2016 elections, air strikes, allies, burden sharing, coalition, Defense Department, Following Up, free-riding, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Kurds, Middle East, Pentagon, Saudi Arabia, Sunnis, Syria, terrorism
A recent RealityChek post explained why the label “serious” shouldn’t be used for presidential candidates (in either party) who claim that the United States can create a meaningful anti-ISIS military coalition. More recently, a report from the Pentagon itself further mocks the idea that office-seekers – or anyone else – believing that America’s allies will share much of the burden of defeating the terrorist group have any significant knowledge of the Middle East or world affairs generally. As my post noted, most of the presidential hopefuls in both parties fall into this category – including all of the “mainstream” or “establishment” figures, along with President Obama .
The Defense Department report tallied by country the number of air strikes carried out against ISIS as of January 19, and here are the findings. Overall, of the 9,782 such attacks conducted on targets in Syria and Iraq, the United States has been responsible for 7,551, or more than 77 percent. By target countries, U.S. war planes have carried out nearly 69 percent of the anti-ISIS strikes in Iraq, and just under 94 percent of these operations in Syria. (These counts don’t include Russian activity, or the more than 65,000 “sorties in support of operations” in the two countries, like reconnaissance and targeting missions.)
DoD doesn’t break down the non-U.S. figures by country; according to CNN, one reason is that these various governments define and count “air strike” in many different ways. But given the focus in the United States on local Middle East countries, and the expectation that their own gut level self-interest in will motivate them to practically lead the fight against a group they say is a literally mortal threat, it seems reasonable to surmise that Saudi Arabia et al are dropping the ball.
It’s important to point out that one reason that the United States has dominated the air war against ISIS is that the United States is the world’s dominant military power. At the same time, the U.S. air power is deployed all around the world in order to handle threats in nearly every region. America’s Middle East allies have no military responsibilities beyond their neighborhood.
Moreover, if these countries aren’t all-in for the air war, how realistic is it to expect them to charge into a major ground war against ISIS? The answer: It’s the height of inanity – and ignorance. And the reason is pretty simple: As has repeatedly been the case since the end of World War II, the United States needlessly has made itself vulnerable to the free-rider phenomenon. Under Democratic and Republican presidents alike, Washington has been so infatuated with exercising “global leadership,” and has so loudly advertised its conclusion that America’s own security depends on the security of every corner of the globe, that its European NATO allies, Japan, and South Korea have understandably assumed that the United States would protect them no matter how modest their own efforts.
In the impossibly byzantine Middle East, the free-rider syndrome has been exacerbated by all the other items on the security agendas of countries ranging from Saudi Arabia (like countering Iranian ambitions in the region, and supporting lots of Islamic radicalism itself) to Turkey (like preventing Iraq’s anti-ISIS Kurds from becoming strong enough to create an independent state that would attract Turkey’s own Kurdish minority).
The failure of the “serious” presidential candidates to recognize the coalition delusion shows that accumulating “experience” in making national security policy in Washington by no means proves that they’ve accumulated wisdom or even developed simple common sense. The same of course holds for the establishment media, which keeps clinging to and parroting the same off-the-mark convictions.