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Will Obama's Plan Be Enough To Quell Islamic State?


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary. Another video depicting the gruesome murder of a Westerner has been released by the militant group calling itself the Islamic State. The victim was 44-year-old British aid worker David Haines who had been kidnapped in Syria last year. This latest news comes as President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry tried to rally support for their plan to defeat the Islamic State.

President Obama released a statement saying, quote, we will work with the United Kingdom and a broad coalition of nations from the region and around the world to bring the perpetrators of this outrageous act to justice. David Rothkopf joins us now. He's the CEO and editor of FP Group which publishes Foreign Policy magazine. Welcome to the program, Mr. Rothkopf.

DAVID ROTHKOPF: Good morning.

NEARY: Now this video was clearly directed at Prime Minister David Cameron. He had an emergency meeting this morning with his military and security chiefs to discuss it. Do you think this is going to prompt the UK to commit more fully to this global coalition to defeat ISIS?

ROTHKOPF: It's hard to say. When these things happened in the past sometimes they make countries pull back a little bit. That happened with Spain a while ago. I think the British have had a degree of resolve to follow through in this. I think they see themselves as exposed to the foreign fighter threat from ISIS to a greater degree than other countries, perhaps. And so my sense is that they will be committed perhaps more so than any other country in Europe.

NEARY: President Obama hasn't even yet gotten a firm commitment from his NATO allies for airstrikes. You've written there can be no strategy without boots on the ground. Why is that so important?

ROTHKOPF: Well, I'm - you know, somebody's got to go and take the land that these guys are holding, and ensure that they don't come back. You can't really have a long-term solution without a political solution. You can't have a political solution without a security stability on the ground. And so somebody has got to be coming into that space.

And the problem we've got right now is there are a number of people who've said we'll provide intelligence, or we'll provide air support. Or we will provide other kinds of secondary support. And that then leaves the people fighting on the ground as the Iraqi army, which is being guided largely by the Iranians, or Hezbollah in Syria which is guided by the Arabians. And if we leave it to them, you're likely to get an outcome that is not what we want and may in fact inflame Sunnis on the ground who are, you know, right now inclined to sort of give ISIS a chance.

NEARY: And is it possible it could end up being Syrian government troops?

ROTHKOPF: Sure. I mean, you know, we could go and deplete ISIS and then who moves in to fill the void? It could be the Syrians. It could be the Iranians. It could be Jabhat al-Nusra. That's the complication here. This is not a two-sided war. You know, there are multiple sides in Iraq. There are multiple sides in Syria. And so just sort of hitting it from above and hoping we destroy some supply chains is not going to get the job done.

NEARY: You've criticized President Obama for hesitating to engage in the Mideast. Do you think he's doing enough now?

ROTHKOPF: Well, I think he has a resolved to address this issue. I think they recognize that what has happened there with the rise of ISIS, with the deterioration in Syria, with the collapse of the situation in Iraq requires action. He seems focused. He seems committed. The question is whether we're going to be able to pull together the right kind of coalition and then be committed to following this through - not just through the military phase, but through a successful implementation of some kind of political solution that gives Sunnis real authority within Iraq and also deals with extremism throughout the region, not just ISIS.

There are a lot of groups like this that have spread in the past several years. And if we get one of them, but we don't address the broader problem, we're just going to be going back and playing this problem for many years to come.

NEARY: David Rothkopf is the CEO and editor of FP Group. Thanks so much for being with us.

ROTHKOPF: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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