One of the more questionable claims in Obama’s speech last night was the claim that the U.S. was acting with a “broad coalition of partners.” Obama failed to identify who these “partners” are, which makes it more difficult to judge how many there are or whether these “partners” will be of any use. If the Libyan war is any guide to how this will work, the U.S. and a handful of other governments will do the bulk of the fighting, and others will be included on the official list to give an impression of substantial international support that doesn’t exist. The reference to the “broad coalition” seemed to be a matter of paying lip service to the idea that this is a multilateral effort rather than being the U.S.-led war that it mostly is.
Since Obama spoke last night, we have learned that the U.K. won’t be engaging in airstrikes in Syria, and Turkey has reportedly refused to allow the U.S. to use its bases to conduct its airstrikes against ISIS targets in either country. So one of the few major European allies that can contribute significantly to the air campaign is strictly limiting its involvement to part of the territory under ISIS’ control, and the main U.S. ally that borders on both Syria and Iraq won’t be cooperating at all. The lack of Turkish cooperation will presumably make the air campaign more difficult and therefore make it last even longer. The more striking thing about this is that the U.S. is going back to war in the region and still cannot count on support from its sole NATO ally in the region. That draws attention to one of this war’s basic flaws: the U.S. is taking the regional threat from ISIS more seriously and doing more to oppose it than many of the regional states that have far more to lose. The U.S. has allowed itself to be pulled into a new, open-ended war for the sake of “partners” that are contributing little or nothing to the war.