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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Maybe next time, they’ll award the Nobel Peace Prize at the end of a politician’s tenure rather than the beginning. There was always something mildly farcical about the Swedish committee recognizing President Obama’s lofty rhetoric in advance of real achievements.

It’s like awarding the Oscar before the movie’s released.

But here’s the thing: If Obama can pull-off the three-cushion bank shot he’s attempting in the Middle East — fighting ISIS extremists to a standstill without committing U.S. ground troops in a futile quest to remake Iraq and Syria in the American image — he’ll definitely deserve some kind of prize.

Odds would appear to be against him.

Not that anybody’s got a better idea.

Polls show that while strong majorities of Americans support taking the fight to ISIS fanatics, few expect a mighty victory. Only 18 percent in a recent Pew Poll believe that striking the jihadists will decrease the odds of a terrorist attack against the U.S. Thirty-four percent think it’s apt to make things worse. The rest don’t know. Partisan differences are minimal.

Reality seems to be sinking in. There’s never going to be another Middle Eastern “Mission Accomplished” aircraft carrier photo op. The kind of melodramatic Chicken Little rhetoric favored by hyperventilating cable TV hosts and utopian political fantasists finds few adherents.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently got downright panicky on Fox News Sunday. “This is a war we’re fighting! It is not a counterterrorism operation!” Graham all but shouted. “This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home.”

He sounded like somebody in a zombie movie.

Republicans more generally, Kevin Drum points out, share mutually contradictory opinions: U.S. ground troops should never have been withdrawn from Iraq in 2011, but they should also never go back.

Georgia GOP Rep. Jack Kingston explains why Congress prefers not to vote on the president’s plans: “A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, ‘Just bomb the place and tell us about it later.’ It’s an election year….We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long.”

The good news is that for all its murderous zeal ISIS may already have overplayed its hand. Writing in The Washington Post, Ramzy Mardini, a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Center for the Middle East, argues that Americans overstate ISIS’s danger to U.S. interests. He writes that ISIS is hardly “in a position to topple the next city in its sights. Rather, the borders of its territory have, more or less, reached their outer potential.”

Indeed, ISIS’s advances on Kurdistan and Baghdad went into reverse as soon as U.S. war planes showed up. Much of the territory it’s seized is vacant desert land of no strategic significance. The terrorists’ military success has been due to filling a vacuum created by Iraqi soldiers’ unwillingness to fight for a Baghdad regime almost universally seen as a Shiite protection racket, but finally unable even to protect its own territory.

This then, the final legacy of “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” launched in 2003 with the enthusiastic support of journalists “embedded” with the troops as if they were off on a Boy Scout Jamboree.

Mardini further argues that ISIS’s extreme zeal and ruthlessness make it stupid. “The Islamic State’s extreme ideology, spirit of subjugation and acts of barbarism prevent it from becoming a political venue for the masses. It has foolhardily managed to instill fear in everyone.”

Filled with fanatical foreigners lacking a “deep connection” with local Sunni tribes, Mardini writes, “the Islamic State’s core fighters are certainly devoted and willing to die for the cause, but its potential support across the region ranges from limited to nonexistent.”

This all sounds right. However, as President Obama clearly understands, the problem’s less military than political. Always was. But having recently argued that an army of “moderates” in a three-sided Syrian civil war was basically a fantasy, the president now finds himself needing to train one.

Another fantasy he’s obliged to entertain is of America’s Middle Eastern “allies” sending ground troops to fight there. At best, they’ll maybe cut off ISIS funding and make it harder for foreign jihadists to enter Syria.

Iran and its client Hezbollah are likelier to join the fight, so long as neither they nor we have to admit it. The U.S. cannot be seen as backing Shiites in a religious war.

“Oh, it’s a shame when you have a wan, diffident, professorial president with no foreign policy other than ‘don’t do stupid things,'” the New York Times reports Obama mockingly telling White House visitors. “I do not make apologies for being careful in these areas, even if it doesn’t make for good theater.”

However, all politics is partly theater, as Obama surely knows.

And like it or not, Commander-in-Chief is the starring role.

AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan

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Copyright 2014 The National Memo
  • Dominick Vila

    Actually, Gene, if the Nobel Peace Prize committee could award a second identical award, they probably would. What is evident in President Obama’s strategy to deal with the ISIS or ISIL threat is that, in addition to being consistent with the wishes of most Americans, the goal is to minimize the probability of American casualties, as well as collateral damage on the civilian population of Iraq and, perhaps, Syria. The latter is consistent with the criteria used to award a Peace Prize to a leader. The fact that the present strategy may not be enough to destroy, or contain, ISIS does not deter from the focus on keeping our losses down to a minimum.
    The conflict in Iraq is not the result of President Obama’s policies. Sectarian violence has been the norm since 1932, when the British lumped three sects that hated each other since medieval times under one umbrella. The problems created by that decision became worse after the death of King Faisal in 1933. Relative calm prevailed after the rise of Saddam Hussein to power. Saddam, a brutal dictator, managed to control his subjects, and transformed Iraq into a fairly prosperous nation. President Reagan recognized the need for a strongman in that troubled part of the world, and the value of a strong Iraq to counter the expansionist ambitions of Iran who, at the time, was considered our nemesis. When the Iran-Iraq war began, Reagan did not hesitate to provide WMDs, training, and satellite intelligence that, among other things, suggested collusion between the Iranians and the Iraqi Kurds, with predictable consequences for the latter.
    9/11, the need to project an illusion of retaliation, when none existed, the need to transform the image of the President that was in office when 9/11 occurred into a “war president” to ensure his re-election, the possibility of huge profits for some U.S. corporations, and controlling the flow of oil to control the global economy, proved to be irresistible for the Bush administration. There are simply no words to describe the cynicism of using the WMDs that we gave Saddam, and his attacks against the Kurds, influenced by the imagery we gave him, as an excuse to invade a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.
    As bad as the invasion was, the worst part was its aftermath. In addition to losing over 4,400 young Americans, over 20,000 maimed, many more suffering from PTSD, as many as 600,000 Iraqis killed, and 2 million Sunnis fleeing their country to save their lives, the worst part is that we removed the only deterrent for Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf. President Bush’s speech in 2007, in which he predicted chaos if we withdrew from Iraq, was a tacit concession of the horrible consequences derived from his decision. That speech is not a vindication of his wisdom, but an acknowledgment of failed policies and lack of vision. The execution of Saddam Hussein, the replacement of Sunni Baathists with Shias aligned spiritually to Iran, and the destabilization of the entire Persian Gulf region contributed to the emergence of what we know today as ISIS. ISIS is not an aberration, it is a product of our myopic foreign policy. The Sunnis that fled Iraq during the purges that followed the removal of Saddam Hussein from power are back with a vengeance. Many are former military officers and government officials. Many are Iran-Iraq war veterans or seasoned politicians, with a greater knowledge of how to create a state than our puppets will ever have, and who know how to fight and win a war of attrition and achieve territorial expansion.
    What we are dealing with now are the consequences of what we did a decade ago. The orange outfits worn by the victims of brutal beheading are not an accident. ISIS was sending us a loud and clear message: remember Gitmo.
    Their refusal to negotiate with the U.S. and UK governments have nothing to do with intransigence. In addition to territorial expansion and the establishment of a medieval Caliphate, their actions are driven by intense hatred and a desire for revenge.
    Yes, aerial strikes are unlikely to eliminate the ISIS threat, but they should be enough to slow down their expansionist goals, and should be enough to keep our idiots in power, in spite of the fact that after a decade of continuous training and a lot of wasted money, the Shia Army is as inept as it was before the invasion of Iraq.
    Blaming the President that inherited the mess created by his predecessor may resonate among Tea Party, I doubt it will get you very far in forums where people are capable of rational thinking and conclusions reached based on historical fact and logic.

    • sigrid28

      I lived next door to a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize (she did not receive the title), and I can tell you it was no picnic. I think some right-wing sympathizers look down on the prize just as much as they look down on the president. The only thing they like about it is its connection to TNT (and I don’t mean the television station).

      It’s so easy to be grumpy, as in grousing Grumpy-Old-Man style, about this president. Maybe it’s a function of the age of Obama’s critics, who may have hearing loss. I did not hear the president state the goal of trying to “remake Iraq and Syria in the American image,” as Gene Lyons says he did. I thought the goal was to bolster armies in Iraq and Syria fighting ISIS via a coalition of allies from the region and around the world, and then get out to let these countries resolve their age-old conflict.

