Obama’s Anti-ISIS Coalition Seems To Exist Only In His Mind

Despite the President's assurances of an international coalition, the rest of the world doesn't seem all that interested in joining the fight.

obama-isil-speech

In his speech on Wednesday night, President Obama emphasized yet again that American military involvement in the fight against ISIS would be limited to airstrikes and providing material support for others who would be doing the actual ground fighting against a terrorist organization that has looked more and more like an army as the summer has passed. This would be made possible, he assured us then and Administration officials have assured Americans in subsequent comments on countless news programs, thanks to the cooperation and material assistance that would be provided by the coalition that the President intends to assemble to fight this new threat. Though nothing specific has been announced, this supposed coalition has been said to include everyone from Britain and other NATO allies to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Jordan, and Egypt. Left off the list, for obvious reasons, are nations such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has been as vehement as the President in its denunciation of ISIS, and the Assad regime in Syria, which is fighting a civil war against ISIS and other rebel organizations. Thanks to this coalition, we are being told, the United States will not need to worry about putting “boots on the ground,” although that statement largely ignores the fact that there would inevitable be special forces and other troops that would be on the ground in Iraq and Syria to provide training and to act as surveillance and scouting for air strikes.

As it turns out, though, that coalition isn’t coming together as easily as the Administration would like it to:

Many Arab governments grumbled quietly in 2011 as the United States left Iraq, fearful it might fall deeper into chaos or Iranian influence. Now, the United States is back and getting a less than enthusiastic welcome, with leading allies like Egypt, Jordan and Turkey all finding ways on Thursday to avoid specific commitments to President Obama’s expanded military campaign against Sunni extremists.

As the prospect of the first American strikes inside Syria crackled through the region, the mixed reactions underscored the challenges of a new military intervention in the Middle East, where 13 years of chaos, from Sept. 11 through the Arab Spring revolts, have deepened political and sectarian divisions and increased mistrust of the United States on all sides.

“As a student of terrorism for the last 30 years, I am afraid of that formula of ‘supporting the American effort,’ ” said Diaa Rashwan, a scholar at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a government-funded policy organization in Cairo. “It is very dangerous.”

The tepid support could further complicate the already complex task Mr. Obama has laid out for himself in fighting the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria: He must try to confront the group without aiding Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, or appearing to side with Mr. Assad’s Shiite allies, Iran and the militant group Hezbollah, against discontented Sunnis across the Arab world.

(…)

The foreign minister of Egypt — already at odds with Mr. Obama over the American decision to withhold some aid after the Egyptian military’s ouster last year of the elected president — complained that Egypt’s hands were full with its own fight against “terrorism,” referring to the Islamist opposition.

In Jordan, the state news agency reported that in a meeting about the extremists on Wednesday, King Abdullah II had told Secretary of State John Kerry “that the Palestinian cause remains the core of the conflict in the region” and that Jordan was focusing on the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

Turkey, which Mr. Kerry will visit on Friday, is concerned about attacks across its long border with ISIS-controlled Syria, and also about 49 Turkish government employees captured by the group in Iraq. Speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, an official advised not to expect public support for the American effort.

At a meeting in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, to build a coalition for the American mission, at least 10 Arab states signed a communiqué pledging to join “in the many aspects of a coordinated military campaign,” but with the qualification “as appropriate” and without any specifics. Turkey attended the meeting but declined to sign.

The early prospects for this coalition that seems to exist only in President Obama’s mind at the moment seem to have been brought even further into doubt with the announcement today that Turkey would not allow the United States to use its territory to attack ISIS:

Turkey will refuse to 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, a government official told AFP Thursday.

“Turkey will not be involved in any armed operation but will entirely concentrate on humanitarian operations,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

The decision echoes the country’s refusal to allow the U.S. to station 60,000 troops in Turkey in 2003 to invade Iraq from the north, which triggered a crisis between the two allies.

(…)

After a lightning advance, ISIS militants now control swathes of Iraq and much of northern Syria along the Turkish border.

Turkey now sees itself a victim of ISIS with Islamist militants holding 49 Turks hostage, including diplomats and children, abducted from the Turkish consulate in Mosul in Iraq on June 11.

Ankara is therefore reluctant to take a stronger role in the coalition against ISIS militants in apparent fear of aggravating the hostage situation.

“Our hands and arms are tied because of the hostages,” the official told AFP.

Turkey can open Incirlik Air Base in the south for logistical and humanitarian operations in any U.S.-led operation, according to the official who stressed that the base would not be used for lethal air strikes.

“Turkey will not take part in any combat mission, nor supply weapons,” he said.

Even some of our supposedly most dependable European allies are choosing to limit their involvement:

The foreign ministers of Germany and Britain said on Thursday they would not be taking part in air strikes in Syria against the Islamic State militant group.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told a news conference in Berlin that Germany has not been asked to take part in the air strikes and would not be participating. “To quite clear, we have not been asked to do so and neither will we do so,” Steinmeier said.

His British counterpart Philip Hammond said Britain “supports entirely the U.S. approach of developing an international coalition” against the Islamic State, whom he described as “barbaric”, and said that in terms of how to help such a coalition “we have ruled nothing out”.

But, asked by Reuters after his meeting with Steinmeier about President Barrack Obama’s proposal for air strikes against IS in Syria, Hammond replied: “Let me be clear: Britain will not be taking part in any air strikes in Syria. We have already had that discussion in our parliament last year and we won’t be revisiting that position.”

