Who Stands To Profit From Another War?

Good Sam Club 500

Dan Froomkin eyes defense contractors:

Now, with U.S. forces literally blowing through tens of millions of dollars of munitions a day, the industry is not just counting on vast spending to replenish inventory, but hoping for a new era of reliance on supremely expensive military hardware.

“To the extent we can shift away from relying on troops and rely more heavily on equipment — that could present an opportunity,” Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank, whose $66 billion portfolio includes Northrop Grumman Corp. and Boeing Co. shares, told Bloomberg.

Defense contractor stocks have far exceeded the performance of the broader market. A Bloomberg index of four of the largest Pentagon contractors rose 19 percent this year, compared to 2.2 percent for the S&P 500.

The pricey F-22 made its combat debut this week:

[T]he F-22 is extremely expensive to operate and difficult to maintain. In 2013 the Raptor cost the Air Force about $68,000 per hour to operate once maintenance and other factors are added in, according to documents provided by the Center for Defense Information.

Daniel Altman wonders “whether the arms industry put its thumb on the scale”:

Even a short involvement in Syria will be exceedingly profitable; the first round of air strikes this week reportedly cost $79 million, more than India’s mission to Mars. To “train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition,” as the amendment voted on by the House states, could cost much more, perhaps as much as $500 million.

So the arms industry had a lot on the line in Roll Call Vote 507. In the end, it passed easily. But those who voted for the amendment may have been much more beholden to the industry than those who did not. On average, the “Yea” voters had received more than $36,000 in contributions from the defense sector during the last campaign cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The “Nay” voters had taken only about $22,000.

Relatedly, Tom Z. Collina questions the utility of our vast nuclear arsenal:

As the New York Times reported on Sept. 22, the United States plans to spend about $355 billion on nuclear weapons over the next 10 years, and up to $1 trillion over 30 years. As they say in Washington, that’s real money. Yet these weapons play essentially no role in responding to today’s highest-priority threats. U.S. nuclear weapons did not keep Russia from taking Crimea. They did not stop the Islamic State from rampaging through Iraq and Syria. And Ebola? Yeah, right.

A quarter-century after the Cold War, spending this much money on nuclear weapons is simply not justified. But even if it was, the harsh reality is that the country does not have the cash to pay the tab.

(Photo: An F-22 Raptor. By Jason Smith/Getty Images)

The Era Of Threatiness

Rosa Brooks parodies Obama’s speech to the UN:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: My fellow Americans, the Middle East today is frighteningly full of threatiness.

What, you ask, is threatiness? As my good friend Mr. Stephen Colbert will surely understand, threatiness is to threat as truthiness is to truth. By this, I mean that sometimes we cannot articulate why something is a threat, or offer evidence, but we still think it just feels, you know, threaty. We know it in our gut. And let me be clear: when there is enough threatiness floating around, America must take action.

Nicely done. It’s amazing that no one has yet identified any threat to the US to justify a return to war in Iraq, let alone Syria. Fisher finds Brooks’ coinage useful:

There are two ways to interpret the threatiness of the Obama administration’s case for Syria strikes. The sympathetic interpretation is that there is in fact a good case for intervening against ISIS to curb the danger it poses, but that this danger is difficult to sell politically, because it is too indirect, abstract, and/or complex for a prime time speech. For example, the administration may believe that ISIS is destabilizing an already unstable region in a way that, if left unchecked, really would lead to non-exaggerated threats to the US, not unlike what happened when the Taliban took over Afghanistan. And so, for the sake of political expedience, Obama is using the more palatable language of threatiness, even though that language is at least partly bullshit. That’s the sympathetic interpretation.

The unsympathetic interpretation is that the Obama administration felt pressured into strikes that it now has to justify, or it has no strategy and is trying to cover that up, or it earnestly believes its overstated language.

Take your pick. But none of the interpretations really add up, at least in my mind.

Why Are We Suddenly At War Again?