      • Dominick Vila

        I loved the analogy to TNT!
        President Obama’s strategy regarding ISIS, is focused on eliminating a dangerous threat and, towards that end, he is considering helping some Syrian rebel groups and has been trying to gain the support of our allies and Arab countries to achieve our goal.
        The one that tried to transform a fragmented society into an American style democracy was George W. Bush, and he failed miserably. Evidence of that failure can now be found in the emergence of ISIS, the hatred that influences the decision of so many people to join ISIS, the brutal executions we have seen, and goals that include the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate that extends from Iraq and Kurdistan all the way to the Levant (Lebanon and Jordan). Republicans, and some members of the media, are desperately to ignore the fact that the ISIS top echelon is composed of Saddam’s Sunnis, people who either served time in Gitmo or are the children of people who were there, and people who find our presence and culture so offensive that they will go to any extreme to reject it.
        The real question that Americans should ask themselves is whether or not it is worth it to sacrifice our young, spent trillions of dollars, and kill tens of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians to keep a puppet in power and preserve our economic interests in the region intact.

        • sigrid28

          The “real question” you ask in your final sentence is also posed eloquently in Ken Burns’s multi-part series, “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” now running on PBS. The segment covering Woodrow Wilson’s reluctance to enter The Great War is particularly pertinent, with Teddy Roosevelt urging the nation to engage. But then ALL of Teddy Roosevelt’s sons served during World War I, while his nephew Franklin D. Roosevelt was engaged as Deputy Secretary of the Navy–unlike the privileged children of many of our hawkish members of Congress who never served time in Iraq or Afghanistan and never will.

          The series is also brilliantly timed to show how–exactly a century ago–two entirely different brands of progressive president, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, worked tirelessly each in their own way to break the hold on the economy of the monied classes and monopolies and rescue workers and the middle class. I think we will have a coming to Jesus moment in the upcoming parts of the series, showing how too little too late, when it comes to resolving harmful inequalities, brought on the Depression and activated the reset button on war. What will Americans do about a similar set of circumstance this time around?

          • Dominick Vila

            I believe the answer to your question can be discern by the way we view George W. Bush’s tenure, and who we hold responsible for 9/11, in contrast to the way we reacted to the terrorist attack in Benghazi and who is being held responsible for it. When a Republican is in office, the buck stops everywhere but where it belongs.

      • Gene Lyons

        Advise re-reading carefully with both eyes open before commenting.

        • sigrid28

          So you did NOT intend to say that one of the president’s “foreign-policy fantasies” was the idea of remaking “Iraq and Syria in the American image”? Advise re-reading carefully before publishing.

          • Gene Lyons

            It says, “WITHOUT committing U.S. ground troops in a FUTILE quest to remake Iraq and Syria in the American image.”

          • sigrid28

            But that’s not ALL it says. Look at the whole construction:

            But here’s the thing: If Obama can pull-off the three-cushion bank shot he’s attempting in the Middle East — fighting ISIS extremists to a standstill without committing U.S. ground troops in a futile quest to remake Iraq and Syria in the American image — he’ll definitely deserve some kind of prize.

            I see no reason for saying “in a futile quest to remake Iraq and Syria in the American image” because that is not part of the president’s plan–it is not even something he’s doing these things to avoid. As Dominick pointed out above, that was George W.’s political fantasy.

          • Gene Lyons

            You (and he) have simply, and clearly, misunderstood. We all make mistakes. Own one.

          • sigrid28

            It is the writer’s obligation to make sure the reader does not misunderstand what he or she writes–NOT THE READER’S–and I am sure you know that. You ended up attributing to Obama a goal that was not his. He would not even contemplate the futility of enlisting ground troops to try to make Iraq or Syria democracies on our model. No part of his plan is about achieving that goal–so, logically, no part of his plan is about NOT achieving that goal. That goal has nothing to do with him, so should not have been connected to him in this essay.

            A good editor would have had you drop the misleading phrase, in order to avoid attributing to Obama an idea that is not his own. That’s part of what a good editor is meant to do. I think it is the best writers who need editors for this particular kind of help, because we get inside our own heads in order to create a piece of writing, and then we cannot read it as if it were “new.” It really is your editor at fault in not catching this writing error.

          • Gene Lyons

            Sorry, neither writer nor editor can protect you from your determination to get something upside down.

          • sigrid28

            I’ve noticed these kinds of errors in your writing before. Why settle for that? What’s the harm in going to a decent editor for some help now and then?

