With major crises persisting throughout the summer in Syria, Ukraine, Libya, Israel and the Gaza strip, it has been a rough few months for the United States.
The brutal tactics of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad against opposition groups continued, leading to thousands more civilian casualties as the number of displaced Syrians climbed into the millions. Growing from this civil war, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has become the post-9/11 fear of the U.S., recognized as a hard-line state run by Islamist militants.
A shaky truce over the Ukraine conflict between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko is already on the verge of collapsing in the face of recent shells in Eastern Ukraine.
Libya, now free from the rule of Muammar al-Gaddafi, is being torn to shreds by rival militias including the Libya Dawn, a fundamentalist Islamic group which captured Tripoli International Airport this month.
In Gaza, the U.S. learned that it was utterly unable to mediate a peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians as upward of 2,000 civilian casualties in Gaza were highly televised to the public. Although the Israeli government and Hamas have come to an armistice, mediated by Egypt, the question of how a Hamas-dominated Gaza can continue to exist in the face of Israeli military force continues to fester under the surface.
For its part, the U.S. has gathered a group of NATO allies, which President Barack Obama said will “systematically degrade” the capabilities of ISIS. After a long summer of watching civilians across the world perish, one is left to wonder whether the U.S. and its NATO allies are up to the task.
The Middle East has become the exact kind of volatile breeding ground for extremism which the war on terror was designed to prevent. The Islamic State has proven a fearsome enemy to those who have encountered it, with the Syrian and Iraqi armies, along with the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, facing defeats at their hands. U.S. airstrikes have proven effective at containing the Islamic State, but the extremists are still able to make gains on the battlefield of the Syrian Civil War.
As the death toll in that war tops 191,000, according to the New York Times, with millions displaced, the United Nations-sanctioned removal of Asaad’s chemical weapons stands as a small glimmer of hope, but also a bleak reminder that the killings have only escalated since then. Ultimately, the standoff between Putin and Obama over the “red line,” which symbolized the use of chemical weapons, proved to be as far as the international community was willing to go for the people of Syria.
Had ISIS not become its own state in the middle of Iraq, I very much doubt that any nation in the West would consider the Syrian Civil War worth its time and effort. Even issues in the Middle East which are close to the American public went unaffected by the U.S., as we saw in the Gaza strip.
John Kerry’s already strained ties with the Israeli government were further frayed when he proposed a peace mediated and designed by Turkey and Qatar, both seen as backers of Hamas by Israel.
Furthermore, the Israeli campaign in Gaza sparked severe tensions between Israel and the U.N. when it was discovered that U.N.-designated sites, which were found to have been used for weapons storage, were attacked by Israeli artillery.
Since the taking of Tripoli International Airport by Islamic extremists under Libya Dawn, the decision by the U.S. to go above and beyond U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 by forcibly removing Gaddafi is looking increasingly dubious in the face of heavy civilian casualties. This decision did a serious number to Russia-U.S. relations, as Russia abstained from the Security Council vote under the assumption that NATO wouldn’t take over the operation later and dethrone Gaddafi.
Today, NATO is discussing a “spearhead” attack force which can be mobilized quickly in the event of a severe military crisis in the East. This is, of course, in response to Russian incursions in Ukraine, where more than 2,600 people have now died in the fighting (to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands displaced). With increasingly heavy sanctions on Russia, and talks of more to come, the situation in Eastern Europe will only continue to intensify without more direct talks.
With Britain, Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Turkey ready to take joint action against ISIS, and the leader of the terrorist group Al-Shabab in Somalia having been recently assassinated by the U.S. military, it would appear that the reeling Western nations are now preparing their response to a world which is increasingly portrayed as falling apart in the media and online.
Ultimately, the conflict between Russian and Western interests appears to have created an impasse which will need to be addressed. Depending on how effectively NATO can handle ISIS and the threats in the Middle East, which member countries have described as a paramount priority, the answer to the Russian question will either come sooner or later.
Julian del Prado is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]