US-POLITICS-CLINTON

Maybe it’s worth tackling one more time. Dougherty, channeling my own thoughts, thinks it’s basically on an emotion-driven whim:

Barack Obama’s exit from Iraq was as popular as his re-entry. America is against war in Iraq and then for it with the same non-committal “Um, okay.” The nation was founded by a people who made vows, who would “pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Now its wars are are on and off like a proposed take-out order: “Chinese or pizza? I mean, whatever you want.”

The pundits who say that President Obama has failed to demonstrate leadership have never considered whether the public is capable of following him, or even their own train of thought. The American public is not even capable of not following him in any recognizable way. We might have been dropping bombs in Syria against Assad to the benefit of ISIS a year ago had it not been for the hearty “No” vote in the British Parliament that denied Obama the fig leaf of multilateralism. A democratic people should be bewildered that their president was urging them to join one side of a civil war a year ago, and now joins them to another. But the American people are as responsive to this stimulus as a cattle herd is to the conclusion of a Dostoyevsky novel.

My own view is that any circumspection about this – indeed any sign of a working collective memory at all – can be suddenly driven from the American mind by the obvious fact of seriously foul actors doing horrifying things to Westerners. 200,000 Syrians died in a brutal civil war and there was no groundswell for intervention. And yet a handful of beheadings of white dudes in the desert (even by another Westerner!) provokes an immediate, Jacksonian rush to war.

But I don’t want to be reductionist here, and I’ve absorbed many good points from your emails. Other factors are clearly at work. Americans do not want to be the policeman of the world, but they like and are reassured by America’s untrammeled military might. And in the last couple of years, as the US has retrenched (only slightly) from its post-9/11 posture of offensive defense, there was a sense that other powers were filling the vacuum – especially Russia. This has spooked Americans, and they are conflicted about it. The resumed disintegration of Iraq – begun in 2003 – provoked further anxiety. Was this not becoming a classic Jihadist enclave from which terrorists could launch attacks on the US?

On the right, there was also a desire to pummel the president for anything and everything. So when he is not being a lawless tyrant, he is a total wuss and loser in foreign policy. And so the re-emergence of the decade-old Sunni insurgency in Iraq was too-perfect a bludgeon for them to resist. They got to trash Obama for “weakness”, cast the Iraq war as some kind of “victory” that Obama managed to turn into “defeat”, and generally use bad news from Mesopotamia as another brick to throw at the man’s head. Total American amnesia about the horrors and futility of the Iraq war helped matters – even as Obama refused to force the GOP to confront head-on the question of ground troops yet again in Iraq.

Then there is the utterly understandable revulsion at the moral abyss that ISIS represents. Fighting against evil has always stirred American hearts – even if we have come to learn that fighting it with brute force can sometimes make it stronger. And the cumulative effect of so many depressing developments – from Crimea to Donetsk to Erbil and Mosul – led to an impression of American drift and disengagement. So a call to action against evil was the natural response to the summer of our discontent.

And one also senses that the administration began to believe this summer that ISIS could actually take down the Baghdad government. They haven’t said this much in public, because it would be damaging. But John Kerry recently gaffed to Christiane Amanpour that “Baghdad could well have fallen.” Others have bruited that the situation in Iraq had approached a potential tipping point in the summer, as the uselessness of the Iraqi army in Sunni neighborhoods became clearer. For Obama, watching Baghdad fall – or be convulsed by serious sectarian urban warfare – was intolerable. So he has done what he often does: fashioned a reasonable, needle-threading strategy to prevent the worst from happening, forestall as much mission creep as possible, and attempt to rally the regional actors into action.

He has not done something obviously stupid. And I may simply be under-estimating the pressures on a president facing mid-terms when such a huge public consensus emerges that Something Must Be Done.

He has tried to do it in coalition with the Sunni Arab dictatorships – and is, in his usual way, trying to thread the needle with the other actors in the region, especially Iran. There is a good chance it might do some good in the very short term, although there is a stronger chance that it will generate ever-more unintended consequences in the long term, something the president openly conceded would be left to his successor.

