What about President Obama’s Strategy on ISIS? Is there one? Yes, but no one seems to know what it is. And among those who do, not many like it. But, there are even fewer who have a (practical and comprehensible) substitute for it. In short, , the President’s strategy for ISIS is to manage it (for now), rather than “resolve it” (whatever that may mean). And that isn’t satisfying for many.
Potential Republican presidential candidates are, for the most part, treading lightly on ISIS. They don’t know how to “resolve it” either. The closest any serious “R” presidential hopefuls have come to offering a substitute are Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham. (And Graham isn’t really running, just toying with the idea).
To deal comprehensively with ISIS, it appears Walker, Graham (and possibly Ted Cruz as well) want to put large numbers of U.S. boots on the ground again in Iraq, and also invade Syria. They are deliberately vague, but here and here are accounts of the Walker, Graham and Cruz view from different perspectives. Walker has even less foreign/defense policy experience than Senator Obama had in 2008 or George W. Bush in 2000, and it shows.
The U.S. has of course been roped into large scale military solutions before. There is nothing that ISIS would like better to boost its recruitment than to see more Americans killing Muslims.
Otherwise, the closest thing to an alternate strategy are roads not taken — the chorus of Shouldas, Wouldas, and Couldas, from a variety of mavens, most of them trying to secure their own legacy or engage in a simple CYA exercise. Leon Panetta, Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and many others, are certain that if the President had only listened to them, there would be no ISIS. It’s a cheap and easy argument. Here is a good account of the Shoulda-Coulda critics.
OK, so what is the President’s ISIS strategy? Too bad the Explainer in Chief, Bill Clinton, isn’t available to help out. He can’t, because he’s siding with his wife who (like Panetta) says she gave the President the right answers (earlier). But the President of course didn’t listen or understand, or maybe was busy playing too much golf.
Here is what I think are the planks of the President’s strategy on ISIS. Take a deep breath. Its long, complicated, with a lot of ambiguities. But it is a strategy; not something they just drifted into because Obama is disengaged and isolated.
Planks of the Obama ISIS Strategy, Like it Or Not
- Right now, slow down and contain ISIS with U.S. aerial strikes. [Yes, a band aid].
- Provide intelligence and some lethal equipment for the few available indigenous fighters presently on the ground who are trustworthy and competent: mainly the peshmerga (the military forces of Iraqi Kurdistan) and elements of Iraqi’s (mostly failed) army.
- Meanwhile, await the formation of a unified and viable Iraqi army [don’t hold your breath, but it’s possible] and an effective coalition of predominantly Sunni states willing to confront the ISIS threat militarily. [The rudiments are there now; the Jordanians and Egyptians are already engaged in an anti ISIS air campaign. The White House Summit on Terrorism this past Wednesday sought to further collaboration along several lines].
- Get a lot more creative about cutting off ISIS’ financial support and countering it’s successful recruitment of both Arab and Western fighters. [We can assume those efforts are going full tilt behind the scenes].
- So long as it’s contained, tolerate (suffer) the kidnappings, be-headings and sporadic attacks on civilians in the West as just another (terrible) risk of daily life in today’s world – a new normal (for awhile).
- If (G-d forbid) a catastrophic event occurs on US soil (or against US troops or citizens abroad), then massive retaliation (many U.S. boots on the ground plus Shock and Awe 2.0) possibly kicks in. [War on that level would not likely have public (or even Congressional) support anyway without a devastating blow to the U.S. See Nazis, FDR, and Pearl Harbor].
- Otherwise, be ready to commit some special U.S. forces to maintain the new normal, and wait for Arab nations to own and address the problem (mostly) themselves. [As we speak, the President is seeking authorization from Congress to use additional force with limitations].
This Outline was composed early in the week, before Wednesday’s Summit on Terrorism. The Presidents words at the Summit and the Outline here of the strategy are consistent. We may not be happy with it, but it is a strategy. It wasn’t just stumbled into or improvised.
Here is the bottom line: Whether you agree or not, the President doesn’t believe that massive and more aggressive, unilateral U.S. force at this time (or at the time Panetta, Hillary, and Gates were competing for the President’s ear) can be effective against Islamic Jihad. Period.
That is a strategy every bit as much as the Monroe Doctrine or the Communist Containment world view that resulted in the View Nam War. It just isn’t as aggressive, pro-active, or dependent on U.S. power alone, so a lot of people think it’s no strategy at all. The roots of the crisis in the middle east today are in two devastating 20th century world wars, and doctrines that seemed bold and coherent back in their day. The Right is right. Obama is a different kind of President. Sooner or later, we’ll know whether that’s good or not,