          • Gene Lyons

            Thanks so much for your advice. I believe I’ll stick with the professionals.

          • sigrid28

            Why so petty: wanting to have the last word, wanting to insult? Why such a thin skin–for a professional, no less?

  • stsintl

    Are the Zionists of Israel any different than ISIS/ISIL? Here are some quotes from the Zionist leaders.

    “We must expel Arabs and take their places.” David Ben Gurion, future
    Prime Minister of Israel, 1937, Ben Gurion and the Palestine Arabs, Oxford University Press, 1985.

    “Spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment… Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.” Theodore Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization, speaking of the Arabs of Palestine, Complete Diaries, June 12, 1895 entry.

    “We have to kill all the Palestinians unless they are resigned to live here as slaves.” Chairman Heilbrun of the Committee for the Re-election of General Shlomo Lahat, the mayor of Tel Aviv, October 1983.

    “We walked outside, Ben-Gurion accompanying us. Allon repeated his question, What is to be done with the Palestinian population?’ Ben-Gurion waved his hand in a gesture which said ‘Drive them out’”
    Yitzhak Rabin, leaked censored version of Rabin memoirs, published in the New York Times, 23 October 1979.

    “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.”
    Israel Koenig, “The Koenig Memorandum”

    Rabin’s description of the conquest of Lydda, after the completion of Plan Dalet. “We shall reduce the Arab population to a community of woodcutters and waiters” Uri Lubrani, PM Ben-Gurion’s special adviser on Arab Affairs, 1960. From “The Arabs in Israel” by Sabri Jiryas.

    “Zionist colonization must either be terminated or carried out against the wishes of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, be continued and make progress only under the protection of a power independent of the native population – an iron wall, which will be in a position to resist the pressure to the native population. This is our policy towards the Arabs…” Vladimir Jabotinsky, The Iron Wall, 1923

    • RobertCHastings

      Although you paint a picture of Israel as being historically anti-Palestinian, half of your quotes come from the period BEFORE Israel even became a nation, and, the last I looked, are not all of those who said these things now dead? That is NOT to say that Netanyahu and his coalition government are NOT pursuing such a policy as you paint. However, large swaths of the Israeli population support a two-nation resolution to this problem as the ONLY viable solution. Israel, like Iraq, is an artificially created political entity that was created with no consideration for the social realities already in place in the region. Do the Jews as well as the Palestinians deserve a homeland? Undoubtedly. Will the powerful nations of the world ever be able to successfully resolve this issue? Hopefully.

      • stsintl

        Thanks for a very balanced response. I have several more of such quotes which I did not post. However, there is no doubt in my mind that the Likud leaders like the late Ariel Sharon and now Netanyahu have been committed to that Zionist vision with unconditional commitment from the US leaders. As long as the power of AIPAC remains unchallenged, there will be no peace settlement there.

  • browninghipower

    Iam stunned to watch the War Drums beating once again. I am stunned to see the idea of yet another fucking War being talked about so casually as if it’s inevitable. I’m outraged that we have learned nothing and have forgot so much so soon. I’m outraged and befuddled that all of a sudden Americans believe the fucking Republicans are better at national security than Dems. I hear all this talk/testimony from the fucking Elites that this will be a 20-year engagement and there will be American boots on the ground. Once again I see the fucking Media ignoring all logical and intelligent opponents of the idiot morons on the Right who are beating the War Drums. We are walking right into another and more than likely our final War Quicksand Pit and we won’t emerge from it. Trillions for War, not one cent for our own. Fuck America for this deranged set of priorities.

    • irishtap

      You said it well browninghipower.

    • RobertCHastings

      Obama is not the one beating the drums of war, nor the one so willing to unleash the dogs of war. When Conservatives like Limbaugh, McCain and Graham INSIST upon boots on the ground, before we are even allowed to construct a coalition of the WILLING (unlike the last time), the best interests of this country are not being considered, and the dynamics in the region are being totally ignored.

      • browninghipower

        I agree for the moment. But I’ve lost faith in Obama. Notice he said no American troops in Iraq. How about Syria, Jordan, elsewhere? I’d like to believe him…really…but I don’t.

