern Ukraine, even the world’s richest and most powerful country cannot define and eliminate all of the world’s security threats unilaterally. It’s not literally possible or morally just. There needs to be both greater empathy from the United States to other regional powers so we appear not to be merely waving the war banner, as well as greater recognition from other countries that immediate threats can’t be kept at bay by the United States alone.
Although greater amounts of military cooperation have proven a good move for Obama, both financially and diplomatically, there still needs to be more, especially in an age of borderless wars. The U.S. military is likely to employ an array of jets, drones, and special-ops forces to neutralize extremist groups for what could be years. Obama has always pledged to eliminate terrorist threats “wherever they are,” and properly defining a terrorist threat is more important now than ever before. The fear is that a loosely defined conflict within loosely defined borders has the potential to carry on and even expand for a great deal of time. When speaking on one of the core principals of his presidency, Obama stated in a stern but rather haunting tone:
“If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”
If we wish our own country to remain a safe haven, America will need its strength as much as it needs its restraint. To maintain such a balance is no easy task, and requires oversight from us as much as it does our president.