As U.S. officials repeated their message that the American public should prepare for "a long-term" war against the Islamic State militant group (also known as ISIS) in the Midde East, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday was among those calling out the Obama administration for pursuing a failed and misguided policy towards the group and the region overall.
"The question we have got to ask," said Sanders on CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley, "Is why are the countries in the region not more actively involved? Why don't they send see this as a crisis situation? Here's the danger [...] if the Middle East people see this as the United States vs. ISIS, the West vs. East, Christianity vs. Islam—we're going to lose that war."
Sanders acknowledged that ISIS is a serious regional threat, but said that his larger worries come from what he hears from constituents in his home state of Vermont and around the country, that "people are saying, 'Yeah, we're concerned about ISIS, but we're also concerned about the collapse of the American middle-class and our infrastructure which is falling apart and the need to create jobs.'"
On Saturday, the New York Times reported that even the so-called "moderate rebels" in Syria have become disillusioned with U.S. military intervention.
Despite reports like that, appearing on Sunday's Meet The Press on NBC, Obama's National Security Advisor Susan Rice repeated to viewers what other top White Officials, and President Obama himself have been repeating all week, that U.S. forces "were only in the early stages of what is going to be [...] a long-term effort.”
But on CNN, Sanders said that is exactly the problem. “We have been at war for 12 years. We have spent trillions of dollars," he said. “What I do not want, and I fear very much, is the United States getting sucked into a quagmire and being involved in perpetual warfare year after year after year. That is my fear.”
Watch Sanders' interview on CNN:
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Offering analysis for The Independent on Sunday, journalist Patrick Cockburn said the U.S. strategy against ISIS was "in tatters," as he mentioned how over the weekend ISIS forces had continued their assault on the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani, which sits on the border of Turkey, while also gaining new ground in Iraq, both in Anbar Province and on the outskirts of Bagdad. According to Cockburn:
In the face of a likely Isis victory at Kobani, senior US officials have been trying to explain away the failure to save the Syrian Kurds in the town, probably Isis's toughest opponents in Syria. "Our focus in Syria is in degrading the capacity of [Isis] at its core to project power, to command itself, to sustain itself, to resource itself," said US Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken, in a typical piece of waffle designed to mask defeat. "The tragic reality is that in the course of doing that there are going to be places like Kobani where we may or may not be able to fight effectively."
Unfortunately for the US, Kobani isn't the only place air strikes are failing to stop Isis. In an offensive in Iraq launched on 2 October but little reported in the outside world, Isis has captured almost all the cities and towns it did not already hold in Anbar province, a vast area in western Iraq that makes up a quarter of the country. It has captured Hit, Kubaisa and Ramadi, the provincial capital, which it had long fought for. Other cities, towns and bases on or close to the Euphrates River west of Baghdad fell in a few days, often after little resistance by the Iraqi Army which showed itself to be as dysfunctional as in the past, even when backed by US air strikes. [...]
The US's failure to save Kobani, if it falls, will be a political as well as military disaster. Indeed, the circumstances surrounding the loss of the beleaguered town are even more significant than the inability so far of air strikes to stop Isis taking 40 per cent of it. At the start of the bombing in Syria, President Obama boasted of putting together a coalition of Sunni powers such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to oppose Isis, but these all have different agendas to the US in which destroying IS is not the first priority. The Sunni Arab monarchies may not like Isis, which threatens the political status quo, but, as one Iraqi observer put it, "they like the fact that Isis creates more problems for the Shia than it does for them".
On Saturday, the United Nations warned of a massacre of Kurdish civilians if Kobani was to fall to ISIS, but reports on Sunday made it hard to determine how likely that scenario continues to be. Though many discussed an ISIS victory as a foregone conclusion after Turkey refused to intervene on behalf of the mostly Kurdish population there, the Washington Post on Sunday reported that the Kurdish fighters who remain in the city have been able to push back the attack. According to the Post:
Kurds have appealed for international pressure on Turkey to permit arms and reinforcements across the border to the fighters defending the town. But Turkey has a long history of enmity with Turkish Kurds and has thrown up a wall of steel along the border. Tanks, armored vehicles and troops are fanned out across the hills overlooking Kobane, and soldiers at checkpoints refuse to permit either people or goods to cross into the Syrian town.
Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan expressed his frustration Saturday with the mounting international pressure on Turkey to do more to help the Kurds.
“What does Kobane have to do with Turkey? With İstanbul, with Ankara?” he asked at a ceremony inaugurating a school in the town of Rize, according to Turkish media.