My concerns are based on the notion that ISIS cannot be defeated in this manner; that the root cause is the irreparable disintegration of Iraq and the Sunni-Shiite struggle; that interposing the US in the middle of a Muslim civil war is likely to increase Jihadist terrorism against the West, without being able to remedy the situation; and that the way in which the US has had to corral the Arab dictatorships into defending themselves does nothing but perpetuate the dysfunctional relationship between the US and the Middle East – in which we are held responsible for everything and despised as a result.

But I’ve said my piece. Maybe I should end by saying that, of course, I hope I’m wrong and that Obama manages to pull off an extraordinary military and diplomatic coup over the next two years. I hope his newfound moxie against evil-doers ends up in a different place than his predecessor’s. I hope this doesn’t upend the negotiations with Iran. I hope it helps his party retain control of the Senate in November. And I hope his precedent doesn’t further empower the war machine, the CIA shadow government and the imperial presidency that drives so much of this. All I can promise readers is that I will be open to all those hopeful possibilities, even as I fear a much darker time ahead.

(Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty.)

War Support With An Expiration Date

Cassidy makes an obvious but essential point:

At the start of the wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, fewer than one in four respondents to the Gallup survey believed it was a mistake to send in U.S. military forces. Thereafter, though, this number steadily increased. By the time the wars had been going on for two or three years, more than fifty per cent of respondents said that the decision to wage them had been an error. The one exception was Afghanistan, where, after three years of war, the percentage of people describing the decision to dispatch U.S. forces as a mistake was still pretty small. Since then, though, this figure has grown: by 2012, it was close to fifty per cent.

Larison wonders how Americans will support the war:

In most cases, the near-instant bipartisan consensus that congeals around an interventionist policy and the attendant media demands to “do something” tend to drown out countervailing arguments during the first few months of the campaign. This boosts public support for military action in the short term, but like any bait-and-switch trick it also causes people to sour on the intervention more quickly than they might have done otherwise. More Americans gradually become aware that the threat to the U.S. was overstated (or simply made up) all along, and they start to realize that the war they were originally told about at the beginning is not the one that the U.S. is actually fighting. Because presidents often set unrealistic goals for these interventions, there is usually even greater disillusionment because the war comes to be seen as “not working.” That is a trap that presidents set for themselves. They are the ones promising results that aren’t possible, and those results certainly aren’t possible at the very low cost that the public is willing to accept.

What Obama Said At The UN

UN-GENERAL-ASSEMBLY-US-OBAMA

Ed Krayewski heard echoes of Bush:

President Obama called ISIS a “network of death,” arguing that “there can be no reasoning,  no negotiation, with this brand of evil.” In making the case for the anti-ISIS campaign President Obama has adopted the language George W. Bush deployed when first formulating the war on terror. “We face a brand of evil, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time in the world,” President Bush told airline employees on September 27, 2001. Later, he would place Iraq, Iran, and North Korea in an “axis of evil,” a term that coud’ve been ripped from a comic book.

Bush was a fan of using the word “evil” to describe Islamist terrorists, and it shouldn’t be surprising that President Obama has found the strong, unequivocal, and emotional word useful in defending the anti-ISIS campaign.

Zack Beauchamp’s take on the speech:

[I]t was perhaps the clearest articulation yet of what he actually believes and how he sees the world, and yet it also showed how his policies do not line up with those beliefs. The UN address — purportedly written by the president himself— laid out Obama’s fundamental worldview in especially clear terms. He’s an inveterate optimist, deeply believing that we’ve built a world with a bright future. But he’s also willing to take aggressive, even cynical actions to secure that future. That’s why his rhetoric and policy so often feel at odds.

Cassidy considers the political calculus:

On Monday night, American forces bombed ISIS targets inside Syria and also blasted buildings and installations associated with another extremist group. On Wednesday, the Gallup tracker showed that Obama’s approval rating had risen to forty-four per cent.

“It’s certainly possible the president will get a bump from this and it looks like it may be happening because his rating is a bit higher than we’ve seen before,” Gallup’s Jeff Jones told the Fiscal Times. “We want to let it play out a few more days and see if it sustains itself, as opposed to being something really temporary.” I should stress again that I am not suggesting that President Obama consciously responded to the polls by deciding to expand the campaign against ISIS. He is, though, operating in an environment that rewards certain actions and punishes others.

