War-Torn Washington

Obama Seeks New Coalition of the Willing

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Does he know which way to go?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    What the president proposes is a preemptive strike against an emerging terrorist state that is a growing threat to the West.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The number of refugees fleeing violence in Syria has surpassed 3 million, according to the United Nations.
    • Fighters affiliated with the ISIS terrorist army are estimated to number 10,000 to 17,000.
    • In 2013, President Obama said he would not authorize military strikes in Syria without backing from Congress.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Almost exactly a year ago, the commander-in-chief transformed himself into a constitutional law professor and held a seminar in the magnificent East Room of the White House. Yes, said President Barack Obama, he had the authority to order military attacks in Syria, but he wouldn’t do so without backing from Congress. America would be stronger, he said, if it stood together.

His words then are current again today – even if some in the Obama administration wish they were forgotten. The congressional debate demanded by the president did not proceed in 2013 as he hoped. The plan to punish Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad for killing his own people with poison gas did not convince Congress. A U.S. attack was cancelled and the image of a despondent world power emerged – with a caricature commander-in-chief caught in his own trap of “on the one hand” and “on the other.”

One should learn from mistakes, but the teaching cannot go on without debate. There is only one way for the U.S. government, which is now considering military operations again in Syria, this time against ISIS, the Sunni militant group that is arguably the most powerful terror organization in history. The way leads to Capitol Hill, into Congress. Georges Clemenceau, the French leader during World War I, understood this well: War is too important to leave to generals.

Over the last year, much has happened in Syria and the Middle East, and there is much for President Obama to explain. Meanwhile, America and Mr. Assad are fighting de facto on the same side. They share a common enemy: the bands of murderers in ISIS.

Behind the scenes, the U.S. government has already begun to forge a coalition of the willing against the terror fighters.

 

Behind the scenes, the U.S. government has already begun to forge a coalition of the willing against the terror fighters. Next to Western partners, they include allies from the region. Across the Middle East, where discord and mistrust rule, the Islamic danger has opened a rare chance for cooperation. Against a united community of nations, ISIS would not be able to stand, said Mr. Obama.

Until now, the United States has limited its air strikes to jihadists in Iraq. To legitimize military attacks in Syria, the president invoked the need to protect diplomats there. But the more he expands the operation, his justification becomes weaker. The Pentagon has made its objective clear: The fight against ISIS must be brought to Syria. An estimated 3 million refugees have fled the war-torn country, and that’s where training camps and leadership centers for the terrorist militia have taken root.

The actual war objective is much more comprehensive than protecting embassy staff. It is about a preemptive strike against an emerging terrorist state. It is about getting the threat to the region under control – and preventing ISIS from sending terror squads against the West. How else is U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to be understood when he says: “ISIS must be destroyed.”

This article was translated by Anna Park Kim. Greg Ring also contributed. To contact the author: koch@handelsblatt.com

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