When US President Barack Obama spoke to America about the threat of the Islamic state (ISIS) on September 10, 2014, he spoke of forming a broad coalition. But the only states he mentioned fighting with were not exactly presented as eager participants. He mentioned Iraq. But he did that by way of announcing that Iraq was going to have to step up to fight (ISIS is heavily involved in Iraq). He also mentioned Syria. But he wasn’t talking about the nation-state. He was talking about Syrian rebels who, in many ways, are as brutal as ISIS.
That was it: his coalition.
Now, two days later, we know more about that coalition. For example, the US has announced that Middle Eastern countries are ‘on board’ (“10 Arab Countries Back U.S. Campaign Against IS”, Arutz Sheva, September 12, 2014). The US has also said that nine additional countries have joined the coalition: U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Poland, Canada, Turkey and Australia (“Every Support Against ISIS short of Armed Engagement”, The Daily Sabah, September 12, 2014).
But the coalition isn’t what it seems. It’s isn’t the kind of coalition we saw in the First Gulf War, for example, where the US pulled together close to 500,000 soldiers from all across the globe. This is a different kind of coalition.
It’s a coalition of, ‘count me in but don’t ask me for anything’.
Britain won’t participate in air strikes (“Britain Rules Out Taking Part in Airstrikes in Syria”, Arutz Sheva, September 12, 2014). Germany won’t do air strikes, either (ibid).
France will do air strikes in Iraq, but maybe not in Syria (ibid). Turkey won’t take part in any military action at all against ISIS (The Sabah, above). Jordan, while ‘on board’, faces Members of its own Parliament who don’t want to fight ISIS (“Jordanian MPs Demand: Let's Stay Out of Fight with IS”, Arutz Sheva, September 4, 2014).
It’s certainly nice that ten Arab countries have signed on with President Obama. After all, ISIS threatens the Arab world more than anyone else in the world right now. But the Arab League—which represents the Arab world—has 22 Member (not including Syria, which was ‘suspended’ in 2011). Where are the other 12?
Why aren’t they ‘on board’? More important still, where is Qatar? Qatar is, arguably, the world’s biggest funding engine for terrorism. Qatar maintains the US’s largest military base in the Middle East (“Qatar’s Support of Islamists Alienates Allies Near and Far,” The New York Times, September 7, 2014). But it openly supports Jihadists by “providing safe haven, diplomatic mediation, financial aid and, in certain instances, weapons” (ibid). In one of the world’s most unusual alignment of nations, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel have all sought to label Qatar as “the godfather to terrorists everywhere” (ibid).
The issue of Qatar and terrorism is so delicate that anyone who accuses Qatar of supporting ISIS is immediately condemned by Arab diplomats and others for bringing political rhetoric and blind opinion-making to a difficult situation (ibid).
Qatar hasn’t joined Obama’s coalition.
Others also haven’t joined yet. Iran won’t join because, it said, it doubts the “seriousness and sincerity” of the members of the coalition (“Iran criticizes Obama’s anti-ISIS coalition plans”, Iraqi News, September 11, 2014). Iran claims (perhaps correctly) that some members of the coalition openly support the terrorists in Iraq and Syria (ibid).
Saudi Arabia’s commitment may not be as strong as the US makes it appear (“Obama’s Coalition to Fight ISIS Is No Sure Thing”, The Fiscal Times, September 9, 2014). The Saudis may not entirely trust Obama’s willingness to fight ISIS (ibid). They may not be entirely happy that the one message that the US keeps repeating is that President Obama was willing to go “wherever is necessary to strike those who are threatening Americans" (“Broad coalition of nations will help fight ISIS, John Kerry says in Iraq”, CNBC, September 10, 2014). The Saudis might want some assurances that Obama has a concern for them, too.
In fact, few members of the Arab League gave the US open support for military action against ISIS (“Can Obama build a real anti-ISIS coalition?” cbsnews, September 9, 2014). Don’t they trust Obama?
The early betting is, US President Obama is going to hear a lot of strongly-worded anti-ISIS talk. Everyone will support him. Everyone will agree with him: ISIS is a scourge that must be blotted out.
But it’s altogether possible that that’s all Obama is going to get--lip-service. Few may actually join his fight. He could end up with few allies (“The Anti-ISIS Coalition And Obama’s Strategy”, The Dish, September 5, 2014). He could end up in Iraq with allies who are more enemy than friend.
He could fail. His failure could bring ISIS to the US. His failure could change America forever.
The G-d of Israel waits.