“Strategic patience” may sound good as a presidential soundbite, but it’s translating into paralysis as ISIS expands. CBS News analyst Juan Zarate warns that Barack Obama’s strategy outline has already been outstripped by the development of ISIS, especially since Obama is focusing on Iraq while ISIS metastasizes into Libya and other areas of North Africa. Zarate says that the US has to start working with states such as Egypt in order to not just stop their expansion but to roll them back before they become too firmly established:
“Some of this is more formal than in other places, but the reality is that the mythology, the allure of the Islamic State is taking hold,” said CBS News Senior National Security Analyst Juan Zarate. “You’re beginning to see the inkblots of the group emerge around the world.”
The problem, Zarate said, is that the administration’s current request to Congress for authorization to fight the militants is focused primarily on the ongoing battle inside Iraq and Syria. Mr. Obama is looking for three years of authorization, and while it has no restrictions on where U.S. forces could pursue the threat, the proposal bans “enduring offensive combat operations.” …
“The Obama administration has talked about strategic patience around this threat and, perhaps, others around the world. The reality is that this terrorist threat is morphing and adapting, perhaps, more quickly than our strategy is meeting. So, that’s one strategic problem and issue,” he said. “This is a global problem, like it or not.”
Zarate’s question as to whether the Obama administration would coordinate efforts with Egypt got an answer earlier today — the wrong answer, as Nancy Youssef reports at The Daily Beast. Given the opportunity to show unity with the al-Sisi government and its military strikes on ISIS in Libya, the White House repeatedly passed, which Youssef called “very good news for ISIS”:
The Obama administration was given multiple chances Wednesday to endorse alongtime ally’s airstrikes on America’s biggest enemy at the moment, the so-called Islamic State. Over and over again, Obama’s aides declined to back Egypt’s military operation against ISIS. It’s another sign of the growing strain between the United States and Egypt, once one of its closest friends in the Middle East.
This shouldn’t be a complete surprise; Cairo, after all, didn’t tell Washington about its strikes on the ISIS hotbed of Derna, Libya. Still, Wednesday’s disconnect was jarring. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest passed on a reporter’s question about an endorsement of Egypt’s growing campaign against ISIS. So did State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
“We are neither condemning nor condoning” the Egyptian strikes, is all one U.S. official would tell The Daily Beast.
So does the White House have any better ideas for Egypt? Er ….
U.S. officials privately said they do not have a better idea for confronting the threat and the ongoing strains between the two nations has led to a breakdown of trust.
“The Egyptian military, in particular, is very frustrated with us,” one U.S. government official explained to The Daily Beast. “It is mutual frustration.”
The military is frustrated with the US because it pushed to get Mubarak toppled, and then demanded snap elections that only benefitted the Muslim Brotherhood — who promptly tried to create a shari’a state. The military deposed Mohamed Morsi, a move the US decried, and Obama reduced aid to the Egyptian militarily for a time in an attempt to reverse the coup. Ever since, the Obama administration has been in a snit with Cairo, even while Egypt is fighting the enemy for which Obama wants a specific AUMF to fight in his more limited fashion. This comes five months after Sisi himself backed Obama’s air strikes on ISIS and offered to join the fight, even before ISIS popped up in Libya.
This is the kind of petulant and personal focus that has driven Obama’s foreign policy ever since he took office. He disregarded advice from his first two Defense Secretaries and refused to bargain to stay in Iraq. He’s pushed Israel out to arm’s length or more, attempting to isolate the one liberal democracy that’s holding up in the region. He’s snubbing Sisi and Ehypt’s considerable military power while failing miserably at getting other Sunni nations to field a sustainable ground force to deal with ISIS in Iraq. At the same time, Obama is making the Sunni nations’ nightmare of an ascendant nuclear Iran a reality with his appeasement of the mullahs. There is no strategy, and “patience” is just another word for “get off my back.”
Earlier today, I interviewed Graeme Wood, the author of the week’s most talked-about essay at The Atlantic, “What ISIS Really Wants.” Wood emphasized the importance of ISIS’ metastasis in its own theological justification, and how bottling it up would put a severe blow to its credibility. He agreed that a broad alliance and a coherent strategy would be necessary for that kind of outcome, but we seem to be far from achieving either. Wood also discussed why declaring that ISIS is “hijacking” Islam is a bad idea, but also warned that we need to keep the rest of the Muslim world on our side rather than theirs: