THE AMERICAN WAR AGAINST ISIS: THREE CHEERS?
"Barack Obama has prepared the US for a “steady, relentless” war with Islamic militants in a speech to his nation that heralds a substantial expansion of the US anti-Isis campaign from northern Iraq into neighbouring Syria. In a prime time televised address, the US president outlined his strategy “to degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, which has grabbed large swaths of territory in northern Iraq and Syria in recent months. Mr Obama’s address, on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on America, also made clear the limits of Washington’s action, which will focus on air power and intelligence to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces, with no US troops on the front lines. America will lead “a broad coalition” of western and Arab countries “to roll back this terrorist threat,” he said. 'But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.'"Richard McGregor and Geoff Dyer, "Obama prepares US for ‘steady, relentless’ war with Isis". The Financial Times. 10 September 2014, in www.ft.com
May seem unusual to criticize a strategy you have both suggested and endorse, and it is important to stress from the outset that President Obama has almost certainly chosen a strategy that is the “best game in town” — if he fully implements it, gives it the necessary resources, and sustains it over time. The President has had to choose a strategy based on the “rules of the game” in the United States, in Iraq, in Syria, and allied states. They are rules that place major constraints on what the United States can do. The United States had no choice other than to depend on regional allies for ground forces, training, bases, improvements in unity and governance, efforts to limit the Islamic State’s funding and its volunteers, and efforts to highlight its lack of religious legitimacy and horrifying departures from Islam. The United States has no domestic political support for deploying its own ground combat units. It would take months to deploy and organize a major land force presence to cover the large areas involved, and U.S. ground troops would walk into Iraqi and Syrian civil wars where they would almost inevitably be seen as favoring one side and being seen as an enemy by the other. The strategy the President announced also has a good chance of meeting half of his goals: seriously degrading the Islamic State/ISIL/ISIS, and “degrade” may well be enough to destroy its ability to function as a protostate and secure base for violent Jihadism and extremism. “Destroy,” however, is probably far too ambitious a goal. A serious threat of violent Jihadism and extremism is likely to endure for years to come, and reemerge along with similar threats in an arc that reaches from Morocco to the Philippines and from Sub-Saharan Africa to Russia and China. This may not be a “long war” in any one place, but outbreaks of violent instability seem likely to be the rule and not the exception.Anthony Cordesman, "The "Best Game in Town" - Five Key Risks of the President’s Strategy". The Center for Strategic and International Studies. 11 September 2014, in www.csis.com. Anthony Cordesman, who is perhaps the premier commentator on matters military in the United States is no doubt correct: the approach taken by the American Administration and President is indeed the very 'best game in town'. Given the fact that there is absolutely no likelihood of involving American ground troops in confronting and endeavoring to destroy ISIS, the plan of action as outlined by the American Administration this week, with its reliance on a combination of aerial bombing and the ground troops of allied countries in the region is the best means of endeavoring to defeat ISIS 1. 'Defeat' that is and not 'destroy'. 'Destroy' as Cordesman ably points out, is perhaps beyond the possibility of this or any American administration. And in fact, is not in reality needed. What is required at this point in time, is the reduction of ISIS to a hunted and miniscule terrorist grouping that it was circa 2009-2011. Able to do little or not harm to anyone but themselves. And certainly the situation not now wherein it is in essence a statelet, possessing in abundance both arms and money. With all that being said, what are the possible problems with the American Administration's strategy? As Cordesman himself cogently points out:
"No U.S. strategy can ever ignore the threat the United States poses to the United States. The United States now faces three immediate threats. First, underreacting in terms of using airpower, arms transfer, and advisory efforts decisively. This is a President who overvalues avoiding the risk of decisive action and the importance of cost over effectiveness, and undervalues the importance of timely decisions. Second, the United States has not yet shown in two wars that it can create and maintain the kind of integrated civil-military efforts needed to maximize the chance of success. The civil side in particular is erratic and dysfunctional, and both sides lack continuity and consistent realism in using resources and their area expertise. Third, this “war” or “battle” is extremely complex, uncertain, subject to reversals, and requires patience through the life of this Administration and beyond. Partisan interest and public frustration present serious threats to a consistent and effective effort" 2.Presuming that this Administration is able to follow-through on what was outlined this week, and is able to prevent both the Persians and the Assad Regime from endeavoring the strategic version of an off-side tackle, the plan of action against ISIS should indeed work very well in reducing it to little more than a small terrorist grouping. With the only caveat that I myself have being: will the Americans have the iron will to keep up the bombing campaign and supervise the ground war long enough for both to succeed? 1.Peter Baker, "New Military Campaign Extends a Legacy of War". The New York Times. 10 September 2014, in www.nytimes.com 2. Cordesman, op. cit.