Monday, 22 September 2014

Islamic State and Pentagon's Turf War

Nothing in President Obama's four-part strategy to defeat and ultimately destroy the Islamic State group has generated as much debate as his firm decision not to have American ground troops involved in front-line combat in Iraq or Syria for that matter. The eccentric policy which is at the very heart of the president's IS strategy has pitted the White House against Pentagon something which, though highly consequential, is an inconvenient fact which the elite media, it seems, would rather gloss over at this time.

The reason behind this selective scrutiny of the issue by the media is the fact that highlighting the issue may be incongruous with the war effort which in the minds of Americans, the majority of whom are deeply concerned about IS and want its threat neutralised, might be considred unpatriotic. That is feared could potentially lead to an unprofitable backlash from the public and as in many businesses these days, profits triumph over principles.

This regrettable state of affairs is reminiscent of the catastrophic failure of elite media in the run up to the 2003 Iraq invasion and should be challenged. A proper public scrutiny of Obama's counter-terrorism strategy against IS especially in the light of such glaring past mistakes in Iraq is warranted and the media have a duty to facilitate if not lead that scrutiny.

The President who is also the Commander-in-Chief is resolute on his decision not to have American boots on the ground in Iraq. His decision is informed by the apparent futility of using force as the only or primary component of dealing with threats to US interests and security emanating from radical ideology. And when it comes to the use of force, nothing is more counterproductive than having ground forces in the front line.

Their mere presence, worse than anything, smacks of an occupation which is the one thing that alienates the entire population the most and creates more enemies in the Muslim world. Radical ideology itself also needs their presence to validate its core beliefs and attitudes. It impassions its ideologues message that fans the embers of hate, recruits new fighters, and emboldens the rank and file jihadists. There is no question however on the usefulness of having boots on the ground in combat situations but their efforts and sacrifices only leads to Pyrrhic victory which ultimately empowers those who thrive on violent conflicts.

Chief among those who harbor reservations about Obama's contrivance to degrade and destroy IS is none other than the cantankerous-looking Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. General Dempsey's veiled preference for boots on the ground and show of force is nothing more than Pentagon's macho posturing and its primary objective is to validate America's superpower status in hopes of warding off real and perceived threats to America's hegemony.

Apparently the prevailing view at the Pentagon and among Republicans is that America's credibility as a superpower depends on its ability to project awe inspiring power.

The most striking thing about this debate is the way nobody seems to have figured out, except for Gen. Dempsey, is that what Obama prescribed was not "an F-16 strategy" as House Speaker John Boehner put it but rather an intensification and expansion of the drone warfare, which is Obama's idea of a smart approach to the war on terror. Unfortunately for Gen. Dempsey, the drone program is largely under the control of the Central Intelligence Agency and not the military where he has full control.

The president promised that the drone program would be transferred from the CIA to the Pentagon, but that has not happened yet. Therefore, the CIA, not Pentagon, will ultimately be leading the war on terror and that's what's got Dempsey on edge.

For congress, the divergence between the White House and Pentagon will merely lead to fluffy congressional debates on the president's war powers while for some White House staffers, Gen. Dempsey's suitability as Chair of Joint Chiefs could become the idiomatic elephant in the room.

To be sure, it is not that Dempsey or Pentagon for that matter does not appreciate the new kind of war that terrorism presents, it is Pentagon's suitability to lead that war that should be the focus of a serious debate.

Pentagon's penchat for machoism certainly does not auger well in the war on terrorism as it tends to validate the radical ideology behind terrorism.
On the hand, the CIA's demand for secrecy augers perfectly well for the war on terror as long as there are no major blunders and there is zero collateral damage. But is that feasible in the theatre of war? No!

The tragic blunders of the use of drones in Yemen, Afghanistan, and northern Pakistan speak for themselves. Southern Syria which is where IS will retreat to, will soon become the new theatre of Obama's drone warfare and it remains to be seen how that warfare will be conducted and if America has learnt anything from northern Pakistan and Yemen.

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