Barack Obama’s crumbling voter coalition turns out not to be his biggest problem at the moment. Both CBS and the New York Times worry more about Obama’s grumbling war coalition against ISIS — or to use the administration’s terminology, the grumbling “very significant counterterrorism operation” coalition. CBS looks at “Obama’s coalition of frenemies” and its competing ambitions to ask whether this group can hold together:
Foreign policy experts say that the cooperation of so many countries, with at times conflicting interests, is a positive sign as the U.S. attempts to stamp out the extremist group. The inclusion of 10 Arab states — that can seem more like “frenemies” to the United States and each other, rather than true allies — is especially encouraging, foreign policy experts say. …
The 10 Arab states that committed on Thursday to the fight against ISIS include the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. The new coalition also includes Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.
Even within the GCC, there’s tension. Bahrain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia earlier this year withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar over Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and beyond.
LeBaron said it’s encouraging that these nations are still working together in spite of those tensions, calling it further evidence that the dispute over the Muslim Brotherhood “has been confined so far largely to the diplomatic space.”
There is special concern over the inclusion of Qatar, whose actions and support for extremists have made this situation worse:
Qatar has also had a complicated relationship with the United States. Qatar hosts one of the most important U.S. military bases in the world, at the al Udeid Air Base. Additionally, the Sunni nation played a key role in negotiating the prisoner swap between the Taliban and the United States to free Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, as well as in the release of American hostage Peter Theo Curtis.
At the same time, Taliban officials live and work in Qatar, and the Sunni nation has control of the often anti-American television network al Jazeera. The U.S. has taken issue with its support for Hamas. Meanwhile, support for Syrian rebel groups coming out of Qatar and other Arab nations may have contributed to the rise of ISIS.
“We have this love-hate relationship with Qatar — they’re our frenemies,” David Schenker, director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute, told CBS.
The New York Times also wonders just how effective this coalition will be, and not just because of the competing interests involved. David Kirkpatrick and Anne Barnard remind readers that the Sunni Arab nations involved lost a lot of respect for Obama after his total withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 and abandonment of the Anbar Awakening tribal leaders. They want the US to re-engage, but they’re leery about putting themselves at risk while Obama dithers and is inclined toward leaving the region to its own devices:
Many Arab governments grumbled quietly in 2011 as the United States left Iraq, fearful it might fall deeper into chaos or Iranian influence. Now, the United States is back and getting a less than enthusiastic welcome, with leading allies like Egypt, Jordan and Turkey all finding ways on Thursday to avoid specific commitments to President Obama’s expanded military campaign against Sunni extremists.
As the prospect of the first American strikes inside Syria crackled through the region, the mixed reactions underscored the challenges of a new military intervention in the Middle East, where 13 years of chaos, from Sept. 11 through the Arab Spring revolts, have deepened political and sectarian divisions and increased mistrust of the United States on all sides.
Beyond the rhetorical support for the fight against ISIS and pledges of some funding, the US didn’t get much else. Saudi Arabia agreed to train and host so-called “moderate” rebels to fight ISIS in Syria, which they have wanted to do for some time anyway to undermine Bashar al-Assad. They also see ISIS as a threat because of their attacks on more-favored Sunni rebels in Syria. Jordan, on the other hand, told the US that they are more interested in rebuilding Gaza and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Turkey, our NATO partner, won’t even support the US effort publicly, let alone offer effective military support against ISIS.
Ironically, the only country in or near the conflict to offer enthusiastic support and a pledge of alliance was … Syria:
While Arab nations allied with the United States vowed on Thursday to “do their share” to fight ISIS and issued a joint communiqué supporting a broad strategy, the underlying tone was one of reluctance. The government perhaps most eager to join a coalition against ISIS was that of Syria, which Mr. Obama had already ruled out as a partner for what he described as terrorizing its citizens.
Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Fayssal Mekdad, told NBC News that Syria and the United States were “fighting the same enemy,” terrorism, and that his government had “no reservations” about airstrikes as long as the United States coordinated with it. He added, “We are ready to talk.”
Since the administration is about to arm Assad’s enemies, that’s not likely. That decision represents a turnaround for Obama, who refused to follow the advice of John McCain and Hillary Clinton three years ago when the opportunities were brighter, and not for lack of good reason for skepticism, either. CBS’ Nancy Cordes reports that the administration says that these rebels have now been reliably vetted, but that sounds a little like a rationalization in the absence of other options:
As Boehner says, defeating ISIS will take boots on the ground. Since the US isn’t going to supply those — at least not explicitly, although 15 teams of Green Berets will embed with Iraqi forces to coordinate action on the ground — they have to come from somewhere. Beggars can’t be choosers, eh?