Jeffrey Goldberg doesn’t think politics is playing a big role:

Obama’s critics will say that he has shed his public diffidence on matters related to the conflicts of the Middle East because pollsters have been telling him that Americans want a less professorial president. But my impression from watching him in recent weeks, and from talking to people who know him well, is that two sets of recent events in particular have actually shifted his thinking about the relative importance of “soft power”; about the nature of America’s adversaries; and consequently about the role the U.S. must play in the world, in order to keep these adversaries at bay.

Thomas Wright agrees the president’s perspective has changed:

Obama’s worldview has always allowed for this shift. Influenced by Niebuhr, he believes that malevolent forces exist in the world, including within ourselves. He believes that the United States must act on occasion to stop them. But, for the past few years he has not agreed that we are at such a moment in history. He has not agreed that the international order is facing fundamental challenges that require extraordinary action. Throughout the course of the past year, which has been full of destabilizing developments, he has resisted the notion that we are at a tipping point. Until now. Today, he told a world audience that he too is worried the international order is falling apart. Today, he sees the chasm ahead. Today, he agrees that without an American push, history may be headed in a tragic direction.

And David Rothkopf puts Obama’s remarks in context:

In short, if well-turned phrases defined history’s outcomes, we might be heading to a much better, safer Middle East. But if the men and women who are working behind the scenes to make that happen are to be believed, it is even more likely that further unrest and danger are on the horizon. We may enjoy early victories in the war against IS, we may even turn them back in the months ahead, but absent a commitment to address the broader, strategic issues with the same sense of urgency we are bringing to that fight — to battle for political gains as intently as we do those on the battlefield, or for leaders like Obama and Rouhani to devote as much of their attention to the work of the back room as they do to that at the podium — it looks like in the current Middle East there may be, in the famous words of the old song by Creedence Clearwater Revival, a bad moon rising.

(Photo: US President Barack Obama sits after speaking during the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly at the United Nations in New York, September 24, 2014. By Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

A Terrorist Brand War

Vera Mironova worries that’s what we have on our hands:

The only way for Al-Qaeda to get back to the top of the list of terrorist organizations would be to outbid ISIS on its own field (excessive brutality), to prove that they are still the reigning terrorist organization. This does, unfortunately, look to be the plan of the Al-Qaeda. Although they have co-existed with the Yemen government for years, this “peace” however was shattered on August 9th in the southern Yemeni province of Hadramawt, when fourteen military personnel were brutally slaughtered for no reason. A group of armed men stopped and boarded a civilian bus, identified the military personnel, and proceeded to slit their throats. Following in the ISIS traditions, the armed men identified themselves as Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula, videotaped the mass slaughter and published it online.

Although it is hard to predict the future, evidence would suggest that we can expect to see even more brutality in Middle Eastern conflict while Al-Qaeda tries to regain its title. And after the last incident in Hadramawt, Yemeni government pressed Al-Qaeda to look for a “refuge” in other Middle Eastern countries, like Syria and Iraq, the current strongholds of the ISIS. Therefore, the return of Al-Qaeda to the top of the list of terrorist organizations, an extremely violent scenario, is possible.

Is Obama Pulling A Bush?

United Nations Hosts World Leaders For Annual General Assembly

Tomasky insists no:

The first and most important difference, plainly and simply: Obama didn’t lie us into this war. It’s worth emphasizing this point, I think, during this week when Obama is at the United Nations trying to redouble international support to fight ISIS, and as we think back on Colin Powell’s infamous February 2003 snow job to Security Council. Obama didn’t tell us any nightmarish fairy tales about weapons of mass destruction that had already been destroyed or never existed. He didn’t trot his loyalists out there to tell fantastical stories about smoking guns and mushroom clouds.