As Marc Eisner notes, it is somewhat puzzling why the President would announce a plan that is heavily dependent on the existence of an international coalition before there are even the barest of indications that such a coalition can be formed. It’s true that we have at least some level of support from the members of NATO, but as even President Obama admitted in his speech on Wednesday, no fight against ISIS can succeed without the support and involvement of the nations in the Middle East that are most threatened by the rise of this nascent nation state. More importantly, this kind of coalition would seem to be crucial to the President’s ability to be able to keep his promise that American combat troops would not be sent back into Iraq, or into Syria or anywhere else that this fight against ISIS, which we seem to be committed to now for better or for worse, might bring us. Without that support, then the United States is likely to find itself faced at some point in the future with the choice of either accepting the fact that our “war” against ISIS will be a limited one, and that ISIS will likely be able to consolidate the gains it has made on the ground in Iraq and Syria, or introducing American ground troops into the war. For obvious political reasons, the President would like to avoid having to make this choice at all, but he may find himself forced into it if the coalition that he envisions ends up being a coalition of one.

The other point that the reluctance of other nations to join the fight brings up, of course, is whether the United States should even be engaging in this conflict if the people that are most directly impacted by it are not willing to do their share. As I noted before the President’s speech, the most immediate threat that ISIS poses is to the regimes in the region, not just Iraq and Syria, but also Lebanon and, potentially, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. They are more likely to be interested in striking at Riyadh than they are Washington, D.C. at the moment. Given that, one would think that these nations would be the ones most strongly motivated to defend themselves. If they aren’t willing to do so, though, then perhaps we need to ask ourselves why we are expending American blood, treasure, and international credibility on their behalf.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Europe, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Politicians, Terrorism, US Politics, World Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    @munchboxgrad:

    You don’t know what you’re talking about. Of course Saudi Arabia is their target, they aren’t looking to hide in caves, they want a Caliphate which, almost by definition would mean “defending” the holy places of Islam. Those are in the KSA. Their road to legitimacy lies through Riyadh and Mecca.

    Attacking a superior power when you are trying to hold territory is a bad idea as both the original Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Hamas could testify. An attack on the US would just mean the Americans switching up from pinprick decapitation strikes with drones and F-16s to full-on B1 and B52 missions most likely backed by Marines. So unless they’re suicidal they’ll go for the winning move, which would be Saudi Arabia.

  2. Tyrell says:

    @michael reynolds: I wonder what would happen if they mess with Turkey.

  3. Eric Florack says:

    @munchboxgrad: agreed.
    Its as Tom Maquire of Just One Minute says

    The Times noted that our Arab allies seem a bit tentative. No kidding – Obama and Kerry were wrong about the surge in ’07, wrong about the Iraqi troop withdrawals in ’11, wrong to walk away from post-Qadaffi Libya in ’11, wrong not to arm the moderate Syrian rebels in ’11, wrong to draw a faux red line in 2013, and now no one will get behind him? The headless chickens have come home to roost.

    And wasn’t I taking heat from the usual suspects for saying nobody trusts Obama, and rightly so?

  4. Eric Florack says:

    @michael reynolds: Hmmm. Terrorists will be suicidal?
    Um…. yeah.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    @Eric Florack:
    The flunkies are suicidal. The bosses not so much.

  6. James Pearce says:

    “the President’s ability to be able to keep his promise that American combat troops”

    Alright….Grown-Up Time. Enough about promises. The only thing more non-binding than a promise is dish soap.

  7. Gustopher says:

    I’m pretty sure an independent Kurdistan would allow us to use their air bases and territory. We could just create allies we need… You know, if Turkey won’t help.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    @munchboxgrad:

    I get paid to produce about 1000 pages a year of camera-ready, commercial fiction for young adults. I throw the pompous leftist thing in for free.

    Learn something before you start talking about what you don’t even remotely understand. You have a computer, get your head out of right-wing propaganda pages and if nothing else start scrolling through Wikipedia entries on islam, on middle eastern history, on military history, etc. If you don’t even know the basics – and you don’t – then it won’t take a pompous leftist to blow you out of the water, any bright 5th grader could do it.

  9. Eric Florack says:

    @michael reynolds: well, okaaaaayyyy

    But that makes two assumptions.

    1: that the bosses are who you think they are. Given the number of errors listed above and yet more beyond those in terms of IFF (identifying freind or foe) you’re on shakey ground right at the off. To put it mildly, I’m unconvinced.

    2: You seem to be taking the more cynical, (and possibly quite correct) assumption that whoever is funding all this doesn’t really worry about the precepts of Islam. Beyond the point that this is not yet entered into evidence, all I can suggest is a closer look at the effects over the centuries of Islam on its followers… even the marginal ones. (I commend to you the writings of Sir Winston Churchill on the subject)

  10. President Camacho says:

    Why join us when every country knows we are dumb enough to do it w/o them. The rest of the world is having some budget problems unlike the US, oh wait….

  11. anjin-san says:

    the effects over the centuries of Islam on its followers

    Yep. Nothing like those gentle, peaceful Christians.

    Well, Jesus was gentle and peaceful, but the lesson did not really seem to take hold. I’m curious bit, how do you reconcile your obvious desire for a genocidal war against Islam with the teachings of Christ?

