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Herbert London: President Obama Lays Out His “Strategy”

U.S. Navy

President Obama finally delivered a presidential address in his strategy view of the war against ISIS. As a speech, it was admirable; as a strategy, it is questionable.

The president noted that he would rely on air strikes, support for Syrian resistance forces, intelligence operations, special forces and the assistance of allies in the region. What the president actually enunciated were tactics, not a strategy since ISIS is the latest and by no means the only radical group to emerge in the Middle East.

Moreover, the president insisted that Islam does not encourage the taking of innocent lives, a statement that overlooks the way infidels are to be treated according to Korani doctrine. An unwillingness to recognize the problem we as a nation are encountering makes it extremely difficult to deal with it.

Similarly, air power can degrade an enemy, but not defeat him. If our goal is victory, air power alone won’t do it and the performance of the Iraqi army indicates it cannot do it. In 2004 the U.S. had complete control of the air over Iraq and flew 700 sorties, yet it took 13,500 U.S. and British troops over seven weeks to ferret out the insurgents.

It was apparent when ISIS forces were on the march that the Iraqi army could not stand up to a ragtag force of 4000 troops. Rather than confront the enemy, it fled. Could this same army be trained to take and hold ground?

Complicating matters for the president is the U.S. commitment to support the rebel forces in Syria, now seen as a surrogate for U.S. boots on the ground. The Free Syrian Army might have been a candidate for support two years ago, but now it is part of a rebel force that includes al Qaeda and al Nustra – clearly radicals themselves. Should the U.S. supply radical groups that we have vowed to defeat? The implications are startling.

Clearly the president has taken a tentative first step, but his commitment – by his own admission – is tentative. Politically he cannot admit that he was wrong about his precipitous withdrawal from Iraq. He noted after that last presidential campaign that he was elected “to end wars not to start them.” The naive view that if U.S. troops withdraw from a battle zone war ends has come home to roost. The president may not want war, but war wants him. And now he has no escape.

He is in the cross-hairs of history, bound by forces he cannot completely control and unsure about possible outcomes. His instincts have been challenged. Events on the ground have altered his rhetoric and modified his position, but he seems incapable of recognizing the reality of a growing radical Islamic threat that will not go away even if ISIS is degraded.

The Middle East is aflame and we need more than fire fighters. We need those who recognize and can come to grips with root causes and have a genuine strategy for attacking them. At this point the nation appears ready for leadership notwithstanding so-called war fatigue. Can President  Obama rise to the occasion? What will he do if his tactics are unsuccessful? Will his coalition hold? Can air power do the job that is necessary? The jury awaits an answer to these questions and there is a lot at stake in the unfolding.

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries atwww.londoncenter.org


The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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