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Turkey’s failure to launch

Speaking to troops in Tampa, FL; President Obama emphasized: “I want to be clear. The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission.” With growing international pressure and mounting Congressional demands for a cogent strategy toward the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Obama administration is laying out its strategy. Still awaiting Congressional approval, Obama plans to hit ISIS with: tactical air strikes, training of regional troops and 40 plus international allies. The key element to this strategy is no American troops on the ground, a rhetorically powerful component in a post-Bush era.

Of course, not everyone agrees that this is the correct approach on ISIS. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey argued that American troops may be necessary to defeat ISIS, while Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno nuanced the idea in saying that troops, not necessarily American, were quintessential to the effort. For now the prospects of American troops being re-re-deployed to Iraq appear nixed between Obama’s statements and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi stating that “Not only is it not necessary … We don’t want them. We won’t allow them [foreign troops].

Contrasting opinions on varying degrees of American involvement bring up larger questions of interventionism and isolationism. To what extent should the United States involve itself in intrastate affairs of other regions? Moreover, how does the superpower remain in control if said superpower relinquishes control on geopolitical events like those in the Middle East?

What may be happening with the Obama administration is the return to realistic foreign policy goals. If anything was learned from Iraq 1.0, it was that unilateralism fails in accomplishing socio-political goals but also that American involvement spikes extremist sentiment. Perhaps it is time for the United States to acknowledge other countries’ failure to launch, like Turkey’s; who is waiting for the United States to mobilize international support and to resolve the problem. Retaining the superpower status becomes impossible if every issue needs addressing and every conflict requires fighting.

This is not to say that the United States should recluse from international agency. But it is difficult to justify constant military intervention into areas that categorically reject American intervention in addition to instances when most of the heavy lifting should be done by regional actors. Especially in regions like the Middle East where state stability and governmental ability to manage conflict are vital to preventing situations like ISIS or other spillover issues.

The ISIS fight is not entirely the United States’ fight. Sure, we ought to fight and hold ISIS accountable for its horrifying acts towards our journalists and local persons; but ISIS is not an immediate threat to the United States. The president should seriously consider waiting to marshall the larger international response until Turkey signs on to fighting the good fight. Until all relevant persons have a stake in the issue, there is no collective investment in the fight. In the age of intrastate conflict, the United States needs to follow realistic foreign policy; and in this case, Obama needs to demand that regional actors like Turkey carry their weight. Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves in the same scenario in the future: instead of having local actors do the work themselves, the United States or others have to fight on their behalf.

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