  12. michael reynolds says:

    @Eric Florack:

    A) Eric, it’s not a question of identifying the leaders: no leaders ever, of any movement ever, are ever suicidal. Ever. Power lust and suicide do not go together. That’s why Marshall Foch and his pals did not go running into no-man’s land yelling, “Kill the boche!” Even the top Japanese leadership in WW2 wasn’t rushing out to commit seppuku. The “martyrs” are suckers used to advance the agenda of the men in power. Cannon-fodder. Al-Baghdadi wants to be Caliph, he doesn’t want to be dead.

    B) Stop thinking in simplistic terms. The KSA encompasses many interests and power centers. Some of the powers there like to fund crazies, others want to hold onto power at all costs. King Abdullah is not interested in putting on a martyr’s bomb vest or in having some hothead jihadi chop off his head. The KSA may fall to jihadis, but that’s very different from imagining that because some Saudis support ISIL they all want ISIL to take over.

    Nuance. Complexity.

  13. dazedandconfused says:

    It’s a big ask, finding people who don’t want genocidal maniacs in the oil patch. Obama! What were you thinking?? Consult with some pundits next time, would ya?

  14. Eric Florack says:

    @anjin-san: ever read revelations?

    @michael reynolds: ever heard of Napolian? Hitler? do those names ring any bells? Not suicidal? Comon, Mike, youre better than that

  15. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @anjin-san: Well, Jesus was gentle and peaceful, but the lesson did not really seem to take hold.

    Jesus was no pacifist. See Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, and Matthew 10:34.

    Jesus was no hippie.

  16. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @michael reynolds: Eric, it’s not a question of identifying the leaders: no leaders ever, of any movement ever, are ever suicidal. Ever.

    You are generally correct, but you shouldn’t talk in absolutes. Jim Jones, Adolf Hitler, Imperial Japan, Marshall Applewhite… there is no lack of suicidal leaders in history. Hell, I just covered the last 70 years, and those were just off the top of my head.

  17. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Eric Florack: It’s Revelation, singular, and Napoleon.

    That’s if you’re referring to the Book of Revelation and Napoleon Bonaparte.

  18. Eric Florack says:

    @anjin-san: ya know, you should stop trying to think. it gives everyone around you a headache.

    You know what the difference is between the two groups? One managed to make it out of the 14th century. Telling, which one of them you attack.

  19. Eric Florack says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: good additions.
    And perhaps we should say, that those listed are all of western cultures. (OK, I know, japan… but you get the point)
    Islam, and its adherents, are not, in the end. different basic philosophy.

  20. PAUL HOOSON says:

    Did You Know That Pinocchio Was A Bad Motivational Speaker?

    “And this anti-ISIS coalition isn’t just the United States going it all alone, you’re a member, and you’re a member, and….Oh, Boy!

  21. Ron Beasley says:

    As I noted this morning over at TMV it is the coalition of of the coalition to do do nothing.

  22. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    You know what the difference is between the two groups? One managed to make it out of the 14th century.

    Really? Which one?

    We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the ideas of Christianity … in fact our movement is Christian… Adolf Hitler

  23. anjin-san says:

    @ Jenos

    Matthew 10:34.

    So you don’t understand that the sword Jesus refers to here is metaphorical? Spend a few minutes on Google and get informed.

    Here is what Jesus had to say about actual swords:

    Matthew 26:52:

    “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.

    As for Matthew 21:12 – Jesus overturned tables. He did not assault or injure anyone. A peaceful and gentle man can still overturn a table and kick people out of the temple if they don’t belong there. Jesus was, in many ways the forerunner of the hippies.

  24. michael reynolds says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Good grief. Napoleon and Hitler.

    And I bother, why?

  25. walt moffett says:

    Considering our tendency to come guns a blazing then bug out, forgetting who our friends were makes me wonder if anyone is willing to “.. sign for some damn fool idealistic crusade”.

  26. Grewgills says:

    @Eric Florack:

    @anjin-san: ever read revelations?

    The Book of Revelation was written by John, not Jesus.

    @michael reynolds: ever heard of Napolian? Hitler? do those names ring any bells? Not suicidal? Comon, Mike, youre better than that

    Neither of them was suicidal while leading. Hitler only committed suicide when all was lost. Napoleon didn’t commit suicide even after he was exiled. You chose two very poor examples of suicidal leaders. I’m beginning to doubt you have more than a very passing acquaintance with history.

  27. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    Red letter Jesus was a hippie. Taking a sword to your parents was about cutting ties to your non spiritual commitments. It is an almost Buddhist sentiment. The turning over the tables of the money changers was also a pretty hippie/occupy wall street move. The examples you cited show Jesus the hippie, not Jesus the supporter of physically violent change.

  28. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    You are generally correct, but you shouldn’t talk in absolutes. Jim Jones, Adolf Hitler, Imperial Japan, Marshall Applewhite… there is no lack of suicidal leaders in history.

    Only two of those were suicidal and both of them took out themselves and their groups with no casualties outside of their deluded followers and in the case of Jones, sadly, their children. Hitler committed suicide when he had lost everything. Emperor Hirohito didn’t die until 1989, so the whole suicidal leader moniker doesn’t really fit.

  29. anjin-san says:

    @ Grewgills

    The examples you cited show Jesus the hippie, not Jesus the supporter of physically violent change.

    As Stephen Stills once said, “Jesus was the first non-violent revolutionary”

  30. Eric Florack says:

    @anjin-san: amazingly OT.
    It must bother you greatly that GWB is still the gold standard for establishing coalitions in the middle east, while Dear Learder is such a massive failure in that regard, for you to chasing such shadows.
    But, there it is.

