The expansion of airstrikes against the Islamic State (IS) may seem like a poor tactical decision for many, as it follows weeks of limited airstrikes with the timetable for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan swiftly approaching. This decision, however, could not more forcefully promote America’s most fundamental interests.
On Wednesday night, President Obama said that he anticipates further involvement in the Middle East, widening attacks against IS. Referring to the terrorist organization by a different acronym early in his address, the Obama administration has almost exclusively used ISIL, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as the go-to shorthand.
While this may seem like an arbitrary distinction, the Obama administration’s addition of “the Levant” to IS signifies the adoption of a vernacular that was used previously by the benevolent colonizers of North Africa and the Middle East. Evoking a simpler and more unilateral period prior to transnational terrorist organizations and binding international institutions, President Obama hopes to assuage the worries of those who have survived through generations of Western European and American liberations. By specifically invoking the advancement and prosperity achieved in the early 20th century, President Obama also seeks to bring peace to these failing, factionalized states much like Britain and France did before 1930.
The President’s goals in the Middle East synthesize the best of good old imperialist rhetoric with tried and true modern solutions from his direct predecessors.
Obama’s proposal to thwart IS follows in the footsteps of the brilliant military strategist George W. Bush, but not only because he continues to stick with with successful formula of treating preemptive wars as preventive wars. In fact, deeply miring oneself in an increasingly unpredictable and unwinnable conflict is a hallmark of American foreign policy since the protracted proxy engagements of the Cold War. With immediate positive results, (just look at the progress in Afghanistan!), Obama seeks to continue the streak of sound decisions that has portrayed America in such a positive light across the globe. Today, bombs and boots from Libya to Pakistan are proof that aimless aggression will occasionally breed sinister fringe organizations who hate our freedom and squabble about the smallest details like the utter forfeiture of their sovereignty.
Though it may have slipped the minds of all except the most astute history buffs, the President’s call to arms took place only hours before the anniversary of the very attacks that launched America’s widespread involvement in the Middle East. The timing of this address was surely a discreet but symbolic gesture to our recent victories in Iraq and Afghanistan, discretion being something President Obama clearly learned from the grace and competence of the Bush administration’s campaigns in the Middle East.
And this time around we even have greater certainty surrounding the existence of weapons of mass destruction.
One of the places where Americans should feel most proud is in the strong coalition of allies Obama is quickly accruing. Chiefly among our friends is the leader of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah ibn Abdilazīz, who Obama is currently courting for anti-IS training grounds. Forming moderate and democratic reactionaries ought to be a cinch in a state that has such a solid record of tolerance and adherence to human rights.
In addition to Abdullah ibn Abdilazīz, Obama has clearly began courting Bashar al-Assad as the President hopes to gain the latitude to act as his personal air force, hunting IS terrorists in Syria. This would undoubtedly alleviate some of the pressures weighing on the Assad regime, allowing them to focus on their escalating domestic tensions. By taking on some of Assad’s burden, Americans can rest assured that the actions of their government will successfully promote a peaceful and democratic community in the Middle East.
President Obama clearly outlined America’s objective in the Middle East, saying that our military forces will degrade and subsequently destroy IS. This campaign is necessary and vital to the preservation of America, and certainly will not degrade the threshold for the legitimate use of violence in another state. The expansion of force against IS reflects the will of the Arab public, and this engagement, like previous engagements in the Middle East, will not destroy, but solidify America’s image abroad as the most recent in a line of states to whom the Middle East will remain forever grateful.