The Presidential Race and the San Bernardino Effect

Basil Wilson's picture

The San Bernardino act of terrorism has changed the conversation in the campaign for the Presidency.  President Obama’s address to the nation from the Oval Office did not allay the fears of insecurity among American people in the aftermath of the Paris carnage and the San Bernardino massacre of innocent co-workers of Sayed Farook at a Holiday Party.

President Obama held a National Security meeting with his team of military and intelligence advisors to determine whether his adopted strategy against ISIS is paying dividends.  The President outlined the progress of the campaign but the demand is for more spectacular gains.

CNN’s debate with the Republican Presidential candidates revealed that there are sharp differences among the Republican aspirants to the Oval Office.  Donald J. Trump, the ambulance chaser, recommended the wholesale banning of all Muslims entering the United States.  The more rope that is given to Trump is the closer he gets to hanging himself with the American electorate but he is cheered on by the nativist elements in his own party.  The inexperienced Presidential Republican candidates in the race, Trump, Carson and Fiorina, simply lack the sophistication of dealing with complex issues facing the United States in the Middle East.

The neurosurgeon had a meteoric rise in the polls but the more he came under scrutiny, the more it became apparent that in the political arena, he was more an anesthesiologist than a learned statesman.  Carson is destined to be the Herman Cain of the 2016 Presidential campaign.

Fiorina has suffered a similar fate vis-a-vis Ben Carson.  Her meteoric rise has also been short-lived.  Her record at Hewlett Packard, her failed campaign against Senator Barbara Boxer in California and her inastute “rap” of making the case that the Federal Government is inept has fallen on deaf ears.  Both Carson and Fiorina are in the process of becoming casualties in the 2016 Presidential campaign.

There are other Republican aspirants like Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina whose campaign has not captured the imagination of the Republican extreme right wing which has taken hold of the Grand Old Party.
Graham entered the Presidential sweepstakes to articulate his foreign policy concerns particularly in the Middle East.  He boasts that he has been to the region 36 times.  He is convinced that if we do destroy ISIS sooner rather than later, there will be another 9/11 in America.

Senator Lindsey Graham dismisses Trump’s lunacy of banning all Muslims from entering the United States as damaging to America’s national security interest in the Middle East.  Graham, a venerable hawk and a strong advocate of putting American boots on the ground, recognizes that America must forge a coalition of Sunni Muslim states in the Middle East who must be in the vanguard of liberating territory from ISIS.  American troops must be involved but for achieving liberation legitimacy on the ground, Sunni countries and soldiers must constitute the vanguard.

Senator Graham sees the battlefield in the Middle East as essentially ISIS versus the United States but the dialectics in the Middle East is far more hydra-headed.  What is required to liberate ISIS control of territory in Iraq is a far cry from what is needed in Syria.

Graham, like most of his Republican colleagues, sees Iran as an exporter of terrorism.  Iran, thanks to George W. Bush’s overthrow of Saddam Hussein, has become an influential player in Iraq.  This alliance personifies the Sunni Shia religious war for hegemony in the Middle East.  ISIS used the Shia takeover of Iraq to emerge as the protectors of Sunni interest in territories where Sunni were a majority.  ISIS and their notion of a Caliphate represent a new form of Islamic fascism.

Russia’s plunge into the Syrian civil war is foolhardy as they are attempting to prop up a dictator who represents Alawites and Shia who are imbedded in a sea of Sunni Muslims.  The Syrian ‘freedom fighters” of different stripes are vehemently opposed to Bashar al-Assad as they are to Abu-Bakr, the head of ISIS.
Further complicating the situation in the Middle East are the Kurds who have demonstrated their capabilities as warriors willing to coalesce with the Americans but are virtually at war with President Erdogan’s Turkey. Turkey is adamant about not allowing the Kurds to achieve independence or to emerge as an organized military force that constitutes a threat to Turkey’s territorial integrity.

Although Senator Graham is critical of President Obama’s strategy, his recommendations for defeating ISIS only differs in putting another 6,500 American troops in Iraq.  There is unanimity in arming Syrian rebels but with trepidation that like the arming of the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, may turn out to be Islamic extremist.

If the Vienna talks to end the Syrian civil war are successful in removing Assad from power and establishing an inclusive government in Damascus, it would make the defeat of ISIS in Al-Raqqah less gargantuan. But those talks are still in an embryonic state.

In the Democratic Party, retaining the White House will be more difficult if, in the throes of the 2016 Presidential campaign, gains in rolling back ISIS control of territory are not readily discernible.  The situation will be further complicated if there are additional acts of terror on American soil.

Rolling back ISIS control of territory in Iraq is an easier task.  The key is for the Iraqi government to demonstrate that they are committed to embracing Sunni interest and that the integrated army has the will to fight. 
America can influence events in the Middle East but maximizing that influence will require more than military might.  President Obama in his press address after meeting with the Generals pinpointed that Iraqi troops are circling Ramadi and Fallujah.  Supply lines have been cut leading to Mosul.  Many of the leadership of ISIS have already been taken out.  The recapture of these Sunni cities are critical to decimating ISIS and could determine the mood of the electorate in 2016.

*Dr. Basil Wilson is Provost Emeritus of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Executive Director of the King Research Institute, Monroe College, Bronx, New York. He can be reached at: