Thursday, September 25, 2014

ISIS, Kohrasan, and America's Begrudging March Towards War

It's been a long week.

I wrote two weeks ago about President Obama's new foray into intervention in Iraq, using airstrikes to weaken ISIS strongholds throughout the country. Vicky followed up with an excellent piece arguing that intervention was nothing new for Obama, and perhaps she's right. However, these airstrikes were arguably a bold move for a President more accustomed to surreptitious drone strikes and more covert action as opposed to this new, more broadened campaign. Surely Obama is beginning to step out of his comfort zone.

The past two weeks have seen ISIS continue to use their disturbingly impressive PR prowess to dominate headlines both in the U.S. and abroad. Many continued the dialogue of exactly how much of a threat ISIS was, but most everyone agreed that they did pose a significant threat to the Western world. The Congress and Senate gave approval for the U.S. to begin deploying arms and military advisors to Syria in an attempt to equip and train the floundering rebel movement that has been fighting President Asad's troops, among others, for two years now. This was a striking decision - and not because of the complexity of equipping and training rebel militants in the worst warzone in the world. This decision was striking because of what it meant domestically: after an arduous few years of being deadlocked with the Republican-controlled House, President Obama was somehow able to get Congress to pass a bill, and rather quickly. The fear that ISIS has brought to America's doorstep has lead to lawmakers and the American people alike to rally behind Obama, and support him in his efforts to combat these Islamic radicals. As a recent Pew Research poll noted, the majority of Americans now think that President Obama must be "tougher" in his foreign policy - a figure that would have been impossible to believe as he assumed the Presidency in 2008.

Early this week, President Obama took one step further outside of his comfort zone with similar airstrikes targeting ISIS territory in Syria, as well as renewed strikes in Iraq. This came after reports about some new, even scarier terrorist organization hiding out in Syria, that posed an even graver threat to American interests: Khorasan. Somehow able to have remained incognito until now, Khorasan is a group of former al Qaeda members that, like al Qaeda, have specific interest in attacks against America and Western Europe. As many experts have noted, unlike al Qaeda, ISIS is interested primarily in carving out their own territory and establishing a theocracy in which they can subject their people to strict Sharia law. Sure, disruptions to this plan such as American airstrikes will draw ire and could present ugly repercussions for America, but they are no al Qaeda in the sense that they exist solely to promulgate anti-American ideology and harm as many Westerners as possible in frightening, grandiose attacks. President Obama's airstrikes in Syria were a direct response to Khorasan, and it was reported shortly after the strikes began that the U.S. had thwarted an "imminent" plot to harm Americans.

Interestingly, the strikes came as Obama took the stage at the United Nations General Assembly this week, where on Wednesday he talked about the threat terrorist organizations like ISIS and Khorasan pose not just to the West, but to the entire world. He made a point of emphasizing the coalition of Middle Eastern countries he had rapidly assembled to carry out the strikes in Syria, and called on an even broader coalition to support even broader efforts to deter these groups in the future. Notably, when President Obama took the stage at the General Assembly last year this time, it was following his decision not to call for airstrikes in Syria, despite President Asad having crossed Obama's "red line" and using chemical weapons on his people. The changes from Obama's candor then and today is truly striking.

What comes next is anyone's guess. ISIS has shown no signs of slowing down, despite increased airstrikes today and new targets of oil fields they control, which keep them flush with cash. The Iraqi Prime Minister alluded to plotted attacks on American and European subway systems by terrorists in his speech before the General Assembly today, causing an immediate panic despite the fact that his words were difficult to immediately corroborate. And many analysts have expressed skepticism of the broad airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, as this can potentially strengthen Asad's army and terrorist groups such as Khorasan, who along with fighting the rebels, have also opposed ISIS' rise. For now, the strikes will continue, and it appears Obama has substantial support in his efforts.

Let's just hope next week isn't as crazy.

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