Judging from President Obama's 10 September speech announcing the expanded operation against ISIS and the Jeddah Communique that John Kerry hammered out last week, Obama is expecting a lot from Egypt, Jordan and Gulf states like Saudi Arabia.
At a minimum, the Communique (which is hardly binding) pledged that they should support the new Iraqi Government, implement UN resolutions to eliminate terrorism, and seal ISIS off from the region. This would help prevent both the influx of foreign fighters and arms, and stop the petrol smuggling that has been funding ISIS's operations at US$1-2 million per day. This containment of ISIS will be demanding in itself, quite apart from the further military, economic and humanitarian contributions the US will request in the coming months and years.
Take petrol smuggling, a larger source of revenue for ISIS than donations from wealthy financiers in the Gulf. Both income streams will be difficult to break, but petrol smuggling will be more challenging because it's a business from which both sides benefit. Participants are motivated by an economic opportunity, not radicalism. This makes it all the more necessary to squeeze the cross-border petrol trade early and effectively.
Turkey will be crucial here, since a lot of the smuggled petrol is moving across its border with Syria (through movable plastic pipelines in some places). Turkish border control will also be key to preventing foreign fighters getting to ISIS. At a minimum, Washington is counting on Turkey to seal its border effectively, and though the terrain is difficult in some areas, Turkey’s military should be able to do so.
But at this stage it looks like Turkish troops will not be available to the US for substantial military operations against ISIS. Nor is Turkey allowing the US base at Incirlik to be used for aggressive air operations. Though both Kerry and US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have conducted talks with Turkey, President Erdogan clearly wants room to maneuver.
Turkey counts as a US 'ally' though it did not sign the Communiqué and it has declined to attend some of the subsequent coalition talks. The release of Turkish hostages over the weekend theoretically removes one impediment to Turkish support for the US, though there are many Turkish nationals working in Iraq who could still be targeted by ISIS. The motives behind ISIS's release of hostages are also decidedly murky.
But let's recall that Turkey was unwilling to be part of the coalition during the Iraq War in 2003. It probably has the same concerns now that it had then: too little clarity on the post-war political solution. Turkey has long been critical of the West's handling of Syria's Bashar al-Assad, wanting tougher action against the dictator. Turkey may fear that action against ISIS will strengthen Assad, particularly given that US plans for the endgame in Syria aren't clear. To top it off, the US Senate has only just approved the appointment of a new ambassador to Ankara, John Bass, who will have to manage a delicate and extremely high-stakes negotiation process as he settles in. The Obama Administration will need to appreciate that Turkey is status conscious, focused on what the ultimate political order in its region will look like, and doesn't take a simplistic view about the sources of Islamist radicalism. These are, in fact, eminently reasonable positions for Turkey to take. It will be up to the US to account for them and be flexible and attentive if it can.
The US media isn't helping. Turkish bloggers have expressed surprise and some offense at coverage by the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and New York Times, with their statements that Turkey is 'soft' or even perfidious on ISIS. President Erdogan publicly criticized the New York Times for suggesting that ISIS was gaining large numbers of recruits from Turkish mosques. The New York Times, backed by the US State Department, hit back, arguing that the Turkish Government was threatening the safety of one of its reporters.
As Obama and his team embark on a new adventure in multilateralism, they will need to manage the mixed messages sent by their media as well.