In a televised address to the American people, President Obama said: “I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.” He also emphasised that the US will ramp up its military assistance to the Syrian opposition.
This is a rather curious approach for him to take, given that ISIL emerged as an al-Qaeda splinter group in April 2013 to become one of the main jihadist groups fighting government forces in Syria. Far from clarifying American foreign policy relating to the situations in Iraq and Syria, his announcement served only to highlight the contradictions inherent in the US approach to the issues.
In a way, it reminds me of the popular tea towel explaining the rules of cricket. You know the thing: “You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that’s in the side that’s in goes out, and when he’s out he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out…” Etc, etc.
In the same spirit, we can summarise Obama’s strategy as follows:
You have two sides, friends of America and enemies of America. America attacks its enemies and supports its friends. Those who attack an American enemy become de facto friends and enjoy American support. Those who attack America or friends of America become de facto enemies and come under attack, even if they were previously friends. However, if friends who become enemies attack other American enemies, they are simultaneously friends of America and enemies of America, and America will support them and attack them at the same time. It is therefore perfectly plausible that America will attack its friends and support its enemies!