Global Leadership Lacking in 2014

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Guest Commentary

Are terrorists gaining international respectability? That question isn’t as ridiculous as it may sound. The other day, while watching a popular news channel, I was stunned by a ticker that read “UN Secretary-General urges Islamic State captors of Jordanian pilot, whose warplane was shot down in Syria, to treat him ‘in accordance with international humanitarian law’.”

What on earth is Ban Ki-Moon thinking when he is the voice of an organization representing 193 member states? Does he seriously expect bombers, torturers and rapists, who’ve been merrily slicing off heads and selling women in a slave market, to abide by the Geneva Conventions or humanitarian law? And, moreover, the very suggestion gives those creatures and their ‘caliphate’ international recognition. What is the world coming to?

There’s no getting away from it, 2014 was a good year for terrorists. Why, because the former world’s policeman, the United States, along with its traditional allies, has been falling short in their job. The Commander-in-Chief of America’s Armed Forces President Obama has failed in his efforts to eradicate ‘the Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria, even though it poses a threat to many other regional states as well as US interests.

Such ineffectiveness not only empowers this band of killers, it entices more recruits. According to Hisham Al-Hashimi, a security expert based in Baghdad, the Islamic State’s numbers have swelled to 100,000, whereas a year ago, it was estimated to have no more than 15,000-20,000 fighters.

Almost all military strategists agree that merely dropping bombs won’t cut it, including US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey and former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. Senator Lindsey Graham told CNN “There is no way I can see to fix the problem in Iraq and Syria without American ground troops. The job of the commander-in-chief is to protect the country…”

In the meantime, rather than run to rat holes to hide from US might, Islamic State terrorists are establishing state institutions and running social programs, says German reporter Jurgen Todenhofer, who was given access to the group’s territory in northern Iraq — and was lucky enough to return home with his head attached to his neck.

Fighters have an “incredible enthusiasm and sense of victory” he told the BBC, adding that he saw hundreds flooding in daily from all over the world to join them. They boast about being willing to kill millions, he said, claiming Al Qaeda is “peanuts” in comparison. Interestingly, he maintains, “Only Arabs can stop IS, the Western countries will never stop IS.” I don’t necessarily agree with that statement. If the west showed determination, the Islamic State would hardly rate a mention in history books. US-led coalitions have unseated Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi, the Taliban and numerous Latin American regimes.

Nevertheless, Todenhofer has a point.  Arabs are under the greatest threat. There is a sword hanging over all our heads. Yet, most Arab countries are turning a blind eye. A few have engaged their air forces, but they can’t finish the job on their own. If the Arab world joined hands to share human intelligence, surveillance capabilities, military hardware, airpower and manpower, the Islamic State would be decimated in a matter of months.

With our region collapsing like a house of cards due to terror organizations, such as the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and the Al-Nusra Front in Syria and Iraq, Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis on the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya — all different facets of the same coin — questions must be asked.

For instance, why is the Islamic State’s siege on 350 villages near the Syrian town of Kobani close to the Turkish border still ongoing? Clearly coalition airstrikes have achieved little in more than three months.

Secondly, when the world is aware that Turkey is the terrorists’ transit destination, why isn’t President Recep Tayyip Erdogan being asked to explain himself? Last week, Turkey’s former Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış and a co-founder of the ruling AKP Party, admitted that ISIL “has benefitted from Turkey’s tolerance in running its activities.” And although he dismissed accusations that his country had “intentionally helped” Al Qaeda and IS, asked whether Islamic State members had picnicked in Istanbul, he agreed, yes, it’s “the face of the iceberg at first sight”. If I was an American, I would be tempted to respond, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck.

Thirdly, how was the ISIL that’s now morphed into the Islamic State created? Where does its weapons and funding come from? Which countries are buying its stolen oil? And why aren’t those states being internationally sanctioned?

Lastly, are were seriously to believe that the world’s most militarily advanced nations with the planet’s most sophisticated surveillance and intelligence capabilities are impotent to stem terrorism’s proliferation in the Middle East or to liberate captured territories where civilians are crying out to be rescued? President Obama has left those victims to the wolves just as he earlier failed to rescue the Syrian people from the missiles, the chemical attacks and the prisons of one of the most brutal dictators the world has ever known. Likewise, he didn’t succeed to thwart Yemen becoming an Iranian hub since Houthi rebels stormed the capital in September and imposed conditions on Yemen’s government. Yemen is now a terrorists’ free-for-all. And Al-Qaeda in Yemen even has the audacity to launch a magazine dedicated to “Jihad on America” with tips on how to blow-up commercial airliners.

Who should be held responsible for this mess all around us? I am not in a position to be able to accurately pinpoint blame because I don’t have access to insider intelligence. But these questions are valid and deserve answers.

In short, 2014 will be remembered as a perilous year in a world without decisive leadership. No leader has displayed heroic qualities. No leader has had the courage of his convictions. In short, most have been a disappointment. Unless they miraculously come to their senses, we can only trust in the Creator’s mercy. Happy New Year! May God make it so!

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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