Obama’s Plan to Counter the Islamic State Falls Flat in Middle East
An "outsourced" war effort, a "foolish and dangerous" policy that only Israel can be responsible for and that Turkey refuses to participate in. That’s a sampling of the reaction in the Middle East to President Barack Obama’s plans to widen his campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Thursday morning, the ...
An "outsourced" war effort, a "foolish and dangerous" policy that only Israel can be responsible for and that Turkey refuses to participate in. That’s a sampling of the reaction in the Middle East to President Barack Obama’s plans to widen his campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
Thursday morning, the Middle East woke up to news that Obama expects their governments to sign up for as many as three years of airstrikes and military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The media reaction was decidedly mixed.
Echoing Turkey’s opposition to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Arab News reported that "Turkey will not allow a U.S.-led coalition to attack jihadists in neighboring Iraq and Syria from its air bases, nor will it take part in combat operations against militants."
Writing for the Turkish paper Hurriyet, veteran columnist Murat Yetkin accused the Obama administration of "outsourcing" the war against the Islamic State and noted the president’s unwillingness to commit ground forces to the effort.
An op-ed contributor for the Jordan Times criticized the American policy as doing Israel’s bidding: "The only explanation for this foolish and dangerous policy is Israel."
In the Emirates, the National published an editorial that criticized the speech for leaving far too many questions unanswered. "The speech did not dispel the impression that the US still lacks a clear strategy with specific achievable goals," the paper wrote. "This is not entirely surprising, given that a central tenet of Mr Obama’s presidency has been disengagement with the war in Iraq started by his predecessor."
The Arab media remained focused on Thursday’s Jeddah summit, which Secretary of State John Kerry is leading along with foreign ministers and officials from Gulf nations, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. Though Saudi Arabia has agreed to host a training program for Syrian rebels, there is a lack of clarity about what the Obama administration expects countries in the region to contribute to the fight against Islamic State militants. And on Wednesday, American officials seemed to be downplaying those expectations. "The issue is not about increasing the number of countries who will confront the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and other extremist groups, but about clear actions and positions towards these groups," an American official told the pan-Arab daily Al-Awsat.
Elsewhere, Obama’s announcement picked up measured statements of support. The Jordan Times reported that King Abdullah said Wednesday that he "voiced Jordan’s support for regional and international radicalism-combating efforts." Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shokri similarly advocated a global anti-terror strategy. "Cairo will discuss every effort which can be made by the alliance to eradicate the phenomenon of extremist groups in the region," a diplomatic source told Asharq al-Awsat while refusing to specify Egypt’s political or military role.
The Israeli press took a cautious approach to Obama’s speech. Writing for the liberal daily Haaretz, Chemi Shalev offered measured approval of the address. "U.S. President Barack Obama wasn’t Rambo or Captain America on Wednesday night, but his speech on fighting the Islamic State got the job done," he wrote. In an article posted on Ynet News, Orly Azoulay argues that the rise of the Islamic State proves that Obama’s dovish supporters are disconnected from reality. With a degree of satisfaction, he concludes that Obama is looking more and more like his predecessor George W. Bush.
Although Obama’s Wednesday night address was not the top headline across the region, the general threat of terrorist groups dominates the news. Arab News reported on the U.N. peacekeepers freed by the Nusra Front in the Golan Heights. Meanwhile, Turkey has captured and deported 830 Europeans attempting to cross into Syria to fight over the past two years. The Kurdish outlet Rudaw posted that "weapons supplied to a Sunni militia to fight Islamic State militants are instead being sold off in Syria."