The evidence for the nature of the threat posed by the Islamic State is, in contrast, as non-fabricated as evidence can be and was handed right to us by ISIS itself: the beheading videos, and spokesmen’s own statements from recruitment videos about the group’s goal being the establishment of a reactionary fundamentalist state over Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. That’s all quite real.

The in-tray has been full of similar sentiments. My response is: sure, so far as it goes. But Tomasky’s argument doesn’t go very far. And the way in which Obama supporters have lamely acquiesced to this reckless war fomented by a dangerous executive power-grab is more than a little depressing. It strikes me as uncomfortably close to pure partisanship. I can’t imagine them downplaying the folly of this if a Republican president were in charge.

Sure, we are indeed not being grotesquely misled this time about non-existent WMDs. But we are going to war despite the fact that ISIS is no more a direct threat to the United States than Saddam was – arguably much less, in fact. We have no answer this time to the unanswered question last time: what if our intervention actually galvanizes Islamist extremism rather than calming it? And the Arab coalition that Tomasky cites as evidence that this war is a far less American-centric one than 2003 has some issues when you confront reality. Here’s the latest:

Jordan said that “a number of Royal Jordanian Air Force fighters destroyed” several targets but did not specify where; the Emirati Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the air force “launched its first strikes against ISIL targets” on Monday evening, using another acronym for the Islamic State. American officials said that Saudi Arabia and Bahrain also took active part in the strikes, and that Qatar played a “supporting” role.

This may be important window-dressing, but window dressing it still is. It sure isn’t close to the coalition George H W Bush assembled in 1990 – and it’s much smaller than George W Bush’s coalition in 2003. More to the point, the key element of any successful strategy will be the position of the Sunni Arab tribes – and they are still sitting on the sidelines. Turkey is AWOL so far. And the fact that the Arab states do not want their contributions to be broadcast more widely reveals the depth of the problem. Obama has Americanized the problem. Once you do that, the regional actors get even more skittish, because the only common thing for so many of the populations represented by these autocrats is loathing of the United States. This is the Arab world. The US will never get anything but hatred and cynicism and contempt from it.

Then there’s the question of authorization.

George W Bush got a few Security Council resolutions (if not the final, vital one). Obama hasn’t even bothered – he’s bombing a sovereign nation without even feigning a request for formal authorization. GWB – against Cheney’s wishes – procured a clear declaration of war from the Congress. Obama seems to have decided that he is more in line with Cheney’s views of executive power than George W Bush’s – and has blown a hole so wide in any constitutional measures to restrain the war machine that he has now placed future presidential war-making far beyond any constraints. If that isn’t an outright abandonment of almost everything he has said he stands for, what would be?

Bush’s war had a vague and utopian goal: the establishment of a multi-sectarian democratic republic in Mesopotamia. He had close to no plans for the occupation; and no real understanding of how quixotic a project he was promoting. Obama’s goals are just as quixotic – “ultimately destroying” ISIS from the air alone – and he has no Plan B for failure. Bush tried to defeat a Sunni insurgency with a multi-sectarian government in Baghdad. It never happened – and we had to bribe the Anbar tribes instead, and, even then we needed 100,000 troops to keep the lid on the whole thing.

Obama says he is fighting a Sunni insurgency with a broadly based Baghdad government – but replacing Maliki has led to no such thing. There is still paralysis in Baghdad over the interior and defense ministries, no cross-sectarian national entity to take the fight to ISIS, and the real risk of a Shiite government actually reinforcing the Sunnis’ sense that the US and the Shiites are now intent on persecuting them even further. That makes the prospects for this attempt at pacification even worse than in 2006.

And look: I think Obama is sincere in doing what he can with the Baghdad mess; but we have to be crazy to buy this line of argument in counter-insurgency at this point in history. We are fighting a Sunni insurgency on behalf of a Shiite government and a near-independent Kurdistan, a fight which might well empower Iran and even Assad. This is about the worst formulation for this struggle as one could come up with. It does not bring Sunnis into the struggle; it may well keep them out.

