23 Sep 2014

US air strikes: Obama lured into Syria’s civil war

Timing is all. Barack Obama telegraphed these strikes less than two weeks ago, when he warned US viewers in a prime time television address that he would not hesitate to “go after” Isis inside Syria. “This is a core principle of my presidency,” he said. “If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”


Last week, he got the congressional vote he needed to ensure so-called “moderates” among Syrian rebels would receive funding and arms from the US, to aid in their fight against the jihadists.  At least, that’s what they’re meant to do with the funding and arms.

Amid the votes, many questions over who exactly the moderates might be, and whether they might not be more inclined to fight alongside IS against Assad.  But the bill passed all the same.  That means potentially proxy boots on the ground, to follow the dissembling of Islamic State, which Washington might hope to have just begun.

With global leaders assembled in New York, ahead of this week’s UN General Assembly, the stage is set now for a barnstorming anti-Islamic State presentation by President Obama on Wednesday. Given the military action ordered late Monday, the president can explain his Syria strategy in action. With real live air war allies (Bahrain, Saudi, UAE and Jordan at the latest count).

It’s intriguing the strikes came a day after Turkey secured the return of more than 40 of its citizens, who had been held by Islamic State.  The group, comprising diplomats and their families, as well as military, had by all accounts been held in Raqaa, the main target for Monday’s bombing raids.

John Kerry on Monday hinted the US was now looking to Turkey to make more of a commitment to the campaign against Islamic State.  The proof, he says now, is in the pudding.

Still, the expansion of the US-led air war to Syria is a powerful display of America’s bona fides to the allies it says it needs for the fight against Islamic State.  It pushes back against the regional view that the Americans are no longer engaged or interested in the Middle East.

But it also extends the Obama administration into deeper waters, luring the president into Syria’s civil war, against what he might once have called his better judgement.

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