Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

" Obama has repeatedly said, 'No way.'  But hardly were the words out of his mouth than General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [pictured above], was on Capitol Hill warning that such boots would almost assuredly be needed." (Photo: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)

Why Obama’s ISIS Strategy is Incoherent

Robert Freeman

If there is a single word to describe Obama’s campaign against ISIS, it is “incoherent.”  It doesn’t hold together even on its own terms.  And in the context of a larger strategy for the Middle East it is delusional, even destructive of U.S. interests.  The reason is that the U.S. doesn’t control the strategy.  Until it does, it will only meet continued confusion, mis-direction, and defeat. 
 
The most important thing to understand about ISIS is that it is a U.S. creation.  The first step in its creation was the U.S. destroying the corrupt but stabilizing regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.  That gave entre to the Sunni fundamentalist force, al-Qaeda in Iraq, which had not existed prior to the U.S. invasion.  Al-Qaeda in Iraq would eventually become ISIS. 
 
The second step in ISIS’s creation was the U.S. campaign to overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria.  As was Hussein in Iraq, Assad is a secular strong-man who for many years held an eclectic mix of religious sects together in relative peace.  That is, until the U.S. started trying to overthrow the Syrian regime, a move that played into the hands of ISIS’ precursors, including the al-Nusra brigade.   
 
The third step in ISIS’s creation came when the U.S. organized Saudi Arabia and Turkey to fund and support the proto-ISIS rebels in Syria.  Recall that 15 of the 19 identified 9/11 hijackers were Saudis.  Their form of Sunni Islam—Wahabiism—is among the most virulent and aggressively anti-Western in the world.  Think Osama bin Laden, a former Saudi prince and founder of al Qaeda.       
 
So, destroy the stabilizing, secular regimes while fostering the fundamentalist crazies and you have the recipe for the creation of ISIS.  This has been the U.S. strategy to date.  It is all but doomed to blowback and failure. But the incoherence of Obama’s position goes further, much further. 
 
ISIS is a Sunni crusade for purification of the religion.  Its stunning success in defeating the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Pershmerga militia owes to the fact that the Sunnis living under the Shi’ite-dominated Iraqi state would rather have Sunni than Shi’ite masters.  That is, they would rather ally with their religious brethren, i.e., ISIS, than with the religious adversaries the U.S. left in power when it was defeated in Iraq.   
 
It is indicative of the incoherence of Obama’s campaign that Turkey, a largely Sunni state which has funded and fostered ISIS, and which shares a 560 mile border with Syria, will not participate in the coalition to defeat ISIS.  And neither will Turkey help the Kurdish Peshmerga fight ISIS because it doesn’t want to have to cede territory to them in their pursuit of a new Kurdistan, part of which would have to come from Turkish territory. 
 
It is further indicative of incoherence that the target proxies for U.S. boots on the ground, the mythical “moderate rebels” fighting Assad, have declared publicly that they will not take up arms against ISIS.  Since it was these same “moderate rebels” who passed so many U.S.-supplied weapons to ISIS to help in its formation, this should not be surprising.  But it hardly bodes well for the stated U.S. strategy. 
 
Further signs of incoherence?  The forces most able to defeat ISIS are those of Iran, Syria, and Russia which have the strategic position, manpower, and organization to dispatch ISIS in short order.  But Obama cannot ask for their help because the U.S. is engaged in hostilities against all three.  So it would rather see ISIS fester than have it defeated by foes of the U.S.   
 
A final sign of U.S. incoherence is the conflicting accounts given by senior U.S. officials concerning whether the conflict will require U.S. boots on the ground.  Obama has repeatedly said, “No way.”  But hardly were the words out of his mouth than General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was on Capitol Hill warning that such boots would almost assuredly be needed, given that an air campaign alone will not be enough to dislodge ISIS. 
 
The ISIS imbroglio lays bare the embarrassing truth of U.S. policy in the Middle East:  that it is controlled by Saudi Arabia and Israel, for their own benefits, and not for that of the U.S.
 
Saudi Arabia controls the U.S. through its pricing of oil in dollars.  If it ceased to demand dollars and only dollars for its oil, global demand for dollars would collapse, and with it, the U.S.’ ability to fund its massive budget and trade deficits.  That would mean the end of the U.S. imperium in the world.  This is why the U.S. has long coddled Saudi Arabia, even with its complicity in 9/11 and its aggressive support for the creation of ISIS.   
 
Israel controls the U.S. by targeting politicians who don’t follow its dictates.  The U.S. political system, which forces politicians to raise massive amounts of money every two years, is uniquely vulnerable to this kind of focused foreign manipulation.  Israel has learned how to use it to its advantage.  It was Israeli-aligned neo-conservatives who lied the U.S. into its catastrophic war with Iraq.  It is the same neo-conservatives who are pushing the U.S. to destroy all of Israel’s potential challengers:  Iraq; Libya; Syria; and Iran.

Obama’s campaign against ISIS is incoherent because it is not controlled by, nor carried out for the interests of, the U.S.  Until the U.S. frees itself from its dependence on regional Middle East powers it will continue to leave nothing but confusion and destruction in its wake, including destruction of its own putative role as a stabilizing force in world affairs.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Robert Freeman

Robert Freeman

Robert Freeman is Founder and Executive Director of The Global Uplift Project which builds small-scale infrastructure projects in the developing world to improve humanity’s capacity for self-development. Robert taught economics and history at Los Altos High School where he also coached the Speech and Debate team, including producing a national champion in 2006. He has traveled extensively in both the developed and developing world. He is the author of "The Best One Hour History" series which includes "World War I" (2013), "The InterWar Years" (2014), "The Vietnam War" (2013), and other titles.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Acidification of Arctic Happening Up to 4 Times Faster Than Other Oceans

The research followed reports that the Arctic is warming nearly four times faster than the Earth as a whole.

Julia Conley ·


Despite Nearly 80% of Voters in Favor, House Dems Stall on Stock Trading Ban

"Existing ethics laws do not go far enough to prevent members of Congress from using the information they have access to for personal gain. No more excuses. No more delays. It's time for action."

Jessica Corbett ·


Analysis Exposes Taxpayer Billions 'Wasted' on Dead-End Carbon Capture Schemes

Food & Water Watch said "this track record should elicit serious concern" as Congress dumps billions more into failed carbon capture technology.

Jake Johnson ·


House Dems Urge Biden to Push for Removal of Climate-Denying World Bank President

"We need a World Bank Group leader who fully appreciates the threat of climate change and the need to accelerate the global transition to a clean just energy future to improve living standards, reduce poverty, and encourage sustainable growth."

Kenny Stancil ·


'Let's Pass Medicare for All,' Says Jayapal as Survey Spotlights Failures of For-Profit System

"When the 'all-time low' of uninsured Americans is still 26 MILLION, something needs to change," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo