There was practically nothing left of the US-led global and regional coalition for defeating IS but a wispy thought just 12 hours after President Barack Obama unveiled his plan on Wednesday, Sept. 10.
The next day, in Jeddah, Secretary of State John Kerry obtained from the foreign ministers of key Arab and Middle East nations a shared commitment to stand against terrorism and undertake steps to stop fighters and funding for Islamists. But none were ready to contribute combat troops to fight the Al Qaeda-related IS which had seized over one-third of both Syria and Iraq and was still on the march.
The most they would offer on the subject was that they would “as appropriate, join in the many aspects of a coordinated military campaign” against the militants.
DEBKA Weekly’s Middle East sources describe the motivations at work among Middle East nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They were clearly intent on payback to the Obama administration for the way his policies had brushed them off – in particular in relation to the Iranian nuclear program and the Syrian civil war.
Now that the US president had changed his policy in response to the peril posed to the West by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – whose rise the moderate Arab rulers lay at Obama’s door – they saw no cause to jump up and serve his new global strategy with combat troops.
Erdogan tripped Obama up without warning
Turkey led the way. At midday Thursday, Ankara announced that Turkish bases will not be available for the US-led coalition to mount air strikes against jhadists “in neighboring Iraq and Syria.” Nor would it take part in “combat operations against militants.”
This was just three days after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Ankara Monday, Sept. 8, to discuss strategy with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other top officials. And three days before that, Hagel and President Obama met with Erdogan at the NATO summit in Wales and persuaded him to join the US-led coalition against the Islamic State.
All this hobnobbing stood out in sharp contrast to the coolness between Turkey and the US in the last nearly two years.
In his speech Wednesday, Obama cited Turkey and Turkish troops as participants in his strategy for fighting IS. He would not have mentioned this had he been warned by Kerry or Hagel that Erdogan was about to trip him up.
A big strategy for fighting ISIS, but no troops
Turkey and its strong elite special units were the key to an effective regional combat force for Iraq. Therefore, Washington was stunned when Erdogan again pulled the rug from under a major American military venture led by Obama, just as he did in 2003, when he denied President George W. Bush transit through Turkey for 60,000 US troops to open a second front against Saddam Hussein.
Erdogan then prolonged the Iraq war by at least six months, with the result that many more Americans were killed and wounded.
By Thursday, the US president already found himself saddled with a formidable-sounding strategy for crushing the monstrous ISIS, but no allies or troops in the region to make even the first part of the plan, the war in Iraq, operational.