Offers of more Western warplanes and tough talk about a global war on terrorism emerged on Monday in Paris, but the U.S.-led coalition aimed at destroying the Islamic State includes no offers from Arab states to commit to the "boots on the ground," considered critical by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Representatives from more than two dozen countries, including 10 Arab states along with Canada, Russia, France and Britain, met at a conference in Paris and pledged support for Baghdad in battling the Sunni jihadis who have seized a swath of Syria and Iraq to create a caliphate under the Islamic State banner.
But splits emerged even as the coalition was being formed and the battle cries of the committed ranged from full-throated to vague.
Canada was among the most strident.
"I … condemn this terrorist group, which has perverted the peaceful message of Islam and murdered thousands of innocents in its name," Foreign Minister John Baird said. "This rogue group systematically violates every value that Canada holds dear."
Canada has deployed 70 special forces to Iraq, who along with 1,500 U.S. advisers form the spearhead of the effort to co-ordinate Iraqi and Kurdish ground troops with air strikes by U.S. warplanes against the black-clad extremists.
But the actual commitment forged in Paris was hedged and conditional. Foreign ministers agreed they were "committed to supporting the new Iraqi government in its fight against Daesh [the pejorative Arabic acronym for the group that calls itself Islamic State] by any means necessary including appropriate military assistance, in line with the needs expressed by the Iraqi authorities, in accordance with international law and without jeopardizing civilian security."
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius denounced the militants, saying "the throat-slitters of Daesh – that's what I call them – tell the whole world: 'Either you're with us or we kill you.'"
France and Australia have offered to join the U.S. bombing campaign, which blunted the Islamic State's rapid advance to the gates of Baghdad. But Turkey, a key front-line state, has offered only humanitarian aid and refused to let coalition warplanes fly bombing missions from its big air force base at Incirlik. Most of the U.S. air strikes are being launched from the USS George H.W. Bush cruising in the Persian Gulf.
"The threat is global and the response must be global," French President François Hollande said. France, which like Canada opted out of the 2003 Iraq war, has taken a leading role in military actions against Islamist militants in both North Africa and the Middle East. "There is no time to lose," Mr. Hollande told the conference.
Air strikes have helped Kurdish peshmerga forces stabilize a front in northern Iraq. But without ground forces acceptable to the Sunni Muslim populations, the air war can't "degrade and destroy" – to use Mr. Obama's words – the Islamic State's proto-caliphate.
Neither Syria nor Iran, the two states with forces actively engaged in ground combat against Islamic State fighters, were invited to the Paris conference, apparently because of objections from Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Russia, an ally of both Damascus and Tehran, deplored their absence. Both were "natural allies" in the war against Islamist extremists, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. Moscow has staunchly supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime is waging a brutal war against rebels, who are mostly Sunnis, with Islamic State the most militarily capable.
Mr. Obama said last week he was prepared to bomb Islamic State forces in Syria as well as Iraq, which would – ironically – amount to air strikes against the Assad regime's most bitter foe.
Both Iran and Syria lampooned Mr. Obama's new-found interest in waging war against the Islamic State.
"I saw no point in co-operating with a country whose hands are dirty and intentions murky," Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in comments quoted by IRNA, the state-controlled news agency.
In Damascus, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said the U.S. effort was flawed. "You cannot fight terrorism when you collaborate with those who created these terror groups including in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and others," he told the BBC.
Wading back into the bitter sectarian violence that has erupted in several Middle East countries has also brought Mr. Obama under fire domestically.
"This idea we will never have boots on the ground to defeat them in Syria is fantasy, said Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican. He said the rise of the Islamic State is the consequence of Mr. Obama's decision to pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq in 2011.
"All this has come home to roost over the last three years of incompetent decisions," he said. "This is not about bringing a few people to justice who behead the innocent in a brutal fashion; it's about protecting millions of people throughout the world from a radical Islamic army. They're intending to come here, so I will not let this President suggest to the American people we can outsource our security," he said, referring to Mr. Obama's insistence that he would limit the U.S. military response to air strikes.
Vague plans to train Sunni ground forces deemed moderate and therefore acceptable to Washington have also emerged, with Saudi Arabia offering a base for training. But it may take months before any ground forces capable of taking advantage of U.S. air strikes in Syria can deploy.
"To defeat and ultimately destroy ISIL, something that is not only in our interest but in the interest of the countries in the region, [Arab states] are going to need to take the fight," White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said, referring to the Islamic State militants by an earlier name.
"They're going to help us beat them on the ground," he added.
The President's newly hatched strategy of air war alone – backed by an ironclad promise the he won't send U.S. combat troops to Iraq or Syria – is politically popular but has been questioned by critics.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry claims there are Arab states that have offered to provide ground forces, but he declined to identify them.
"There are some who have offered to do so, but we are not looking for that, at this moment anyway," he said.