Leaders at the Iraq Peace and Security Conference in Paris, France (Reuters/Michel Euler)
Leaders at the Iraq Peace and Security Conference in Paris, France, September 16, 2014 (Reuters/Michel Euler)

By Harry C. Blaney III

Dateline London

President Obama’s speech to the American people on Wednesday, September 10th finally outlined for the American people, as he did with Congressional leaders on Tuesday, the key elements in the complex and difficult task of “degrading and destroying” ISIS. Much is at stake, not least is the future of the Islamic world, now at the point of a sectarian conflict between Sunni and the Shiite populations, as well as the Kurds. The Middle East is undergoing not only a large scale conflict, but also a fundamental struggle for the future of the entire Middle East and beyond. Obama is right that it is now self-evident that it is America who will lead, but at the same time work with others in this struggle, not least the nations and people of the region itself.

Under Obama’s considered boundaries of our goals and limits, as well as weighing the  risks of possible actions, Secretary Kerry has been given the job of point man to pull together an international coalition of willing nations, most importantly adding key Arab states, particularly the Gulf countries. In addition to bilateral meetings with countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, he also attended a key meeting with Arab League leaders and went on to a Paris meeting of both Western and non-Western nations to look more closely at what is needed to not only coordinate, but to make commitments of resources and arms, as well as key diplomatic activities. There are now ten Arab countries supporting the coalition.

The brutal death of a British citizen by ISIS, with threats of more hostages to be executed, had a significant impact on public opinion, swiftly moving the British public toward supporting some sort of military action. Here in London Prime Minister David Cameron made what was characterized as a “strong” anti-ISIS statement, which had little specifics except for some words of caution, which was taken aback when his new Foreign Secretary indicated that the UK will not take part in air strikes. This was almost immediately disavowed by Downing Street.  The question today in the UK is just how much Britain will contribute with its top rated military besides strong words. This might encourage key Arab states to help on the ground. Cameron is under pressure from both Labor and his Conservative backbenchers to act swiftly with the U.S. One major problem is that all of these countries are being hit by a multitude of problems and for the UK specifically, the Scotland vote on independence, whose outcome is currently too close to call, is certainly bringing about a feeling of dismay. 

Germany needs to act with a strong commitment, as do others, in order to show there is real burden sharing. The French seem to be more involved and ready to participate than some of the other nations within the EU and NATO. The crisis in Ukraine has understandably distracted others. European media and expert voices in Europe are of mixed views on what should be done; with some concern that, whatever is done, not be counterproductive.

The fundamental need, which is also the most difficult, is to bring together two major sects of Islam who have lived for hundreds of years in varying degrees of conflict. And that unity has to be done with a swiftness that boggles the mind and stretches our hopes. Yet it must be done or all our efforts now will be for naught in the long-run.  Both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are, together with others in the administration, wisely making a “full court press” to gain this end. This effort is not only the right track, but is also so much better than the wrong-headed Bush II war and occupation in Iraq which started this cataclysm. This effort starts in Iraq which must, in the end, find unity and joint determination to act as a single nation. 

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