Is Obama's Caution on the Islamic State Paying Off?
From a steep rise in support from the American public to an assertive Arab League and a new Baghdad government, there are some good signs in the fight against the Islamic State. By Bobby Ghosh
As he prepares to tell Americans why going to war against the Islamic State is vital to US interests, president Barack Obama may find himself preaching to the converted: a CNN poll shows 90% of Americans see IS as a threat to their country. Substantial majorities favor more airstrikes against the terrorist group, and greater support for the forces fighting it.
To help seal the deal, Obama can also point to positive dispatches arriving from the frontlines. After last week’s military gains against the terrorist group, there have now been some important political developments that could strengthen the international coalition Obama is building against IS (also known as ISIS or ISIL).
Perhaps the most important is the fact that the Iraqi parliament has approved the new cabinet of prime minister Haider al-Abadi. After weeks of political horse trading (and the now-traditional brinkmanship by the Kurds) Abadi was able to herd the cats of Iraqi’s political elite into a national unity government. Pressure from the US, Iran, and Arab states all helped. It helped, too, that the prime minister has sounded some conciliatory notes, a welcome change of tone from his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki.
There’s much to complain about regarding the cabinet, including the fact that Abadi wasn’t able to appoint ministers for defense and interior, arguably the most crucial positions under the current circumstances. Nor is it reassuring that Maliki remains in government, as one of three vice presidents. But given the nature of Iraqi politics, where sectarian and ethnic interests often supersede national ones, it is hard to see how a better team could have been assembled.
In more good news for Obama, the Arab League issued a proclamation calling for immediate action against IS. The League’s 2011 endorsement of a no-fly zone over Libya paved the way for US-led airstrikes that turned the tide against the Gaddafi regime. This time, the League was much more circumspect, falling short of an actual endorsement of US-led airstrikes. But the proclamation is a start, and gives US secretary of state John Kerry something to build on as he tours the Arab world this week to build a coalition against IS.
There are favorable auguries from the military front, too. The Iraqi military says it has pushed IS fighters back from the Haditha dam, and Kurdish Peshmerga militias retook a strategic mountain near Mosul. In both instances, US airstrikes provided ground troops crucial cover. That formula—foreign aircraft, local boots on the ground—is what Obama will sell to his countrymen in his speech on Wednesday.
He may not mention this, but it is no less important: From Tehran, there’s the welcome word that supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has blessed military cooperation between Iran and the US in the fight against IS. The two countries last collaborated to their mutual benefit in 2001, in the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
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