Obama's Use of ISIL, Not ISIS, Tells Another Story

Obama's Use of ISIL, Not ISIS, Tells Another Story

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There has been little notice of the president’s insistent use of the acronym “ISIL” to describe the Sunni forces currently rampaging across Iraq, executing Iraqi military and creating a new massive refugee population in an already unstable area. 

With the exception of Reuters and now the Associated Press, most news organizations have not referred to ISIL until President Obama began using the term, which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. But when Obama used the term 5 times on June13, and 16 times in his commencement speech at West Point on June 19th, he was using his bully pulpit to make a point. 

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Most, like this publication, continue to use the widely accepted acronym ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or al-Sham, but both describe the same murderous organization. The difference is that the Levant describes a territory far greater than simply Iraq and Syria.  It’s defined as this: The Levant today consists of the island of Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and part of southern Turkey. 

Why would Obama prefer ISIL? An “army” of that territorial magnitude takes the focus off the two countries that many believe define Obama’s continued failure in the Middle East. Most likely, he would rather eliminate the connection between the chaos in Iraq with his inaction in Syria. Better that the upheaval in a country to which we committed so much blood and treasure remain the fault of George W. Bush. The president has already been tarred with having failed to secure a Status of Forces deal with Prime Minister al-Maliki, which would have allowed a contingent of American troops to stay in Iraq. 

Numerous critics warned that sectarian hostilities were inevitably going to worsen under the openly partisan Shiite government; they argued that only by arranging a continuing presence in Iraq would the U.S. have any opportunity to moderate Maliki’s divisive anti-Sunni regime. Instead, the minute U.S. troops left in 2011, Maliki began to shut down and marginalize Shia and Kurd voices, arresting opponents, including Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.   

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Numerous sources have claimed that Obama purposefully undermined the negotiations over a SOFA, suggesting he wanted to score political points by getting our troops out, no matter the long-term consequences of an overly hasty exit. 

Not only has the worsening of sectarian hostilities encouraged the current Sunni uprising, Maliki has also permitted shipments of weapons from Iran to al-Assad’s government in Syria through Iraqi airspace. The Obama administration had early on denied that Maliki was providing this assistance, undermining U.S. interests, until Secretary of State Kerry went to Bagdad to demand an end to such transfers. Presumably, a U.S. presence would have prohibited such access. 

President Obama is also criticized for refusing to arm moderate factions in the early days of the Syria uprising, a hesitation Hillary Clinton now says she opposed. Because he dithered, the U.S. lost the opportunity to engage with the less extreme opponents of Bashar Al-Assad. Our absence arguably created a vacuum, into which streamed Al-Qaeda linked extremists, helping create the alliance between Islamic terrorists in Syria and Iraq. Now, across the Middle East, there is fear that extremists will ultimately control Syria. 

President Obama was clever to announce that our military advisors would soon be helping Iraq confront the insurgent ISIL; Americans might not be so forgiving about sending more of our best and bravest to help push back ISIS. It’s all in the “message.”

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