WASHINGTON, September 13, 2014 − The Islamic State, or ISIS or ISIL or whatever other name they are using, has declared war on the U.S. and has already beheaded two American journalists. In response, the Obama administration declared a “significant counter terrorism operation,” which President Obama laid out in a speech on Wednesday.
Is it a good strategy? Is it a strategy at all?
The president said he did not have a strategy, then after taking a public-relations beating, he gave a nationally televised speech to present a 4-point plan. This included 1) expanding airstrikes, 2) strengthening Iraqi and Syrian rebel troops, 3) preventing terrorism and 4) protecting civilians. This appears to be more of a political driven solution than a military one. Can a political appropriate solution win a war?
If he called his plan a war, Obama would have to go before Congress for a declaration of war. Or under the War Powers Act, he could order military actions for 60 days before getting congressional authorization for a longer operation. The much preferred course of action would be for Congress to unite with the president in a war effort.
The problem is that all members of Congress would have to vote, including Democrats who may be vulnerable in the November elections. A vote for military action is not likely to be popular with the Democratic base, keeping them away from the polls when their party needs a strong turnout to hold control of the Senate.
Politics often clouds judgment, but a military response to a national security threat leaves no room for politics; the president’s lack of action is disturbing. Even more disturbing is that he still does not seem to have a strategy to defeat ISIS. He says he wants to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS, but to degrade means to reduce the capacity of the enemy, while to destroy means to completely eliminate the enemy.
Obama’s strategy may not accomplish either goal. In order to degrade ISIS capacity, he will have to destroy their weapons and roll back their territorial gains. To accomplish that takes more than airstrikes. ISIS now controls more than 20 cities and towns in Iraq; ISIS troops are now planted in captured towns and will likely take a lesson from Hamas by putting soldiers in civilian homes and by using civilians as human shields. Only boots on the ground can remove them.
Obama’s top military advisers have said that a small combat force will be needed to degrade ISIS, but he has refused this request. To destroy ISIS he will have to do even more.
Allen West, a former member of Congress and former military officer says that to destroy the enemy, a four phase program is needed. These include 1) deployment of sufficient forces, 2) shaping the operations, 3) decisive actions geared to defeat the enemy and force them to retreat and 4) a pursuit operation so that we eliminate them whereever they retreat to.
Judging from his speech and his actions, Obama is reluctant to engage in these four phases. This raises doubt about his ability to reach his stated goals of degrading and destroying ISIS. It appears, in fact, that he has no real desire to win.
West notes that when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and declared war on the U.S., President Roosevelt responded by asking Congress to declare war on Japan. Roosevelt did not say that we would launch a criminal investigation to bring the pilots of Japan’s planes to justice. Similarly, Obama should declare war on ISIS, not launch an investigation to find the executioners of the American journalists.
No American wants to be at war. But against a group like ISIS, which has more than 30,000 troops, large stores of captured military equipment, and huge financial resources thanks to the oil fields they control, a “significant counter terrorism operation” is not enough. It will not defeat an enemy that is clearly at war with the U.S.
Turning the other cheek, as Obama has done in the past, simply will not protect the security of the United States. It is time for this president to “man up.”