In two statements on operations in Iraq over the past week, President Obama has repeatedly described the Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL) as merely a humanitarian emergency and a threat to our personnel and facilities in Iraq. He has studiously avoided admitting that it is a threat to Americans at home, for the obvious reason that if he does that, he will face pressure to take decisive action to degrade the Islamic State itself.
The allies are getting ahead of him, however. The French government has been calling for action against the Islamic State for weeks. And now even British prime minister David Cameron, a barely-visible shadow of his predecessors, admits that the Islamic State is a “direct and deadly threat to Britain.” In a new Telegraph op-ed he writes:
The creation of an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and extending into Syria is not a problem miles away from home. Nor is it a problem that should be defined by a war 10 years ago. It is our concern here and now. Because if we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain. We already know that it has the murderous intent. Indeed, the first Isil-inspired terrorist acts on the continent of Europe have already taken place.
It will be interesting to see whether the allies’ appeals have any effect on Obama. He remains impressively committed to his small collection of ideas about foreign policy. As I argued in my piece on the homepage over the weekend, he has jettisoned the core of the national-security strategy the U.S. adopted on a broadly bipartisan basis after the attacks of 9/11 — particularly its doctrine of shoring up failing states and preventing terrorist safe havens. In fact, as incredible as this may seem, he’s still glad he pulled our troops out of Iraq in 2011. Had we left 10,000 troops there, he recently explained, they would only be sitting in the middle of the current chaos. Never mind the obvious point that those troops could have prevented the current chaos, by controlling the Syrian–Iraqi border, shoring up Iraq’s defenses, and dissuading what would have been a suicidal Islamic State assault on heavily armed U.S. troops.
We could soon see the French and British putting ground forces in Iraq to clean up the intolerable mess that Obama’s negligence has helped create. Irony of ironies, Obama is unwittingly pushing the French and British to reassert themselves as imperial Great Powers, if only for self-protection.