Of course I wish I didn’t have to write this. And it is, of course, true that we are not torturing prisoners with the sadism and insanity of the Cheneyites. It is true we are not sending in 140,000 troops into another country. We are sending almost none – but to achieve the same result! To do the same thing we did last time and hope for a better outcome is the definition of insanity. But to do the same thing with even less of a chance to achieve it takes things to a new level of incoherence.

This is an illegal war, chosen by an unaccountable executive branch, based on pure panic about a non-existent threat to the United States, with no achievable end-point. Apart from all that, it’s so much better than Bush, isn’t it?

(Photo: Obama holds a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi during the 69th United Nations General Assembly in New York City on September 24, 2014. By Allan Tannenbaum-Pool/Getty Images.)

Go To Congress, Mr. President

Clay Hanna, a veteran, pleads with Obama to get congressional authorization for his new war:

If Congress declares war, and the full force and might of the U.S. military and her allies is deployed, I have no doubt that we will fatally strike the Islamic State.

But without this clarity, without “boots on the ground” and above all an acknowledgement of what these really are, the president’s strategy amounts to nothing more than amorphous rhetoric and disingenuous platitudes. It is at the core a cynical plan to incite war and fund violence, backed by a vague hope that not only will we remain unaffected but somehow we will achieve peace. Don’t deceive yourself or us any longer, Mr. President: There is no good war and no participant gets to walk away with clean hands. Not even you.

Beutler believes Congress wants war but doesn’t want to authorize a war, because “voting on the issue would violate the Optimal Preening Principle, which tends to govern these debates”:

Killing terrorists, or alleged terrorists, might be popular. But it’s also something the military (and thus, the president) does. Meanwhile, on a good day, Congress votes on legislation. The president might use a new AUMF to do things the public overwhelmingly supports, but that won’t help the embattled congressperson who would have to defend granting the president unlimited warmaking power or defend voting against bombing terrorists because the AUMF wasn’t expansive enough. Instead, by not being forced to take a stance, Obama’s opponents will be able to frame the issue however they want to.

Likewise, when something goes wrongas it inevitably willmembers of Congress won’t want to be linked to it with their votes, and won’t want their votes constraining them from harrumphing about it on camera. Constituents won’t credit them if things go swimmingly anyhow, so they see no upside in sticking their necks out.

Bruce Ackerman chews out Congress for neglecting its duties:

Neither the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel nor the White House Counsel has issued a serious legal opinion presenting its side of the argument. This represents a profound breach of the rule of law. Worse yet, Congress’ failure to address the constitutional issues during its regular session threatens to create a legal vacuum which only the courts will be in a position to resolve. Unless extraordinary steps are taken, the result will be the worst of all possible worlds, in which a problematic Supreme Court decision only exacerbates the ongoing crisis of constitutional legitimacy.

Eric Posner disagrees with Ackerman’s legal analysis:

Ackerman is right that the Obama administration’s reliance on the 2001 AUMF is phony, but he’s wrong to say that Obama has broken with American constitutional traditions. That tradition dictates that the president must give a nod to Congress if he can, but otherwise he is legally free to go to war, subject to vague limits that have never been worked out. That’s not to say that Congress is helpless. It can refuse to fund a war if it objects to it. But the real constraint on the president’s war-making powers is not law, but politics.

Regardless, Jennifer Daskal, Ashley Deeks and Ryan Goodman urge Congress to get involved:

[T]he administration again appears to be invoking the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs – a position that two of us have been critical of in the past.  We thus join President Obama in his call to Congress to put the actions on sounder domestic law footing, and pass a new authorization specifically focused on ISIL, and, depending on the facts, the Khorasan Group as well.

Who The Hell Is The Khorasan Group?

They were among our targets yesterday:

Tuesday’s attacks hit key Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) facilities as well as the little-known Khorasan Group, which is based in northwest Syria. But it is not yet clear to what extent the Khorasan leadership and operatives had been taken out in the attacks. The joint staff director of operations Lieut. General William Mayville said the U.S. was still “assessing the effects of the strikes.”

