BC Expert: Obama on ISIS
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Associate Professor of Political Science
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Jonathan Laurence is associate professor of political science at Boston College and nonresident senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. His research interests are transatlantic relations, Islam in the West, European politics, and North Africa/Turkey. He is the author of two books, Integrating Islam: Political and Religious Challenges in Contemporary France and The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims: The State’s Role in Minority Integration. Laurence’s research has been featured in The Washington Post and on National Public Radio, and his articles have been published by European Political Science, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, International Crisis Group, Le Monde, The New York Times, Perspectives on Politics, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Der Tagesspiegel and other US and European periodicals. He is completing a new book comparing the evolution of state-Islam relations in Turkey, Morocco, and Western Europe.
A year after telling the United Nations the world is safer now than it was five years ago, President Obama will find himself in the U.N. spotlight as he addresses the General Assembly again, this time the topic will be action against ISIS.
He has the ear of the international media and of the world’s heads of state,” says Jonathan Laurence, an associate professor of political science at Boston College.
After making his case to the American people and to its Congress, the president will make the case for military action to the United Nations, asking for its blessing and cooperation in the fight against ISIS.
“There is some involuntary irony in the act of following in Colin Powell’s footsteps with regard to military action in Iraq,” says Laurence, a nonresident senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. “Here again we have a top American official making the case for military action there."
Despite the strike against ISIS in Syria, which came with the support of five Arab countries, the president hopes to build a broader coalition, especially as the fight against ISIS escalates in Iraq.
“President Obama’s objective is to convince the obvious allies in this fight to bring their commitments out into the open,” says Laurence, who says President Obama will have two goals in mind as he looks for an endorsement by the international community to fight the terror group.
“With respect to the ISIS threat: to encourage a more visible participation by the other stakeholders in the region - so that they are associated with ongoing American, French, British and other allied efforts. But this intervention cannot be portrayed as yet another play for Western influence in the region,” says Laurence, a past Berlin prize fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. “The cooperation of Iraqi forces but also Sunni majority countries who have stakes in the outcome will provide greater legitimacy and efficacy.”
The problem, says Laurence, is the hesitancy of Muslim countries that find themselves choosing between defeating ISIS, or the bitter enemy of ISIS - the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“They’re still deciding between the lesser of two evils,” says Laurence, author of the book, The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims: The State’s Role in Minority Integration. “Will a sustained campaign against ISIS remove the greatest chance they had of Assad’s military defeat? Is attention unduly being turned away from Assad's alleged war crimes and exclusively towards ISIS and its own war crimes?
“That could explain some of the hesitancy that neighboring countries have in degrading ISIS totally — if they think it means accepting the permanence of the Syrian regime and giving up all hope of deposing Assad.”
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