Among his reasons for insisting on Arab participation, not just verbal support of, the operations against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the President must consider how fighting ISIL appears outside the West.
Modern nations often seek allies when confronting a potential adversary to improve success, decrease failure and—if all else fails—spread the blame. Operations in southwest Asia are especially complex because of religion. The birthplace of many of the world’s major and minor religions is a crazy-quilt of overlapping and conflicting ethnicities. If anything fires people up more than patriotism, it’s religion.
Since ISIL is a Sunni extremist group, President Obama wisely sought to include Sunni nations in the military operations. (The difference between Sunni and Shia Islam may be lost on most Americans, but it’s significant to them.) If a Royal Saudi Air Force aircraft bombs ISIL people, it helps counter claims that this war is a western Christian “crusade” against Moslems in general and Sunnis in particular. Believe me, that is a sensitive topic there. (Someday I’ll discuss how the existence of Israel is the greatest boon to peace—among Arabs—in modern Middle East history.)
Sunni participation decreases the threat to American operations in nearby waters and nations. If you think American bases and ships are not at risk, you’ve forgotten about USS Cole (DDG-67) or the Khobar Towers bombing or attacks against American bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That’s why it’s important that Sunni Moslem nations not just support, but participate in operations against ISIL.
Of course, if ISIL attacks Turkey, all this will be clearer, but not necessarily easier.