There are ideas and calls in the US arena for stronger, firmer, and more decisive measures to implement the policy declared by US President Barack Obama to eliminate ISIS, as part of a comprehensive and calculated strategy away from arbitrariness and hesitation. Many high-level military officials who previously served in senior posts have started talking publicly about the “failure” of the United States to defeat al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and other radical Islamists because of the policies and decisions of the executive branch, particularly under Obama. Some are talking about the need for an Arab version of NATO, stressing the crucial importance of an actual US partnership with such an alliance, as this would serve the US interest. Otherwise -- as one such military voice cautioned -- the threat of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and radical Islamists is coming to the US homeland. John McCain, Republican senator and Chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, says eliminating ISIS is contingent upon the Obama administration adopting a clear position against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian allies. He says that in the short term, there is no other option but to create no-fly zones in Syria while significantly stepping up air strikes with the participation of special forces on the ground, which would bolster those fighting ISIS and the regime in Damascus. In the long run, McCain believes it is necessary to create an Arab force in Syria and Iraq with broad US participation in the air and limited participation on the ground, with the goal of supporting the Arab force. He explains that any Iranian participation in the war on ISIS in Syria is unacceptable because of what he calls the unholy alliance between Iran and Syria, saying that any US consent of this would be immoral. But what is absent from the US discourse on how to defeat ISIS is the need for a quasi-preemptive strategy in Yemen and Libya, which are becoming a fertile ground for the growth of Islamic radicalism in all forms. What is present so far is the continued reluctance to lead in earnest, not only because of the attitudes, personality, and thinking of President Obama, but also because of the inherent inconsistency in the US public opinion and character.
The Arab public opinion is no less inconsistent or lazy than the US and European public opinion, albeit it is sharper. The whole world has now seen the appalling yet calculated barbarism in the high quality, high definition video footage of ISIS’s immolation of the captured young Jordanian pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh. Jordan and the Arab and Muslim countries are riding a wave of anger and outrage at the horrific crime and the baseness of ISIS, which poses an existential threat to the Arab nations.
But it is not enough to be angry. The Arab and Muslim worlds must rise up against ISIS. Those who consider the group a natural response to Iranian encroachment in the Arab region and those who see ISIS as an instrument of responding to Shiite exclusion of Sunnis in Iraq must desist. Otherwise, this will only be an investment in burning the Arab spirit and Islamic principles.
The above requires regional and international policies that would accompany it in order for it to succeed or even happen. In this context, it is vital to repair the US-led international anti-ISIS coalition, where Obama must stop avoiding international decisions, gaffes, hesitation, and shirking what the circumstances require him to do.
President Obama said the barbaric execution would “redouble the vigilance and determination on the part of global coalition to make sure that they [ISIS] are degraded and ultimately defeated.” But one question is this: How will the US president translate this pledge into action as the leader of the coalition? The poles of the coalition are reproachful of Obama because of his political attitudes that are averse to clarity and devoid of strategy, such as by insisting on the need for Bashar al-Assad to step down without having a roadmap or practical preparations for implementing this. They are also reproachful because of the lack of US military preparations in the framework of the coalition.
The UAE suspended its air operations against ISIS, urging the United States to provide better protection for pilots in the event their planes are downed by moving US search and rescue equipment from Kuwait to northern Iraq. The UAE is right to do so.
Jordan will need more and more after King Abdullah II ordered the death sentences against Sajida Rishawi to be implemented. ISIS had demanded Rishawi’s release in return for the pilot Kasasbeh, at a time when it had already burned him alive a month ago.
In the beginning, some Jordanian tribes, when Jordan declared its intention to do a prisoner swap, called publicly for Jordan to withdraw from the international anti-ISIS coalition saying this was not Jordan’s war. After the video was posted, the Jordanian tribes including that of Kasasbeh’s father began calling for revenge and supported the decision of King Abdullah to expedite the death sentences involving convicted jihadists and to remain in the coalition.
It is likely that ISIS would step up its revenge and escalate against Jordan. For its part, Jordan will likely resume its air sorties as part of the coalition’s air campaign against ISIS, after having suspended its operations following the capture of the Jordanian pilot. This will require the members of the coalition, especially the United States, to implement practical and advances measures to protect Jordan. Here, Japan may be the first country to step up support for Jordan, after ISIS executed a Japanese journalist. ISIS had linked his release to the release of Sajida Rishawi, a demand Jordan agreed to but in return for the release of both the Japanese and Jordanian hostage and demanded proof of life. The deal was unsuccessful.
It is therefore expected that a serious and comprehensive review of the work of the international coalition would take place, in the aftermath of the beheadings and immolation exhibited by ISIS this week. It is now clear that air strikes alone will not bring about the full defeat of ISIS, and that there is no alternative to a clearer and broader political and military strategy in the air and on the ground.
The Arab and international popular climate is now more open to more stringent measures to stop the horrendous crimes perpetrated by ISIS, which has moved from beheading to burning