Aron Lund’s provides background on the group:

What is being discussed is not a “new terrorist group,” but rather a specialized cell that has gradually been established within, or on, the fringes of an already existing al-Qaeda franchise, the so-called Nusra Front. What this seems to be about is a jihadi cell consisting of veteran al-Qaeda members who have arrived to the Nusra Front in Syria from abroad, mainly via Iran, and who are in direct contact with al-Qaeda’s international leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, himself believed to be based in Pakistan.

Foreign Policy asks how big a threat the group poses:

“In terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said at a conference in Washington last week. But according to the top U.S. counterterrorism official, as well as Obama himself, there is “no credible information” that the militants of the Islamic State were planning to attack inside the United States. Although the group could pose a domestic terrorism threat if left unchecked, any plot it tried launching today would be “limited in scope” and “nothing like a 9/11-scale attack,” Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in remarks at the Brookings Institution earlier this month. That would suggest that Khorasan doesn’t have the capability either, even if it’s working to develop it.

“Khorasan has the desire to attack, though we’re not sure their capabilities match their desire,” a senior U.S. counterterrorism official told Foreign Policy.

What Eli Lake is hearing:

The Khorasan Group has been experimenting with different types of non-metallic explosives for attacks on Western targets, according to U.S. intelligence officials. Most of the members of the group come from Yemen, Afghanistan, or Pakistan and have for months been coordinating with bomb-makers drawn from al Qaeda’s affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula, the most persistent and creative of al Qaeda groups in efforts to bomb U.S.-bound passenger jets.

ISIS and al Qaeda bitterly split earlier this year, and have since attacked one another on occasions. But some analysts now fear that striking at ISIS and al Qaeda could persuade the two groups to put aside their sharp differences and come together. Indeed, jihadist ideologues loyal to both warring factions have had similar messages for their followers in the wake of the airstrikes.

Our Arab Coalition Against ISIS

US And Arab Allies Launch Airstrikes Against ISIL In Syria

Drum is unimpressed by it:

Here’s the nickel version: After months of bellyaching about America’s commitment to fighting ISIS, one single Arab country finally agreed to help out. Only then did anyone else also agree to pitch in. But the extent of their involvement can’t be revealed because it’s a “sensitive operational detail.” Can you guess just how extensive that involvement is? Or do you need a hint?

But Fred Kaplan thinks the coalition is a big deal:

It is highly significant that four Arab nations—Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain—participated in Monday night’s airstrikes and that a fifth, Qatar, supported them. No one has yet said how many bombs the four dropped, or what Qatar’s support amounted to, but it doesn’t matter. During the 1990–’91 Gulf War, these and several other Arab nations, including Syria and Egypt, sent tank divisions and air wings to help push Hussein’s army out of Kuwait. Few of them did much, but the important thing was that they joined the coalition in active force—and, therefore, Hussein could not claim that this was purely a Western, imperialist war. Sending this message is even more important in the fight against ISIS, which bills itself as the Islamic army and its mission as a religious one—the revival of a caliphate. To have Muslim nations, especially Sunni nations, battling against ISIS helps discredit its rationale for existence.

Goldblog also talks up the coalition:

[Obama] has built a formidable alliance of Arab allies to fight Islamic State. Of course these Arab allies are all profoundly threatened by Islamic State and have an incentive to openly align themselves with the world’s only superpower. But the leaders of these countries have until very recently doubted Obama’s commitment to them, and they would not have joined forces with him if they believed he wasn’t in the fight for the long haul.

After long avoiding deeper engagement in Syria and Iraq – for the simple, understandable reason that these countries are seemingly insoluble messes – Obama has pivoted (to borrow a word from another now-dormant foreign-policy debate) in the direction of responsibility.

“Responsibility” is not the word we’d use. Christopher Dickey asks about the coalition’s mission:

Perhaps most striking of all is the absence, in this rump coalition, of the grand pronouncements we heard from earlier U.S. administrations—or from this one five years ago when President Barack Obama sought to turn a new page in Washington’s relations with the Arab and Muslim world. In the current crisis, Obama has articulated no overarching cause, no doctrine about defending freedom and democracy. This offensive is purely defensive. It is not about the future: it is about a desperate effort to hang on to the present status quo as the region, having shed the enthusiasms of the Arab Spring like a soiled party outfit, is now trying to slip back into the drab, predictable uniforms of dictatorship and monarchy.