  31. Matt says:

    @Eric Florack: Well after your boy screwed it up so bad I’m not surprised few are interested in part 2.

    Personally I see no good options other then supporting the kurds. This is a local problem and it’s blatantly obvious ISIS ISIL whatever is trying to bait us.

  32. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Add the teachings of Christ to the long and ever lengthening list on which Jenos has proven himself entirely ignorant. I wonder what’s next.

  33. wr says:

    @Grewgills: “Emperor Hirohito didn’t die until 1989, so the whole suicidal leader moniker doesn’t really fit.”

    Maybe he was just really, really clever… he committed suicide but waited until he could diguise it with duodenal cancer so no one would know..

  34. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Grewgills: Only two of those were suicidal and both of them took out themselves and their groups with no casualties outside of their deluded followers and in the case of Jones, sadly, their children. Hitler committed suicide when he had lost everything. Emperor Hirohito didn’t die until 1989, so the whole suicidal leader moniker doesn’t really fit.

    Congressman Leo Ryan and several members of his party would disagree with your first assertion, but, sadly, they were murdered and can’t speak any more. As for the second part, note I said “Imperial Japan,” not the Emperor — and quite a few members of the leadership did take their own lives, along with significant numbers of the rank and file.

    Here’s a friendly hint: if you’re going to move the goalposts, you really should move them so you end up with an advantage.

  35. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Eric Florack: It must bother you greatly that GWB is still the gold standard for establishing coalitions in the middle east, while Dear Learder is such a massive failure in that regard, for you to chasing such shadows.

    Wrong again. George H. W. Bush is the gold standard, not his son. The coalition put together for the 1991 Gulf War was a masterwork of diplomacy.

  36. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @anjin-san: As for Matthew 21:12 – Jesus overturned tables. He did not assault or injure anyone. A peaceful and gentle man can still overturn a table and kick people out of the temple if they don’t belong there.

    Yeah, it’s real peaceful to walk into a temple, start tossing around furniture, and throw out people who are there with the permission of the temple’s authorities.

    But I am reconsidering my use of “hippies.” The true hippies were, in many ways, the forerunners of modern libertarians. Perhaps I should have avoided the shorthand and said Jesus was no wimpy pacifist flower-child.

  37. James Joyner says:

    In fairness, I thought it pretty clear that the “allies” here were going to be the Iraqi Army, Iraqi Kurd pehsmerga, the Iraqi Sunni “national guard” that we’re supposedly going to set up, and some fictional Syrian Sunni moderates. I think there’s a near-zero chance that they’ll constitute an adequate ground force to “destroy ISIL,” as I’ve pointed out numerous times since the speech. But this was never going to be a coalition of the type Bush the Elder assembled for Iraq War I, Bush the Younger assembled for Iraq War II, or even the one Obama assembled for Libya.

  38. Eric Florack says:

    @Matt: actually, the issue was leaving too soon.
    Obama.
    All for political reasons.

    @James Joyner: agreed.

    @Jenos Idanian #13: I suppose that to depend on how you measure it. I’d be interested in seeing you you do that.

  39. Jack says:

    As Marc Eisner notes, it is somewhat puzzling why the President would announce a plan that is heavily dependent on the existence of an international coalition before there are even the barest of indications that such a coalition can be formed.

    Obama won the Nobel Prize with less than 9 months in office, I’m sure he can turn this little “disagreement” with coalition partners around in a day or two.

  40. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    Apologies, Jones did take out a few outsiders due to his paranoia, but that is still a rather poor example when the comparison is to groups employing suicide bombers.

    note I said “Imperial Japan,” not the Emperor — and quite a few members of the leadership did take their own lives, along with significant numbers of the rank and file.

    The rank and file are entirely beside the point, as you were arguing that the leaders of these groups were suicidal. The leader of Imperial Japan was quite obviously not suicidal. As to the other ‘leadership’ a few generals felt disgraced and committed or attempted seppuku others were executed for war crimes. Your characterization that quite a few members of the leadership took their own lives is ahistorical and also quite off the mark for what was being discussed. The only people that committed suicide for tactical advantage were rank and file. The only leaders that committed suicide did so after they had lost and felt disgraced. They were not suicidal as leaders, they were suicidal as losers. I didn’t move the goalposts, but nice try at doing so on your part.

  41. Tyrell says:

    When there is absence of strong capable leadership, as in Iraq, these kind of things happen. Too bad the big three aren’t around: Allenby, Lawrence, Feisal. The British seemed to keep things stable in that part of the world.
    What will Iran do ?

  42. stonetools says:

    One thing that is absent from Doug’s analysis here is the activity of the Republicans and the right wing BS machine. It is as if they are totally absent and as if the President should show no consideration for their activity. In actuality, they have been whipping the public into a frenzy over ISIL and have been blaming the President for everything ISIL does. Can Doug at least consider that his favored political party bears a good deal of responsibility for motivating the President to “get tough?” or is that too much to ask?
    Secondly, say what you like about the sketchy underpinnings of the President’s strategy, you also have to look at what’s acctually happening. If you actually go beyond the theory, you will see that the stategy is actually working. One month ago, ISIL had:

    1. captured Mosul and its strategically crucial dam.
    2. Was at the gates of Baghdad.
    3. Was driviing on the Kurds and was threatening important oilfields at Irbil.
    4.Had surrounded 50, 000 members of a religious minority-Yazidis- and was poised to
    massacre them.
    5. Had just beheaded two US journalists with apparent impunity.

    Since that time,ISIL has been driven back in Iraq, the Yazidis have been rescued, and Mosul dam has been recaptured. Also too,the ISIL leadership has been under drone attack.
    Now, is everything unicorns and rainbows? Nope. But the President’s strategy has actually been WORKING, while the pundits have been wringing their hands and bellyaching about his strategy not meeting some Platonic ideal.

    So, Doug and James, maybe you should give the President some credit? ( OK James: Doug is never going to give Obama credit for anything, IMO).

  43. Tillman says:

    @stonetools:

    Can Doug at least consider that his favored political party bears a good deal of responsibility for motivating the President to “get tough?” or is that too much to ask?

    Yeah, I think that’s too much to ask. We can blame Congress for doing nothing about Obama circumventing them to go to “war,” but Obama is circumventing them.

    Besides, this was beyond the conservative bubble. The entire media got riled up when two of its own were murdered with excellent production values and cinematography.

  44. stonetools says:

    @Tillman:

    Yeah, I think that’s too much to ask. We can blame Congress for doing nothing about Obama circumventing them to go to “war,” but Obama is circumventing them.

    Is he circumventing them, or proceeding with their silent acquiescence? There’s a difference.
    Also too, the Republicans and the right wing BS machine really are responsible for the pressure on Obama to “do something!!”.
    Think of how different things would be if Senators Cruz, Graham and Mccain were counseling calm instead of engaging in apocalyptic rhetoric for political gain.

  45. Tillman says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Yeah, it’s real peaceful to walk into a temple, start tossing around furniture, and throw out people who are there with the permission of the temple’s authorities.

    Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ”
    Matthew 21:12-13, NKJV

    Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”
    Mark 12:38-40, NKJV

    I know you are avowedly not Christian, but there’s actually a great bit about on whose authority Jesus is causing all this ruckus in Luke 20, including a neat parable about a vineyard owner with really unlucky servants and horrible middle managers.

    But, uh, “the Cleansing of the Temple,” as it’s remembered, is basically the predecessor of Occupy Wall Street. It’s a dude throwing out financiers and preaching in that spot on why they were wrong to be there in the first place. I do so love how you threw in “with the permission of the temple’s authorities” at the end there, really captures the parallel.

    Besides, as anjin noted, nobody said pacifists couldn’t be violent, just that they abhor it. Jesus didn’t really think things or money were that important in the long run (which to him was pretty short, what with the imminent end of the world and all), so the worst he did was upend a social contract and insult some people’s pride. If your definition of peace includes allowing injustice to continue, well then he wasn’t peaceful.

  46. James Joyner says:

    @stonetools: I’ve written multiple posts on the subject arguing that Obama is likely doing as well as possible in terms of actual policy response here. My complaints surround his rhetorical oversell of what we are likely able to accomplish.

  47. Tillman says:

    @stonetools:

    Is he circumventing them, or proceeding with their silent acquiescence? There’s a difference.

    There’s a political difference, sure, but there isn’t really a legal one. And while I can be idealistic at times, I think the legal difference (the spirit and the letter) is the important one when it comes to using the military.

    This is, literally, the president’s greatest power: being in command of the military. This is the one thing if nothing else you want constraints on. There is a point at which we should expect the barest margin of civic virtue to be present in our politicians. Nobody escapes that judgment, not legislators or presidents.

  48. Robin Cohen says:

    The question now is is he stupid enough to go it alone? I’m afraid he may be. If that weasel Abdullah in Jordan won’t help…

  49. Stan says:

    As Norman Mailer noted at the time, Americans wanting more peaceful relations between the United States and the communist powers should have voted for Richard Nixon in 1968. Nixon was free to carry out a realistic foreign policy because he didn’t have to be afraid about what the Republicans would say. Party collegiality kept most of them inside the tent pissing out when Nixon recognized The People’s Republic of China, just as they did when Eisenhower was president and as they’d do later when Reagan negotiated with Gorbachev in Iceland.

    In similar fashion, Republicans wanting a strong military response to the rise of ISIS should be backing Obama. Most Democrats, and I include myself and my wife, are willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt because we think he’s sober and careful, unlike his predecessor. He can carry out a George H. W. Bush policy without significant Democratic party opposition. One would think Republicans would back him at least for now if they really think our Mideast policy is important. But they won’t, as seen by the posts in this thread. They really are the stupid party.

  50. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    GWB is still the gold standard for establishing coalitions in the middle east

    And you are proud of him – why? He established a coalition so that he could have company as he led us into one of the worst blunders in our history?

    Bush ’41 did a fine job in the middle east, but then he was a strong foreign policy president in general. His son? A train wreck. His only success here was the surge, which was damage control on a disaster of his own making.

  51. stonetools says:

    @James Joyner:

    My complaints surround his rhetorical oversell of what we are likely able to accomplish.

    True, you have given him credit. My apologies. As to rhetoric-again, he’s been been driven to this by the Fox drumbeat bashing him as being weak, indecisive, etc. Had he said up front, “We are going to drive back ISIL from their forward positions and contain them”, we would hear the right wing BS machine talk about weakness, appeasement, Chamberlain, McClellanism, defeatism, etc. He would definitely pay a political price.
    Remember, he is a political leader. He can’t just “tell it like it is”. That has to be taken into account too. It would be nice if some on the conservative side would recognise this and defend him against the McCains and the Cruzes.

