THERE have been doubt and whimpers of self-interest heard after President Barack Obama declared the US will lead in taking the fight to the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group. These are honest appraisals of a campaign whose success is not assured, but should not obscure the justness of the action to be undertaken. ISIS is an abomination: it foments reigns of terror based on notions of religiosity and community so abhorrent to the majority of Muslim faithful that they must be checked. Support that the United States says it is getting among nations in West Asia and Europe to share the burden is a good sign.
While Mr Obama is to be commended for showing resolve, only the naively optimistic would minimise the risks of the operation. The question of legality in pursuing ISIS elements into Syria with bomb attacks is troublesome enough. Add to that the objections of Russia and China, akin to French legal objections to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
Yet, as the fallout of the post-9/11 war on Al-Qaeda has taught, what is most critical is that the fight against ISIS not be seen as a religious crusade waged by the Christian West. Support from Muslim nations in the conflict theatre, in both material contributions and ideological coherence, will be crucial in making the case that this is not a civilisational confrontation. The US cannot afford to be careless about detail here. No commitment has so far been made by Arab League states on troop deployments or to join the US in air strikes on ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria. Saudi Arabia has offered training facilities for anti-Assad forces, some others have undertaken to cut off the flow of money, arms and fighters. Not much more.
Nato member Turkey can be a decisive participant but is staying out because ISIS is holding a large number of Turkish hostages. The overall impression created in the Islamic community is one of nervous caution. On this basis, the US cannot prematurely claim to have unambiguous Muslim support for the mission. Neither have European nations been unequivocal about taking part in air strikes. War weariness (or wariness) is palpable.
Most dicey is the Sunni-Shi'ite rivalry that will be sharpened by hostile action in Iraq and Syria, which themselves have been eyed by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt in the tussle for ideological supremacy. A wider West Asia war arising from US air action has to be contemplated, troubling as that prospect might be. So too is the possibility that US troop involvement might be needed if air strikes do not degrade ISIS capability, still less destroy it. The permutations are many, especially at this stage of war preparations. But no one should vacillate about the end objective - standing up to the ISIS terror threat.