I wish I could say that President Obama’s speech outlining his plans to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS was a convincing one. Unfortunately it wasn’t.
Once again I saw a man who is clearly uncomfortable with exercising U.S. power and who has, time and time again, done too little too late when confronted with a crisis abroad.
The strategy he outlined will prove ineffective. It will therefore be unsuccessful. In all likelihood, a future president will be faced with the difficult task of cleaning up this foreign policy fiasco. It is a fiasco that could have been avoided and one for which President Obama is solely to blame.
It pains me to predict that Obama’s plan will fail. Anytime American troops go in harm’s way I wish them nothing but rapid victory and the full support of the nation. If my prediction is proven wrong, it will be because of the incredible courage, ingenuity and tenacity that define our Armed Forces. It will certainly not be the result of the President’s leadership. This President has proven incapable of leading America in an increasingly dangerous and complicated world.
So what is the president’s plan to defeat ISIS?
The president’s plan essentially amounts to more air strikes, training and arms for local ground forces, pursuing more robust counter-terrorism efforts, and providing humanitarian support where needed. In other words, more of what we have been forced to do this past summer in order to avoid a total collapse of the Iraqi state.
Doing more of the same will fail for the following reasons:
1. Airpower alone cannot lead to military victory. ISIS has now consolidated a vast stretch of geography from northeast Syria all the way to the suburbs of Baghdad. The Kurds are hard-pressed to defend their own corner of Iraq. Military experts will tell you that ground forces are necessary in order to evict an occupier and re-take territory. Airpower alone – no matter how punishing – simply doesn’t cut it. You can’t bomb ISIS out of major cities that they firmly control. Only infantry soldiers on the ground can do that. It is difficult, complex and bloody.
2. Iraq is a borderline failed state. The complete withdrawal of U.S. forces and influence from Iraq, facilitated and encouraged by the Obama administration, allowed former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (with the brazen support of Iran) to attack and suppress Iraq’s minority Sunni population. Many Sunnis now prefer to side with ISIS than with their own national government. It is highly unlikely that the new Iraqi administration, led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, will prove successful in regaining Sunni loyalty and forging a successful military ground force to evict ISIS.
3. ISIS controls a vast swath of territory in Syria from the outskirts of Aleppo to Al-Raqqa and then south and east into Iraqi territory. The moderate Syrian opposition, namely the Free Syrian Army (FSA), is caught between them and Syrian government forces. The FSA has taken a real beating during the past year. In 2013, President Obama overrode the recommendations of his national security team including Leon Panetta, Gen. Martin Dempsey and Hillary Clinton, and refused additional arms and support for the FSA. Now we are expected to believe that we can reconstitute their depleted ranks and forge them into an effective fighting force capable of displacing ISIS in Syria. This will be a Herculean task.
4. Military actions are dirty, messy and unpredictable. We view air campaigns as relatively safe and antiseptic — until one of our pilots is shot down and captured. Military advisers on the ground seem equally benign — until they get caught in a gun battle and are killed or wounded. When that happens, American public opinion will likely shift again … and this president will shift with it. He will not stand firm. He will capitulate to whatever the latest poll numbers tell him to do. He will not lead. Instead, he will follow popular opinion … and the path of least resistance.
5. Finally, this president simply does not want to use military force. It is anathema to him and his Democratic left-wing supporters. He defined himself as the president who ends wars, not starts them. Unfortunately, he has failed to grasp that sometimes America’s enemies don’t allow you to craft your presidency and your legacy as you like. Our adversaries have a say in defining history too. The president seems loath to accept that grim reality.
Today is the 13th anniversary of the savage attacks against us led by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. As the horrible reality of that day took place, you could see the very real and palpable anger that swelled in President Bush and changed his presidency, and his priorities, forever.
When James Foley was brutally decapitated in yet another attack on our country, President Obama lamented the dangerous state of the world. He then returned to play golf. It took another gruesome beheading, and the righteous anger of the American people, before he finally reacted. However, Obama’s anger is not real. It is contrived.
After 9/11, sober military experts warned us that we were in for a “long war.” This new war would be global in nature and would require decades of prosecution, sacrifice and patience. Obama tried to will that reality away and assured us that our enemies were “on the run.” Those statements have proven to be reckless and incredibly naïve.
Obama’s plan to defeat ISIS is insufficient. It will fail because it lacks a genuine commitment to use devastating and sustained military force, including the probable need for American ground forces that are essential to defeat an entrenched and fanatical enemy like ISIS.
Without that political will and leadership, the best military plans of the Pentagon will likely fail, tragically and to the detriment of our safety and security.
Raúl Mas Canosa is a financial adviser and a frequent commentator on radio, television and digital media. He can be reached at [email protected]