  52. Tyrell says:

    @Stan: Interesting and thoughtful. I was impressed with Nixon’s foreign policy. I am sure some Republicans cringed in private. A moderate Republican today would be able to pursue better relations with Iran, Cuba, and Pakistan.

  53. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Grewgills: The point I was rebutting was that the original statement was an absolute. And my citation of Imperial Japan was to note that the driving culture of that society embraced death as a blessing, and suicide in the service of the cause was noble. This was believed and practiced from the bottom all the way to the top of the military leadership. And this was the true leadership, as the Emperor had been reduced to a figurehead and a puppet.

    “Suicidal” as you are defining it is conditioned on the Western perception of suicide, with connotations of failure, of futility, of the abandonment of hope. Those beliefs were not shared by Imperial Japan.

    Nor are they shared by radical Muslims.

  54. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    “Suicidal” as you are defining it is conditioned on the Western perception of suicide, with connotations of failure, of futility, of the abandonment of hope. Those beliefs were not shared by Imperial Japan.

    1) The emperor was far more than a figurehead and without his cooperation the rebuilding of Japan as a Western style democracy would have been impossible.
    2) The prime minister Togo didn’t commit suicide, he was executed for war crimes.
    3) The generals of Imperial Japan that did commit suicide did so because of their failures or perceived failures that they felt shamed them. This is in no way comparable to the type of suicide practiced by the people MR was talking about. They weren’t suicidal until they felt they had lost everything,everything being their pride.
    4) You also cited Hitler, who was not suicidal until he realized he had failed completely and would otherwise be taken prisoner and executed or worse.
    5) I can’t think of an example of a single leader of any military or terrorist organization of any import over the past 70 years that was suicidal prior to realizing they had lost utterly. I have seen a number of them advocate others committing suicide, but when it came to them they clung to life with both hands until all was lost and often longer. I am happy to revise my opinion in the face of contrary evidence, but I don’t think it exists in this case.

  55. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    And my citation of Imperial Japan was to note that the driving culture of that society embraced death as a blessing, and suicide in the service of the cause was noble.

    Not exactly. The type of suicide practiced by the generals was only a blessing in that it partially expunged their shame and was an alternative preferable to living with that shame. It was not in furtherance of a military goal. The Japanese as a fighting force, contra the mythologizing of the kamikaze towards the end of the war, were no more suicidal than the Americans.

  56. DrDaveT says:

    it is somewhat puzzling why the President would announce a plan that is heavily dependent on the existence of an international coalition before there are even the barest of indications that such a coalition can be formed.

    I actually kind of like it. It’s subtle. It says to the governments that are most directly affected “Guys, please remember that this is your fight, not ours. We have options that include going away and letting you deal with it yourselves. If you don’t like that option, you’re going to need to cooperate, with us and with each other, to get a better outcome.”

    Of course, much of the rest of the stupid rhetoric of the speech undoes that lovely subtle message — but I did like the coalition part.

  57. anjin-san says:

    @ Jenos

    Perhaps I should have avoided the shorthand and said Jesus was no wimpy pacifist flower-child.

    Or you could simply stop talking, and in doing so, stop embarrassing yourself.

  58. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Of course, much of the rest of the stupid rhetoric of the speech undoes that lovely subtle message — but I did like the coalition part.

    That’s why, ultimately, I think the problem with the speech was the speech itself. Because of domestic politics, it would have taken tremendous resolve not to pander to the crowd that doesn’t get that “Team America, F- Yeah!” is satire.

  59. Stan says:

    @Tyrell: Thanks for your comment. Nixon was one of our most interesting presidents. His economic, environmental, and social policies were moderate to liberal, and he had a deep understanding of foreign policy. I admired him, and I would have voted for him if he hadn’t had so many loathsome traits, in particular a tendency to smear his opponents as traitors. He was our Bismarck, just as George W. Bush was our Kaiser Wilhelm II.

  60. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    Telling, which one of them you attack.

    Where did I “attack” Christianity? Please be specific in your response, assuming you do not do one of your cut & runs.

    All I did is point out a historic fact, that Christians and Muslims have both engaged in the slaughter of other human beings, and violence in general. They did it in the past, and they do so to this day.

    If you want to fool yourself with the idea that Christians have outgrown this in the 20th/21st centuries, or reached some sort of morally superior position vis a vie other religions, you are free to do so. Don’t expect everyone else to follow suit. We have been slaughtering each other with gusto since to first time one cave man cracked another’s head with a rock, and the carnage will continue long after you and I are gone. Race, creed, color seem to make no difference. The killing goes on, and on, and on.

    Islam does indeed perform a useful function in contemporary American society. We can point the finger at those horrible awful Muslims, note that they sometimes stone women and behead people, and in doing so, can avoid looking in the mirror, which can be both painful and humbling. It’s certainly easier than dealing with the violence, inequity, an cruelty that is deeply ingrained in our own culture.

  61. Matt says:

    @Eric Florack: So you wanted OBama to change Bush’s time table and keep our troops in harms way both physically and legally?

    What for?

    I don’t trust some kangaroo court in IRaq to treat our soldiers fairly but you do… That’s just insanity.

  62. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Hitler committed suicide; he was not suicidal. There’s a difference. Hitler devoted his life and extraordinary energies to gaining and holding power. He intended to create a thousand year reich. There was nothing suicidal about him, in fact he clung to life until about five minutes before the Red Army was going to knock on the door and ask, “Trick or worse trick?”

