After Paris, Obama changes nothing

A piece from Foreign Policy argues that the recent Paris attacks will not change President Obama’s Syria policy.

It begins “the mass carnage in Paris last Friday was the worst terrorist attack perpetrated in and against the West since the 2004 Madrid train bombings. And there are some who might come to believe (or hope) the severity of these attacks would produce a fundamental change in the Obama administration’s approach to the Islamic State and Syria. But, as I’ve noted before, when it comes to President Barack Obama and abrupt policy changes, anyone caught up on this idea ought to lay down, take a deep breath, and wait quietly until the feeling passes”.

The author goes on to write “Five days after the Paris carnage, it may simply be too soon (and unfair) to make categorical predictions about what the U.S. president will and will not do to respond to Islamic State terrorism. And of course, without a crystal ball, who’s to say if future attacks in Europe, or even a similar attack here in the United States, would fundamentally change U.S. policy. But preliminary indications, based on Obama’s statements at the G-20 summit, suggest that the Paris attacks aren’t going to fundamentally influence or alter the administration’s approach toward the Islamic State and Syria. For now, America’s Goldilocks policy — a mix of diplomatic and military moves that are neither too hot nor too cold and are designed to degrade and contain the Islamic State’s spread over time — will continue to prevail”.

However he writes that the administration is becoming increasingly isolated as countries seek action “other world leaders appear to be shedding — perhaps even breaking with — Obama’s slow-burn game plan and going red hot against the Islamic State: understandably, France and Russia, in particular, two of the Islamic State’s most recent victims. And that is a potentially significant change. Indeed, right now it seems that the Paris attacks aren’t a proverbial game-changer for the United States but another horrific turn in the long war against global jihad. Let’s wait and see whether the Obama administration can take advantage of the horror in Paris to energise its own policies and help its allies to strengthen theirs. Understandably, French President François Hollande reacted to the carnage perpetrated on his homeland with strong words and deeds, promising that France’s response will be pitiless and merciless. The French have used U.S.-supplied intelligence for launching strikes against Raqqa as well as for beginning their own crackdown against potential jihadi sites and safe houses in France and Belgium. Hollande has sought broader emergency powers to do precisely that. And Russian President Vladimir Putin, having officially pronounced that the Islamic State was in fact responsible for the downing of Metrojet Flight 9268, vowed revenge in an appearance during which he emanated an icy stare, one he no doubt cultivated when he served in the KGB”.

Pointdly he writes “the sense you get from worldwide media coverage of the Paris tragedy is that the days of namby-pamby policies against the Islamic State are over — that the time has come for the West to step up. Paris was the tipping point, the game-changer, the proverbial transformative moment that should and would energise the West and the international community to turn the long war against the Islamic State into a much shorter affair”.

This just leaves the Obama administration, “what has been offered up by administration officials seems to be an effort to downplay the prospects that Paris will lead the United States — at least for now — to fundamentally alter its existing (and cautious) policies in Syria. On Sunday, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes agreed with Hollande that the Paris attacks were an “act of war,” but proceeded to rule out any major change in U.S. policy that might bolster that assessment. Finally, he doused with ice water the possibility that more U.S. troops were the answer, arguing that setting up a no-fly zone was too expensive and a misallocation of resources”.

The piece goes on to mention “Obama’s comment at the summit that the Paris attacks were not simply an attack on France but on the entire civilized world was true enough but somehow seemed stale and lacked the freshness and resolve that seemed called for in the moment. So what’s really going on here? In the wake of the Paris atrocities, what’s driving U.S. policy away from a more muscular role and, like a moth to a flame, toward a more risk-averse approach consistent with traditional policies? Here’s what Obama would say to you if he could”.




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