In case you missed the big speech, here’s the short version of the most key points that Obama laid out as his roadmap for addressing the efforts of ISIS to take over Iraq and Syria:
In text form:
“First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense.”
2. Send 475 More Troops to Iraq
“Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground. In June, I deployed several hundred American service members to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi security forces. Now that those teams have completed their work – and Iraq has formed a government – we will send an additional 475 service members to Iraq.”
3. Cut Off Funding to ISIL
“Third, we will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks. Working with our partners, we will redouble our efforts to cut off its funding; improve our intelligence; strengthen our defenses; counter its warped ideology; and stem the flow of foreign fighters into – and out of – the Middle East.”
4. Ramp Up Humanitarian Efforts
“Fourth, we will continue providing humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization. This includes Sunni and Shiite Muslims who are at grave risk, as well as tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities.”
This is interesting for a number of reasons. First, according to Obama just a few months ago, ISIS was just the “JV” terrorist squad and thus no big deal. Just a few weeks ago, he said that the White House “had no strategy” for dealing with them. And, of course, don’t forget that he was threatening to bomb the same Syrian rebels about a year ago who are now allies in the fight against ISIS. Flip-flop much?? It should also be noted that Obama really only got engaged after a second American journalist was beheaded on the Internet. Good leadership, there.
But back to the speech. There are just a few little problems with it:
1. Direct military action: air power, special operators to kill leaders, including going into Syria to pursue them. This appears to be more of this administration’s love of drone strikes and “whack-a-mole” attempts to find the “head.”
2. Indirect military action: Depend on other peoples’ “boots on the ground.” Send nearly 500 additional advisers to help but have absolutely no combat role for U.S. ground forces. This is absurd, unless the definition of “no combat” is stretched to include our special operations forces going with regional forces to stiffen their spines and control air strikes.
This also includes support to “moderate” resistance forces in Syria. This is a nice concept but quite difficult in practice. Even if one concedes we can correctly identify the “good guys” among the mostly radical forces fighting Assad, how do we keep the arms we give them out of the hands of their radical competitor resistance fighters?
3. External Actions: Cut funds, and stop the flow of foreign fighters. This worked with core Al-Qaeda, but ISIS is far less dependent on outside funding. It has stolen huge amounts from banks in Syria and Iraq, and it sells black market oil to the tune of $1 million a day. Trying to get other countries to stop their citizens from joining the fight also is a nice thought but probably impossible.
4. Humanitarian assistance: This is primarily for displaced persons fleeing the oppression of ISIS. This is the most “doable” part of the president’s plan.
Mm-kay. Another major problem with the speech can be highlighted by this interview:
Uh, yeah, isn’t it a pretty stupid idea to tell your enemies what you will and won’t do? Seems kind of self-defeating to me. And yes, there are a whole heap of unintended consequences, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.
Obama’s first job will be to consult Congress. This is another no-brainer, but for a President who has generally done whatever he felt like — the law, the Constitution, and Congress be damned — this will be a bit of a new experience, and one he might not be terribly good at. Fortunately for him, America already wants this to happen, so he can probably get a rubber stamp without too much effort.
Even with approval from Congress and the American people, will this strategy work? It seems unlikely. Much to the dismay of the Obama administration, their own early withdrawal from Iraq seems to have brought about the rise of ISIS, something that was predicted by none other than George W. Bush back in 2007:
Mr. Bush’s points are based on much long, hard thinking by him and his staff. That type of effort, apparently missing in this White House (given the spate of contradictory threat assessments regarding ISIS in just the last week), needs to be made once again as America contemplates the next campaign in this long war.
Bush’s declaration is a reminder that perfection isn’t the measure of what makes a good commander-in-chief. Everybody makes misjudgments and mistakes in war.
George Washington lost many battles before winning the war at Yorktown. FDR flinched at terrible setbacks from Pearl Harbor, Tarawa and the Kasserine Pass on through the Battle of the Bulge and Operation Market Garden. Truman had his Task Force Smith.
Strong war leaders look forward, not backward. They focus on the mission ahead. Bush wasn’t worried about plummeting popularity, Code Pink, angry democrats or an upset base. He was looking ahead and prepared to do the tough tasks that had to be done–even though they were hard and an unpopular–because they were what was needed to get the job done.
Since the disaster in Benghazi, Mr. Obama’s instincts have been exactly the opposite. The bold leader who engineered the take-down of Qaddafi has become doggedly risk averse. His preferred course action veers toward the option that requires the least commitment and will produce the least criticism.
Bush considered leaving a residual presence of U.S. troops in a friendly Iraq as a hedge against future uprisings by groups such as ISIS. Obama lacked that foresight, and brought those troops home, opening up exactly the scenario Bush tried to prevent, and now there is not only a tremendous amount of death and destruction going on there, but the U.S. is being brought back into it again anyway.
Obama embodies the liberal Left’s mindset on the American military and American military power. He’s wrong. What we’re seeing now is the natural consequence of a weak and indecisive foreign policy driven by political correctness and a terrible lack of understanding of who the real enemy is.
There’s my two cents.
PS – if you’re wondering about the difference between saying “ISIS” and “ISIL” here’s a link that helps explain it.