With focus on Ukraine and Gaza, Washington watches other crises simmer

More so than ever before, the Obama administration this year has been inundated with global crises.

The flash points around the world have left President Obama in a somewhat awkward position, as he attempts to continue with this normal schedule of promoting his domestic policy agenda and fundraising for Democrats. White House spokesman Josh Earnest explained, for example, that the president ultimately opted against a late-night television appearance this week in part because of "the challenges of doing a comedy show in the midst of some of these other, more serious matters that the president's dealing with in the international scene."

While Mr. Obama isn't changing his summer plans that significantly -- he is still fundraising on the West Coast this week, for instance -- the president and his team continue to respond to two major crises: they're pressuring Russia to help ease the conflict in Ukraine following the missile strike that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, while Secretary of State John Kerry is attempting to help revive a cease-fire proposal between the Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza.

Those two conflicts, however, are far from the only serious international crises that Washington has been trying to address.

"Without a doubt, world attention these days is so fickle, and we thrash from one crisis to another," CBS News National Security Analyst Juan Zarate said to CBS News correspondent Bob Orr on CBSNews.com's "Flash Points."

"Obviously, we've got to focus on the downing of the Malaysian aircraft, and you've got to look at what's happening with Israel and Gaza, but these other issues are festering, and they continue to threaten us."

Islamist militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

The Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq are continuing their offensive in both countries, presenting what U.S. officials call a potential threat to the U.S. homeland. It's a problem that's prompted bipartisan concern on Capitol Hill that the administration doesn't have a sufficient plan to respond to the threat.

Both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week will hear from Brett McGurk, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran, and other government officials about the administration's response to the conflict in Iraq.

Mr. Obama has been committed to removing U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, but his administration has sent forces with military capability there to deal with the crisis.

The nonprofit Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) has written a set of proposed questions for lawmakers questioning McGurk this week that touch on the threat ISIS poses, the role the U.S. should play there and the political situation in Iraq. Robert Zarate, policy director for FPI, said that he's confident lawmakers on Capitol Hill are taking the conflict seriously, even as other international hotspots compete for their attention.

"It's basically al-Qaeda-stan," he said, explaining to CBS News how ISIS has spread "like a cancer" in both Iraq and Syria. While the U.S. has sent forces to Iraq, it should also work on repairing its relationships with sectarian leaders like the Sunni chieftans, Robert Zarate said -- groups that have lost trust in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

"One element of stabilizing what's happening is having a central government in Baghdad viewed as legitimate," he added.

Extremists flowing into Libya

Security conditions in Libya continue to deteriorate, and last week the United Nations said it was temporarily withdrawing its staff there. On Monday, the Red Cross reportedly said the same.

452223042.jpg
A picture taken on July 16, 2014, shows flames and smoke billowing from an airplane at the Tripoli international airport in the Libyan capital.
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images
A week-long battle in Tripoli has left commercial airliners in flames at the capital city's international airport. The current spate of violence, the Associated Press reports, is about the worst Libya has seen since dictator Muammar Qaddafi was ousted in 2011.

Gen. Khalifa Hifter is "a strong-man type who's been going after the Islamists and extremists," Juan Zarate explained. As he continues his assault against those groups, more extremists are "flowing back into Libya" to fight, he said.

Boko Haram in Nigeria

When the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria, they caught the world's attention. People across the globe, including first lady Michelle Obama, joined in a Twitter campaign to bring attention to the crisis with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Three months later, the girls are still missing, and the trail has gone cold, Debora Patta reported for CBS News last week. The girls may have been split up into groups and taken out of the country. A hostage negotiator hired by the Nigerian government told Patta to "imagine the worst, and it has happened" to the girls.

A deal to swap the girls for imprisoned Boko Haram fighters seems increasingly unlikely, Patta reported, and the Nigerian government is now looking for ways to cut off the group's finances.

Last week, Boko Haram released a video mocking the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, but U.S. lawmakers are still using the hashtag.

Boko Haram and related Islamist groups continue to expand their reach in the region. After Islamist fighters killed a French soldier in Mali last week, France is now trying to reassemble its forces there, Juan Zarate noted.

"The French realize there's a long term battle under way, and they're going to have to lead the charge," he said.

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.