Underwhelming Force a Doomed Strategy vs. the Islamic State
Printed in the Charlotte Sun
“The early evidence indicates that this strategy is succeeding.”
These are the words of White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, defending President Obama’s strategy to address the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Let’s review some of that early evidence. As I write this, Islamic State jihadists in Iraq have expanded their territory to include land near Baghdad, and they are consolidating control of the large Anbar Province. In Syria, the Islamic State fighters are laying siege to the Turkish border city of Kobani, which may very soon fall under their control. Meanwhile, new recruits are pouring into the region to join the Islamic State in its fight. Even retired General John Allen, tasked by the President with coordinating the international response to the Islamic State, has said the extremists have “retained momentum” despite recent American airstrikes.
The enemy is consolidating control in areas already under its grasp, expanding to take new cities and territories, and growing its forces by the day. If this is success, what does failure look like?
I agree — strongly — with President Obama that the Islamic State poses a threat so significant to our national security that we must destroy it. However, I have grave doubts about the President’s strategy of utilizing underwhelming force to combat this threat. I fear that his plan of launching airstrikes, arming and training so-called moderate rebels, and then expecting them to finish the job of destroying the Islamic State in Syria is doomed to fail.
As the Islamic State’s influence, forces and atrocities grow by the day, we must have a strategy that stands a chance of destroying them in their tracks. If we are willing to put American lives at risk to fight the Islamic State, including the pilots who will carry out these attacks and the advisers who will be training the rebels, then they deserve a plan worthy of their service and sacrifice.
Numerous, high-ranking officials in the military and the Obama Administration
— including the Vice President — have conceded that ground troops may be necessary to defeat the Islamic State. Yet President Obama has repeatedly insisted that he will not use ground troops under any circumstances. This handcuffs our military strategists, hinders our ability to succeed, tells our allies the United States is unwilling to fully support them, and reassures our enemies that we are not resolute in our commitment to defeat them.
Even as it claims — despite all evidence to the contrary — that the strategy is succeeding, the Obama White House has been forced to concede the limits of the airstrikes-only approach.
Just moments after declaring the early campaign a success, Earnest said of the possible fall of Kobani, “So we certainly do not want the town to fall. At the same time, our capacity to prevent that town from falling is limited by the fact that airstrikes can only do so much.”
Through omission, Earnest also admits the White House’s most obvious hole in its strategy: without the intelligence of US boots on the ground, we have no way to measure failure or success.
The fact is, almost any military historian can tell you that a muddled strategy that begins with underwhelming force, limited commitment and predictable escalation stands little chance of success. In the face of our enemies, the US needs to commit its vast military force and to develop a clear exit strategy, but we have done neither. Even as the Islamic State advances and continues to murder innocent civilians that aren’t recruited or sold into slavery, we still have no clear plan to stop them beyond the next airstrike. Even if we could financially and tactically destroy the Islamic State with airstrikes alone, what would come next for a Syria still governed by Assad? How would the Iraqi government and military maintain control over the Anbar province?
Without a doubt, the American people are war weary, and the President’s reluctance to commit troops to the fight is understandable. However, as Commander in Chief, he has a duty to deliver a plan that will protect our national security. He has an obligation to rally public support for the worthy cause of defeating the Islamic State. He should present, as soon as possible, a clear, comprehensive plan — including an exit strategy — to defeat the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq. He should request an authorization from Congress giving him all the tools, resources and support needed to achieve that goal. And when he does so, Congress should return to Washington immediately to debate, amend and vote on the President’s proposal.
We can defeat the Islamic State, but right now, we are not. The Islamic State is winning, and we, and our international partners, are losing. This is a fight worth winning, but first, the President must decide that it’s one worth fighting.
Congressman Thomas J. Rooney represents Florida’s 17th district, which includes all of Charlotte County, in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves on the House Intelligence and Appropriations Committees.