    The Japanese were not suicidal, they were building an empire. They were stupid and we might in everyday use facilely refer to their making war on a vastly stronger power “suicidal” but again, that’s not suicidal.

    Even Jim Jones died from multiple gunshot wounds which many suspect are suicide, but really if you intend to kill yourself with a gun it’s not necessary to shoot yourself multiple times in the groin, so even he doesn’t quite qualify, especially given that like Hitler, he found himself facing what he saw as a worse fate.

    As for Applewhite he didn’t believe he was killing himself. He was under the impression that he was waiting on a flight and that killing himself would make it easier – a sentiment anyone who’s been trapped at LAX can identify with.

  63. stonetools says:

    Meanwhile ISIL is doing its bit to build the coalition by beheading a British aid worker after extorting a “confession” out of him.

    Here’s the link to the video , if you want it( I didn’t watch).

    Pretty soon, people aren’t going to give a sh!t about the constitutionality of fighting ISIL, or whether it fits in with some kind of grand strategy. They’re just going to do it for the sheer pleasure of crushing the b@stards.

  64. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: ” The true hippies were, in many ways, the forerunners of modern libertarians.”

    That was fast. Another one for the “Jenos knows nothing about” list: Hippies.

    (Here’s a hiint, little Jenos: When one of a group’s stated core beliefs is “property is theft,” they’re not actually proto-libertarians, whose core belief is “mine is mind and I never have to share because that’s communism”.)

  65. wr says:

    @wr: Oops. “Mine is mine.” Darned Chinese internet…

  66. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Grewgills: We’re getting off on a tangent that was started by my pointing out that the absolute statement was factually incorrect. I don’t think that this is overly germane to the topic, but…

    1) Your mentioning of the emperor as more of a figurehead after the war coincides quite neatly with the end of “Imperial Japan,” so it doesn’t refute my point about his role pre-war and during the war.

    2) Tojo was the top leader, but not the only one.

    3) Again, we’re quibbling over “suicidal,” and you’re once again applying Western moral standards to a non-Western culture. Willingly ending one’s own life is generally anathema in our culture, with few exceptions — the “laying down one’s life for one friends” and other sacrifices for others are pretty much the only exception. Note that I’m not saying I agree with that stance, but it is the predominant one in our culture. In Japanese culture, as well as in large portions of Muslim culture, one can redeem oneself from shame by ending one’s own life — especially in the context of attacking the enemy. There are also “honor killings” where a family can expunge the shame inflicted on the family by killing the offender. These are not overly dominant, but they are not uncommon.

    4) Another definition of “suicidal” can be “taking on impossible challenges and expecting success.” By that definition, Hitler and Imperial Japan were clearly suicidal — they attacked opponents they had essentially no chance of defeating. Hitler invaded the Soviet Union before he secured his western front and needlessly declared war on the US, and Japan grossly misunderstood American psychology and industrial capacity when they attacked Pearl Harbor.

    Again, it all depends on your definition of “suicidal.” And in your final paragraph, you’re adding more and more conditions to the original absolute statement:

    Eric, it’s not a question of identifying the leaders: no leaders ever, of any movement ever, are ever suicidal. Ever. Power lust and suicide do not go together.

    It’s a good general principle, but it’s certainly not an absolute. My quibble is with the absolute, emphasized by the repeat of “ever.” I cited two cults, but there have been many other cults — especially the doomsday cults — that were suicidal.

  67. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @wr: Here, expand your mind for once. And try to find yourself on this new paradigm of defining political positions.

    I’m comfortably lower-left on that chart, down with the hippies, hobos, Tea Partiers, and libertarians. (In more ways than one.) I’m pegging you on the far right, but can’t decide if you’re upper right or lower right.

    Too bad this wasn’t Dungeons and Dragons. Your alignment would definitely be “Chaotic Stupid.”

  68. Moosebreath says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Sorry, but any chart which puts Social Conservatives (including the Tea Party, which whatever it claimed to be when it first appeared, has clearly showed itself to be substantially the same as the Social Conservatives when it comes to actual policy once in office) on the side of less government control is just something that cannot be taken seriously. And the fact that you cite it and think it explains the world speaks volumes about you.

  69. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: If you think you’ve found something that will justify one of your stupid statements, feel free to explain it here. The chances that I would ever click on a link of yours are about the same as you saying something intelligent…

    I do love your constantly changing definitions of suicidal in a desperate attempt to prove you know what you’re talking about — or even what you’re saying. So now Hitler was suicidal because he misjudged the odds of success in invading the USSR. Does that mean that every leader who ever lost a war was actually suicidal? Or is it just that you had your ass handed to you for saying that Hitler’s suicide proved he was “suicidal” (as opposed to hoplessly defeated and deciding to avoid punishment he felt would be worse than death), so now you’re inventing new meanings that everyone knows you didn’t intend…

  70. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @wr: Why am I not surprised that you refuse to look at anything that might challenge your precious (and seriously flawed) world view? To do otherwise would be contrary to your “Chaotic Stupid” alignment.

    And as noted, “suicidal” has several connotations. For Hitler to decide to simultaneously fight the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States certainly qualifies as “suicidal” in effect, if not in intent. Likewise, a guy who takes acid and jumps off a building because he believes he can fly is suicidal.

