White House spokesman Josh Earnest ducked and dodged today when he was pressed by reporters to detail which U.S. allies have promised to join the pending military campaign against ISIS’s forces in northern Iraq and Syria.
“There are no specific public commitments for me to make from here right now,” Earnest said.
However, “at some point we’ll be able to announce important commitments from our allies and regional governments,” he said.
But Earnest did admit that the U.S. is talking to the United States’ long-standing enemy, the Shia theocracy of Iran.
“There is a reason for us to have conversations with Iran on this topic, because we do have shared interest in degrading and destroying ISIL… [and] that shared interest has been discussed,” he said.
But, he added, the U.S. won’t be coordinating military operations or sharing intelligence with Iran.
From roughly 2006 to 2010, Iran’s Shia theocrats killed many U.S. troops in Iran by providing weapons to Shia militias in southern Iraq. Iran’s proxy forces also murdered several European captives and four American soldiers.
The media’s somewhat skeptical questioning was prompted by growing evidence that Obama’s White House has failed to craft a military agreement between Iraq’s Shia-majority government and various Sunni-led governments in the region.
The Shia and Sunni governments are deeply suspicious and hostile to each other — they were on opposite sides of the post-2003 battle for power in Shia-majority Iraq. The Shia government has a great incentive to deny Sunni governments such as Saudi Arabia from sending ground troops or airpower into northern Iraq.
But the U.S. wants Sunnis in Syria to join the attack against ISIS, which is a Sunni jihad group. Without Sunni participation, ISIS will portray any U.S. and Iraqi attackers as illegitimate creatures of Shia-run Iran, which is deeply unpopular through the Sunni-majority Middle East.
ISIS’s “acts are being committed in the name of the Sunni Muslim religion, and it is incredibly important for moderate [Sunni] forces to step forward,“ Earnest said.
Obama’s diplomatic failures stand in sharp contrast to the international coalitions assembled by Gen. George H. W. Bush in 1991, and George W. Bush in 2003, both of which included combat forces from the United Kingdom and other countries to strike Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq.
Earnest said the White House is not announcing details of military commitments because it is still planning the operation in cooperation with allies. “There is some coordination and integration that needs to go on here,” he said, adding that negotiations will continue during the United Nations General Assembly next week.
“A lot of this is deconflicting, making sure we’re not doubling up on some [military] requests [to allies] and letting others go unfilled,” he said.
The Sunni-dominated governments have made private commitments to the U.S., but the White House doesn’t want to announce those commitments first, he said. “There are countries in the area that that arguably, at least arguably, has as much a stake in this fight with ISIL as anyone else,” Earnest said.
The campaign against ISIS will be similar to the operations against jihadis in Yemen and Somalia, he said.
Those campaigns rely heavily on the use of aircraft, especially drones, to strike targets found by various methods, including electronic intercepts and local sources. Small-scale ground forces are used to force the jihadis to emerge from hiding so they can be struck by airpower.
“We intend to implement an analogous strategy against ISIL,” Earnest said.