Now that the Arab kings and princes have joined in, it’s obvious that this is a war to try to turn back the clock to before the Arab Spring of 2011, before Obama’s 2009 initiatives, before the efforts of President George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice to graft democracy onto the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The people of the region are tired of chaos. And at this point, Obama shows every sign he’s tired, too. He appears to be settling for any tactical approach that might ward off the growing threat of new attacks on Americans and the American homeland posed not only by ISIS, but by the point men of al Qaeda in a group known as Khorasan that also came under attack by U.S. warplanes over Syria on Tuesday.

Saletan points out that the US is “hiding or downplaying the involvement of other countries whose complicity, if acknowledged, might do more political harm than good”:

The ally no one wants to acknowledge is Israel. That would play into ISIS propaganda, which frames Obama as the “mule of the Jews” and Saudi rulers as “guard dogs for the Jews.” In the first Persian Gulf War, we used Israeli intelligence but didn’t advertise it, lest we offend our Arab allies. Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of Israel’s contributions to the anti-ISIS coalition, “Some of the things are known; some things are less known.” An anonymous Western diplomat said the United States was using Israeli satellite images, “scrubbed” of their Israeli traces, to show its coalition partners damage from strikes against ISIS in Iraq.

No such role has been acknowledged yet in Syria. But the Obama administration began its surveillance flights over Syria only a month ago. In all likelihood, Israeli satellite coverage was even more thorough and useful in Syria than it was in Iraq.

Adam Taylor wonders about Turkey:

Ankara’s position has clearly been complicated by its fraught relationship with the Turkish Kurds. The People’s Protection Units, known by the acronym YPG, have been one of the strongest forces fighting against Islamic State, yet they are linked to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, the separatist guerrilla group that has waged a Kurdish insurgency against the Turkish state for decades. Both Ankarra and Washington consider the PKK a terrorist organization. Many observers suspect that Ankara finds it easier to tolerate the Islamic State’s rampage in Syria than cooperate with Kurdish groups like the PKK or YPG.

Ed Morrissey looks on as Egypt exploits the situation:

In an interview [yesterday] morning with CBS’ Charlie Rose, the Egyptian president whose coup took down the Muslim Brotherhood government favored by the White House says that his country would be happy to join the anti-ISIS coalition, including militarily, and expects to do so. Just as soon as the US coughs up the fighter jets that the Obama administration held up after the coup, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi says with repeated laughter, Egypt will be delighted to help fight terrorism. … There is no such thing as a free ride in this part of the world. But at least Obama doesn’t have an Islamist regime in Cairo that’s giving ISIS political cover, and for that he can thank Sisi — even if those thanks come through clenched teeth

And Michael Koplow isn’t expecting Iran to openly join the coalition anytime soon:

A large element of the Iranian regime’s ideology is opposition to the U.S.; it is the reason that the regime has harped on this point for decades on end. When you base your legitimacy and appeal in large part on resisting American imperial power, turning on a dime and openly helping the U.S. achieve an active military victory carries far-reaching consequences domestically. It harms your legitimacy and raison d’être, and thus puts your continued rule in peril. Iran wants to see ISIS gone as badly as we do, if not more so, and ISIS presents a more proximate threat to Iran than to us. Despite this, Iran cannot be seen as helping the U.S. in any way on this, and simply lining up interests in this case is an analytical mistake as ideological considerations trump all when you are dealing with highly ideological regimes. The same way that the U.S. would never have cooperated with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War to defeat a common enemy – despite being able to come to agreement on arms control negotiations – because of an ideological commitment to being anti-Communist, Iran will not cooperate with the U.S. against ISIS. Those naively hoping that ISIS is going to create a bond between the U.S. and Iran are mistaken.

(Photo: In this handout image provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) launches Tomahawk cruise missiles on September 23, 2014 in the Red Sea. By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Carlos M. Vazquez II/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)