By Robert Weiner and Elizabeth Burke
On March 17, Secretary of State John Kerry called the ISIS atrocities "genocide." On April 13, President Obama went to the CIA headquarters and asserted "progress" against ISIS, saying they've had a "bad few months" of lost territory and forces. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest recently announced "the latest assessment of the number of fighters" for ISIL in Iraq and in Syria as "about 25,000," down from a high of 31,000. We assume all this means the administration has been carefully and accurately counting each ISIS soldier to have such precise numbers, and they are accounting for recent ISIS actions.
While all the presidential candidates have been formulating new plans on how to attack ISIS, especially with the latest horrific mass bombing murders in Brussels and the shootings in San Bernardino, we have already engaged in war. The U.S. is spending overall about $9 million a day on the military effort against ISIS, including about $5 million a day spent on airstrikes. Our allies in Europe combined have contributed less than half the amount.
The $500-million plan to train 5,000 Syrian opposition fighters has fallen flat. The Commander of U.S. Central Command, General Lloyd Austin, admitted to the Senate on September 16, 2015, that the sum total of people the U.S. have trained that remain in the fight were about "four or five."
Ohio Governor Kasich was right to call for Arab allied help and assert on March 21 and repeat several times since, "We cannot go it alone." He is not alone in asking for Arab help--from liberals John Conyers, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton to Republican Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, all have said that must be the core of our strategy. Yet as the U.S. drops expensive bombs, Middle East "allies" have done little to help. Ed Payne and Salma Abdelaziz reported on CNN, "The Arab allies fighting against ISIS have refused to say how many airstrikes they have carried out against ISIS. Pentagon statements reveal that half the Arab countries in the coalition have carried out no bombing in Iraq and Syria at all."
It is difficult to believe the Middle East will defeat ISIS on their own, but it is even more of a myth to believe that we can train Middle Eastern countries' soldiers to fight ISIS. They are too distracted fighting one another because of the destructive history for centuries between the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites. In addition, Turkey says the Kurds are themselves terrorists in that nation. How can we rely on either the Turkish government or the Kurds within it to defeat ISIS if Turkey is killing them, our allies, inside its own borders?
Among leading presidential candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supports "a no-fly-zone." Senator Sanders urges "nations in the Middle East step up their military efforts." Donald Trump "would bomb the s--- out of 'em." Ted Cruz "will carpet bomb them into oblivion." Marco Rubio, like Hillary Clinton, "would declare no-fly zones to ground Assad's air force." In other words, none of the candidates, nor the Administration, has a clue if the countries of the region refuse to take the lead.
However, while the U.S. is dumping bombs onto Syria and Iraq, Arabs are dropping bombs--but not on ISIS. Saudi Arabia is fighting Iran in Yemen. Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the London School of Economics, told CNN, "You're talking about a major 24/7 war. The two countries with the most capacity in terms of air power are flying fighter jets over the skies of Yemen."
Even if we can persuade some regional Arab partners to weigh in, the question of Arab countries' loyalties remains. U.S. presidents courteously bow and then hand over military resources to the Saudis even though 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia.
The Administration claims a coalition of 62 allies against ISIS. However, in addition to weak allies in the Middle East, we have equally weak European and Western allies. Our neighbor and close friend Canada just became the latest to announce it will withdraw fighter jets from Syria and Iraq because of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's "commitments I've made around ending the combat mission." Britain is providing minimal military support because of memories of accusations of former Prime Minister Tony Blair as a puppet of President Bush concerning flawed Iraq WMD intelligence.
We should continue air strikes and special operations, but eventually Middle Eastern countries themselves must understand that victory against ISIS barbarism is necessary. This cannot be achieved just through sharing computer science, government intelligence, and global technology expertise, but by planes, troops, weapons, dollars, and attacks from regional allies themselves.
With memories of Iraq still raw and fresh, U.S. policy makers do not want to send massive troops back to the region. Yet because we have taken combat control with air strikes, drones, and special ops, our allies will consider us as leaders in the effort and take advantage of our commitment while putting no skin of their own in the game.
Many believe that the main reason why we entered Iraq was to arrange access to Iraq's oil, which is not happening. The Middle East has the ammunition and ample resources to take charge. Now they need to direct them at ISIS. If they see they have no other choice, and they act, then we can support them. In fighting ISIS, U.S. efforts and dollars should match Arab self-interest in leading.
Robert Weiner is a former spokesman for the Clinton White House and the House Government Operations Committee. Elizabeth Burke is international policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change.