        • RobertCHastings

          Obama will NOT put boots on the ground to satisfy Graham and McCain. IF the Democratic leadership in both Houses of Congress, and in the public sector, support such a move, Obama will do it. But I don’t see ANY liberals in Congress, NOR anyone of the wealth of George Soros advocating such a move,nor are ANY of the liberal media outlets like the “Daly Show” or Salon pushing another invasion of the region. Look at those who are trying to push the US into further involvement in the region and you will realize NONE of them mean jack to the president. Kerry is NOT pursuing US involvement in the region, he is pursuing an expansion of Arab League involvement, African involvement, NATO involvement, etc, and a possible expansion of aid to those fighting in Syria against Assad and ISIS along with a more vigorous prosecution of the bombing of ISIS positions.

          • browninghipower

            Here’s hoping you’re correct, Mr. Hastings.

  • Stuart

    Still think all this is pre-election theater. In any case, I think Democratic presidents only get in trouble when they try to be Republicans.

  • RobertCHastings

    As many top thinkers demonstrate, the US has NO idea of what they are doing in the Middle East, and why there is such a need for us to be there. Prior to the incursions of the West in the affairs of this beknighted region, it was relatively peaceful, and those groups that disagreed were NOT constantly at each others’ throats. Since the 1880s, Europe, Russia, and the US have done nothing but interfere in the region’s politics with no idea regarding the dynamics in the region, a situation that has NOT improved over the past 130 years. When Iraq was created mere decades ago with three opposing Muslim sects inside her borders, it is impossible to comprehend what the European powers expected – they should have at least anticipated chaos. Without the calming influence of a ruthless dictator like Saddam Hussein, they now have the chaos that reigns, much to the chagrin of some of our allies in the region, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Obama, understandably, wants no part of a ground war AGAIN in the region, and is pursuing what Bush left him, a war of attrition through air dominance. Were Obama to accelerate the pace of aerial strikes to, say, ten to twenty per hour, a more positive outcome MIGHT seem possible. Expanding our activities to the training of insurgents in Syria AND bombing targets within Syria with US munitions is playing into the hands of the Republican hawks AND the opponents of America in the region (synonymous entities, it might be said).

  • irishtap

    When will we become honest with ourselves? Iraq has no chance of ever maintaining any level of real representative government. It has too many ancient and disparate tribal populations where the only thing agreed upon is their animosity toward each other.
    We despised Saddam Hussein for the butcher he was yet, he managed to keep everyone in line – for the most part. Our Middle East academicians knew Bush and Cheney were opening Pandora’s box and their expertise was soundly ignored when pointing this out. Some received ridicule, even mocked at the time they attempted to bring real debate to the subject of going to war.
    As we’ve come to know about the GOP: exercises in rationality and critical thinking are antithetical to this cult. They cannot stomach the thought of President Obama and the American people, acheiving any measure of success – even when it happens to be about national security.
    ISIS or ISIL, are the result of seemingly willful, horrendous policy by a Republican President wholly unqualified for the position, and his administration whom clearly had no interest in obtaining a moment of clarity for the ‘hell we would come to know’ from invading soverign Iraq.
    This Godless contrived folly of Iraq, is completely the fault of the reckless idiocy of the previous White House occupant. President Obama may be able

    • RobertCHastings

      Within two years AFTER the invasion, the ayatollahs including al Sadr) were berating Paul Bremer in Iraq for not allowing a one-man-one-vote election in Iraq for a DEMOCRATIC election, and were stating legitimate arguments for such. Had Bush followed through THEN, we would have been out of Iraq by the end of his second term, with NO baggage left behind in the form of ISIS.

  • Ronald Harris

    Obama will achieve some things in the middle east that no one ever imagined possible. Firstly, to get the Ayatollah in Iran to public denounce the activities of ISIS is a great first step. Once people in the region realize that a lot of the fanaticism and shenanigans going on is not the basis or the basics of their religion, then resistance can begin to mount. Where the bandits will be viewed as such and not liberators.

  • latebloomingrandma

    I wonder what it is about the cult of ISIS that is luring young people into it’s degenerate violence? How do the newly recruited reconcile the fact that this organization wants to live in the 14th century, yet somehow is very sophisticated in 21st century technology. Their propaganda films and use of social media are very slick. If they achieve their goals, will they give this up for the “simple life?” I doubt women will ever have any access to these modern tools. So, what is it they want? Are there any of those “Criminal Minds” experts from the FBI offering any psychological advice as part of the strategy to defeat them?