The big news out of the new “Global Coalition to Counter ISIL” meeting in Paris was that “several” Arab nations were willing to join President Obama’s latest bombing campaign.
“Several Arab states have offered to conduct airstrikes against militants in Iraq,” Anne Gearan and Karla Adam write in the Washington Post:
“A lot of this is still in the discussion phase, but I want to be clear that there have been offers, both to Centcom and to the Iraqis, of Arab countries taking more aggressive kinetic action against ISIL,” including airstrikes, a senior State Department official said in Paris, using an alternative acronym for the militant network.
David E. Sanger, Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt have more in the New York Times:
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking from Paris, declined to say which states had offered to contribute air power, an announcement that White House officials said could await his return to testify in Congress early this week. State Department officials, who asked not to be identified under the agency’s protocol for briefing reporters, said Arab nations could participate in an air campaign against ISIS in other ways without dropping bombs, such as by flying arms to Iraqi or Kurdish forces, conducting reconnaissance flights or providing logistical support and refueling.
The refusal to officially identify the countries, however, doesn’t inspire confidence; it also creates a serious lack of accountability on all sides.
One might reasonably think the people of the United Arab Emirates and Saudia Arabia might want to know what their governments are pledging to do.
And here in the U.S., if our officials won’t even acknowledge what countries are involved, it’s hard to pursue answers to the crucial follow-up question: What did we give up in return?
That may be particularly important when the next shoe drops: presumably an Egyptian one. As University of Michigan professor and Middle East blogger Juan Cole writes, getting the Egyptian government on board involves a whole host of potential contradictions and concessions:
Kerry deeply wanted buy-in from Egypt, the most populous Arab state and the most important military power among the Arabs. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, however, insisted that the strategy be wider-ranging than just a push against ISIL He wanted a campaign against “terrorism” in general. Al-Sisi’s government has declared devotees of political Islam, i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood, to be terrorists. Al-Sisi believes he can “turn” Obama, getting him to stop criticizing Egypt for the overthrow of the Morsi (Muslim Brotherhood) government, and that the US need for him gives him a trump card in this regard.
And wait. It gets even more complicated:
[I]f Obama agreed with al-Sisi to pursue a global ‘war on terrorism’ together, he would be in the difficult position of opposing the Free Syrian Army and of agreeing to help crush the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood– among the major opposition groups to both ISIL and the Baath regime in Damascus.
The 26 countries in the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL — Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the U.S. — all signed a pledge to fight against the Islamic State in Iraq using “any means necessary”, including military action.
But there were no details announced. And even the U.S.’s most stalwart and imperial partner, the United Kingdom, wouldn’t actually commit to any specifics.
In Britain’s case, it’s not because of lack of enthusiasm in London — it’s because the government is afraid of losing Scotland.
As Jonathan Marcus reported for the BBC, the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence — to be held on Thursday — may mean a brief delay in any announcement:
The contest there is so close that any decision in London on military action might tip a vital fringe of Scottish voters into the “Yes” camp given the wider hostility to what some might see as “London’s wars”.
From the Washington Post:
Jonathan Eyal, international director at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank, said that Britain will probably join the U.S. effort in some fashion but that any serious signals of that intent at this time would “provide wind in the sails of the nationalists.”
“It brings back painful memories of the Blair period,” he said, referring to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was deeply unpopular in Scotland. “It would be very easy for nationalists in Scotland to claim that ‘See, this is what happens if you remain part of the U.K.’?”
John Kerry looking on during a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri in Cairo on Sept. 13, 2014.
Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Pool/AP