    And again, my original point here was that Mr. reynolds put forth an absolute. To refute it, I only needed one example. I offered four, ‘cuz I’m generous like that. Just because you think you can pick apart one doesn’t mean that you’ve discounted all four; it just means that you’re as stupid and deliberately disagreeable beyond reason as you’ve demonstrated amply in the past.

  71. Stan says:

    I’ve struggled to find out how ISIS keeps going. Armies use up trucks, fuel, guns, ammunition, medical supplies, clothing, and food. Stuff like this has to be paid for, and ISIS can’t conceivably hold enough captives to fund its operations solely on ransom money. Thanks to the New York Times (see http://tinyurl.com/ky2ccte) we now know where the money comes from. It comes from oil, extracted from wells in Iraq and sold in Turkey. Thanks to an abundant supply of oil and the suicidal short sightedness of the Turkish government, ISIS is rolling in money. If it consolidates its control in its area of operations, I doubt seriously that it will settle down to a peaceful life as a reborn caliphate. It’s too dynamic an organization for that, no matter what Doug Mataconis thinks. I don’t know if it can be contained by the means proposed by President Obama, but I think it’s worth a try.

  72. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    1) The fact that his cooperation was necessary for that transition to take place undercuts your argument that he was only a figurehead.
    2) The top two leaders of Imperial Japan were not in any reasonable sense of the word suicidal.
    3) By the definitions of suicidal you are using, suicide is indeed celebrated in our culture. Look at a wide array of Westerns and similar genres where someone loses their family and goes after the gang with two bullets in their gun. The celebration of things like the charge of the light brigade etc. Look at family dramas where the otherwise honorable man does something shameful and ”does the right thing.”
    4) By that definition the soldiers that participated in D-Day, any of the many attempts on Hamburger Hill, the soldiers that attempted to take trenches in WW1 etc, etc, etc that we celebrate as heroes in our culture were suicidal. By expanding the definition so wide you rob it of all real meaning.
    5) That final paragraph was MR not me. My point is/was slightly more narrow, no leader of any major military or terrorist organization since at least WWI has been suicidal prior to losing everything and most weren’t even suicidal when they knew they were utterly defeated. The leaders of the terrorist movements that happily send others on suicide missions cling to their own lives tooth and nail. I agree that all of this is a bit of a tangent, but it was in response to something central. Eric asserted that the leadership of ISIL was suicidal or at least implied that was the case. That assertion doesn’t stand up.
    That there may be exceptions to the no leader of any type ever that is suicidal doesn’t much matter. No leader of any group that can be a continuing threat will have suicidal leaders. That is what matters in the context of this discussion.

  73. anjin-san says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    this new paradigm of defining political positions

    When I see what passes for deep thinking on the right I don’t know whether to laugh or cry…

  74. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Here’s the thing, little boy (or girl, whichever you may be): Words have meaning on their own, but they take on more precise meaning in context. When MR said that no leader was suicidal, he meant — quite obviously to anyone with a working knowledge of the language — that leaders don’t use suicide as a tactic, even if they are leaders of groups whose members do, because leaders aim to acquire power and riches and you can’t do that if you’re dead. He was predicting ISIS would not pursue a particular course of action because to do so would be to guarantee their deaths along with the extinction of their group, and that contra Bithead’s paranoid ramblings — or someone’s — that Mooslims don’t care about dying so of course they’d pursue this course, he was pointing out that this would be contrary to every leader in history.

    You jumped in because you thought you could score some cheap little rhetorical point and show yourself what a genius you were. Only even your rhetorical point failed when the only political/military leaders you could think of who’d killed themselves could never be considered “suicidal” — not in their tactics, not in their strategy, not in their personality. And so then you decided that words have other meanings, and as long as you’re willing to pretend that they were uttered with no context at all, then you can claim to have won this completely useless point.

    This is exactly the kind of argument perfected by a particularly self-impressed eleven year old, which is why I pay you the compliment of adressing you as a little boy or little girl. Because for an adult to atttempt this kind of argumentation is pathetic beyond words. Even if you stomp your little feet and call people stupid when they correct you…

  75. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    That link really was something.

  76. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @wr: I think I’m going to save that particular statement of yours. It’s so totally at odds with so many of your other statements that I think I’m pretty much guaranteed to be able to throw it back in your face (or a couple of others) in a very short time.

    I had come to believe that such things were commonplace and accepted around here, considering how often it had been done, and cheered on. Apparently I had neglected to notice that the people who used it had no patience for having it applied to them. How awkward a way to discover yet another example of hypocrisy.

    Yes, mr’s observation is a sound general principle. But there have been exceptions, and he was overreaching when he declared it an absolute, without a single exception ever.

  77. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: “Yes, mr’s observation is a sound general principle. But there have been exceptions, and he was overreaching when he declared it an absolute, without a single exception ever. ”

    So what you are saying is that MR actually said something intelligent and worthwhile on the subject at hand, but you took issue with a tiny semantic issue in the way he phrased his response and chose to hijack the entire thread away from the actual point and to your idiot gotcha.

    I don’t think there’s anything more damning anyone could ever say about you. You have just described your entire pathetic online persona perfectly. The good news is this: Maybe if you think through what you just admitted, if you think it through good and hard, you will finally understand why no one here takes you seriously, and why no one will even bother to attempt a real discussion with you.

    And then, if you want to change, if you want to be taken seriously, you’ve got the roadmap. And if you don’t… well, you can go back to trolling.