Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1274, (10 - 16 December 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1274, (10 - 16 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

From San Bernardino to Damascus

President Obama’s address to the American nation following the San Bernardino massacre set the right tone and should encourage US leaders to see more clearly where their interests lie in fighting terror, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

US President Barack Obama gave an address to the American people from the Oval Office on Sunday, 6 December, in the wake of the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. On Wednesday, 2 December, two radicalised Muslim Americans opened fire at a social centre and killed 14 innocent people.

In his address, President Obama described the massacre as an “act of terrorism, designed to kill innocent people.” He added, “So far, we have no evidence that the killers were directed by a terrorist organisation overseas, or were part of a broader conspiracy here at home.”

However, the US president made clear that the two had gone down what he rightly called “the dark path of radicalisation.” As would be expected, President Obama spoke of his efforts as commander-in-chief to confront terrorism and terrorist organisations that have tried to harm the United States, whether Al-Qaeda and its leadership or Islamic State (IS).

He pointed out as far as IS is concerned, he has been briefed daily on its activities for the last seven years, presumably by his top intelligence officials. He assured the American people that the United States will prevail in its fight against IS “by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless, and by drawing upon every aspect of American power.” This was one of the most relevant parts of Obama’s message to the American people.

In this context, Obama laid out his future strategy to deal with the evolving threat of IS without being drawn to order the deployment of US ground forces. He promised to continue hunting down terrorist “plotters” in any country where it is necessary. The United States will continue, as well, to provide training and equipment to tens of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting IS on the ground.

He referred to the deployment, already in place, of US Special Operations Forces who can, to quote the US president, “accelerate that offensive.” In the meantime, the United States will keep working with “friends and allies” to stop IS operations.

It is intersting to note in this regard that Obama said that Washington has “surged intelligence-sharing with its European allies” since the December attacks in. He also said that both the United States and Turkey are working together to seal the Turkish-Syrian borders.

The most interesting part in the strategy that President Obama laid out was the part concerning the Syrian crisis. He said that an integral element of this strategy is finding a political solution to this crisis in the framework of the Vienna process, without precisely explaining how.

So questions remain as to whether the White House, in order to successfully implement its vision on how to defeat IS militarily on the ground, will bring the Syrian army into the array of forces that must be deployed on the ground to defeat IS.

As a matter of course, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, dealt with this point in his remarks last Thursday, 3 December, before the ministerial meeting of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe that took place in Belgrade.

The most important question in this respect is whether the United States, with its allies and partners, is willing to work with the Syrian government in the war against IS and other terrorist groups operating on Syrian soil. Personally speaking, I doubt if what President Obama described as a “sustainable victory” over IS can be achieved without involving the Syrian government in this war.

The Syrian army is the only force that could fight IS decisively at present. The Syrian forces that Obama talked about in his address to the American nation are not reliable, plus it would take years to turn them into a highly disciplined military force capable of regaining territories lost to IS in Syria and Iraq over the last two years, along with holding these territories in the face of counterattacks by IS.

President Obama asked the US Congress to vote to authorise the continued use of military force against IS, making it clear that the United States should not be drawn into a long and costly ground war in Syria and Iraq.

The US president made it a point — and it was the right message from the Oval Office — that the war going on against terrorism in the Middle East is not a fight between America and Islam, adding that IS does not speak for Islam.

To drive this important point home, Obama said that the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslims. He further stressed that the real problem that Muslims worldwide must confront is the spread of “extremist ideology.”

I could not agree more. And in this respect, I would allow myself to kindly request that Obama invite Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to the Oval Office, and the sooner the better, to discuss how best the United States could be on the “right side of history” in fighting terrorism and extremism.

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