Obama’s Dilemma

For Obama, finger-pointing will not be enough.
For Obama, finger-pointing will not be enough.

One of the main problems confronting the U.S. and other Western powers in connection with the newly appointed Caliph, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, is that by assuming this title and showcasing that he has some charisma, the savvy leader of the Islamic State bestowed upon himself a certain holiness that would resonate with Jihadis across the globe.

Should Al-Baghdadi embark on a media blitz meant to raise his profile and clarify his message, his legitimacy would increase by leaps and bounds with every appearance and pronouncement. If he is not eliminated soon, he might, in a short span of time, become a galvanizing figure whose elimination could prove counterproductive. That is, Al-Baghdadi could become the kind of man who could inspire from the grave far more effectively than in real life. A dejected audience of Western youth, irrespective of their specific ethnic and confessional backgrounds, might fall more readily for his preaching and worldview.

On the other hand, targeting Al-Baghdadi and ISIS without developing a clear policy for ending the current conflict, and eliminating some of its other troubling figures, like Assad, will only fuel the development of the aforementioned scenario. What the U.S. and its European and regional allies need to adopt at this stage is a mixture of targeted attacks and gunboat diplomacy with the aim of launching a regional political process that can help establish a new arrangement where the likes of Assad and Al-Baghdadi and their sectarian ilk and death squads have no place. Moreover, Western leaders have to have the political will to see this through to the end.  In other words, they need to do exactly what they have been trying to avoid all this time, and they need to do it at a much larger scale than would have been necessary had they had more foresight four years ago.

But with Obama in the White House such foresight may not be forthcoming anytime soon.