Politics & Policy

Obama Announces New ISIS Sanctions

Putting his foot down (White House via Flickr)
No Disneyland visits for deputy commanders; Happy Meals for the Peshmerga.

Washington, August 25. Briefly interrupting his latest vacation, President Obama made a surprise visit to the nation’s capital today to announce that his administration is taking forceful action to stop the advance of the violent extremist movement calling itself the Islamic State, and otherwise known as ISIS.

“The Islamic State is a cancer on the region, and represents a horrendous threat to civilized humanity worldwide,” the president said. “Therefore I am announcing today a series of powerful actions to halt, and ultimately destroy, this menace. The brutal murderers of James Foley will soon see exactly what it means to incur the righteous wrath of the United States of America.”

Following the president’s announcement, White House spokesperson Benjamin Rhodes stepped up to the podium to detail the measures to be taken. “Our strategy consists of two components,” Mr. Rhodes said. “We will punish ISIS directly, and will provide strong assistance to those forces in the region willing and able to fight it.”

“In line with this, as a direct punitive measure to be taken as soon as possible, the State Department will shortly release a list of six regional ISIS deputy commanders who will be denied entrance visas to the United States for the foreseeable future. This will send a powerful message to all ISIS officers: You can cut off the heads of American citizens, or you can visit Disneyland. You can’t do both.”

Asked by reporters why the administration was only targeting deputy regional ISIS commanders, rather than higher-level officials, Mr. Rhodes explained that the U.S. actions “are being carefully calibrated to represent a proportionate response,” but that “should ISIS continue to escalate its violence beyond the current level, all options, including visa denials to actual regional commanders, are on the table, and will be considered in due course.” Mr. Rhodes added that even ISIS government ministers could eventually be held accountable and denied U.S. entrance visas themselves, “provided, of course, that direct culpability of such senior officials in specific atrocities is first proven by a thorough forensic investigation and confirmed in accord with proper standards of evidence and due process in a court of law.”

As the second part of the strategy, Mr. Rhodes said, the administration will provide full American support to the Kurdish Peshmerga, “our brave and loyal allies, who are currently the principle force combatting ISIS in the field.” In accord with this decision, Mr. Rhodes said that the U.S. government would “move as quickly as possible to provide the Kurds with massive amounts of non-lethal military assistance, with immediate aid in the form of 10,000 McDonald’s Happy Meal gift certificates to be authorized no later than the September 30 end of the fiscal year.”

In accord with current longstanding agreements, Mr. Rhodes added that, once released from Pentagon arsenals, the gift certificates would be sent to the Iraqi national government in Baghdad for further processing, prior to being sent on to the Kurdish headquarters in Erbil. “This could conceivably cause further delays,” Mr. Rhodes conceded, particularly if continued infighting among the various factions in Baghdad stalls the formation of “a truly multicultural, non-corrupt, nonsectarian government that can be verified to meet American standards for assistance.”

“Nevertheless,” Mr. Rhodes said, “we are confident that with the exertion of energy, cooperation, and goodwill on the part of all parties involved, we can expedite the shipment and get the Kurds the gift certificates, or at least a substantial fraction of them, well before the end of FY 2015.”

#page#As a final measure to emphasize the isolation of the Islamic State regime, Mr. Rhodes announced that the administration had decided to cancel American participation in the International Disabled Pet Olympics, which are scheduled to take place in Mosul in 2018, unless ISIS agrees to take immediate measures to reduce the number of public decapitations to more reasonable levels.

Reaction in Europe to the administration’s moves varied from cautious approval to shock. Speaking in Berlin at a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, German chancellor Angela Merkel said that she thought the American moves were “worthy of study,” and that, should ISIS continue to expand its depredations, she would be willing to consider submitting a smaller list, of perhaps two or three ISIS regional deputy commanders, as candidates for similar sanctions when European Union leaders meet to confer on foreign-policy issues in Brussels this November. Also present at the celebration marking three-quarters of a century of Russian-German cooperation was Russian president Vladimir Putin. Mr. Putin commended Ms. Merkel on her “wise restraint” in avoiding headlong endorsement of the “very aggressive” American actions, but he added that, regardless, the Kurds would not be able to use their gift certificates in Moscow, as the McDonald’s outlets there were being shut down due to health and dietary concerns on the part of the local authorities.

Mr. Putin’s supporters on the streets of Berlin were not so diplomatic, however, and hundreds of thousands of demonstrators mobilized by the leftist Der Linke and the neo-Nazi NPD rioted, smashing shop windows on the fashionable Unter der Linden avenue in protest of the chancellor’s apparent “endorsement of American imperialism.”

In Paris, French president Franç​ois Hollande was more supportive of the Obama administration’s actions but said that Europe needed to develop its own anti-ISIS strategy, based on its own needs, priorities, and capabilities. He added that, rather than trying to prevent potential Islamic State tourists from seeing, enjoying, and being culturally uplifted by visits to Paris, it would be far more effective to take measures to undercut the finances of the terrorist group. This could be done, he said, if the British government were to impose measures blocking the transfer of Qatari funds to the City of London bank accounts of the Islamic State. In response, British prime minister David Cameron countered that Mr. Hollande’s  criticism of British banks as financial facilitators of ISIS would be more convincing if the French government would take action on its own accord to cancel the sale of two atomic bombs being manufactured in France for delivery to ISIS later this year. This jab, in turn, was immediately rejected by Mr. Hollande, who pointed out that the bombs had been duly contracted for, and that France stood to lose billions of euros, as well as thousands of jobs on not only these but also future bomb contracts, should it fail to deliver as promised. “In any case,” Mr. Hollande added, “the honor of France is at stake.”

Reaction from the Islamic State itself was swift and harsh. Speaking from Mosul, a senior ISIS official said that the Islamic State would continue its offensive regardless of the powerful sanctions, which in an apparent effort to put on a brave face, he chose to call “ridiculous.” “What do we care about being denied visas for entry into the United States?” he said. “Who needs permission to enter the United States? When we want to enter the United States, we will enter the United States. Who is going to stop us?”

— Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Energy and the author of Energy Victory. The paperback edition of his latest book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, was recently published by Encounter Books.

Robert Zubrin — Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Astronautics and of the Mars Society. His next book, The Case for Space: How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility, will be published by Prometheus Books in 2019.

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