Harry C. Blaney III
The president was hardly out of the Oval Office before the Republican candidates and the largely Republican owned main line media were attacking him for being “weak” and saying comments such as “nothing new.” None of these pronouncements had a single realistic and intelligent word that was creditable for an alternative strategy that Obama has not already put in place or has announced.
The only implication of these statements and criticism is that many Republicans and neo-cons really want American combat troops on the ground without directly saying it, so that they can be killed, captured, or tortured and beheaded by the ISIS. These same right-wing pundits, editorial writers, and TV networks and radio talk shows, to say nothing re the GOP presidential candidates would then be asking for Obama’s own head!
For example, Republicans are auguring that the air war might have a larger international ground component which would include American combat troops. On Wednesday December 9th at a House Armed Services Committee hearing with DOD Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Chairman Senator John MaCain demanded more aggressive strategy against ISIS implying the present strategy was not working, too weak and that his approach would work. But clearly that strategy would require considerably more American troops on the ground and higher casualties. Further,Trump and his GOP colleagues want un-fettled bombing without consideration of innocent civilian causalities.
In a recent appearance on CNN with Sen. John McCain (R-Az.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called for the creation of a 100,000-strong “regional army to go into Syria” to fight the Islamic State, claiming that Qatar and Saudi Arabia were already on board with the plan. We are already urging greater military support from these states and the reality is that Saudi Arabia has taken their planes out of the Syria theater and into the Yemen battleground. No official Saudi troops are fighting in Syria now.
There is much talk and little action and statements of Arab states helping, but as one presidential candidate put it “regional countries must bear part of the burden” in the Syrian fight. But they still assume the US and Western allies will do the real major fighting. Senator Graham — who is running for president on the Republican ticket — also called for more than doubling the number of U.S. troops in Iraq from 3,500 to 10,000.
What is a good smart man to do? My answer is to continue a careful, cautious, and effective long-term multiple tools strategy to “degrade and destroy ISIS.” That is what Obama and his team are doing and despite all the right-wing rhetoric it is in fact working bit by bit with some setbacks in a murky and difficult complex landscape. This strategy includes using the tools of diplomacy, not least the effort to bring other actors to the forefront for the solution of getting rid of ISIS, as an Islamic State with land able to expand is a serious threat to the US and its allies.
Let’s look at a bit of the real facts and the trend line of the strategy:
First, the president said this would be a multi-year effort even one of a decade given the spread of ISIS to other lands other than Syria or Iraq. But my view is that already in place and what is planned is not just a likely effective and careful strategy to degrade ISIS, but to eviscerate its ability to hold significant territory and larger populations. But this will not happen overnight. There are too many forces with conflicting goals.
Second, Obama and our allies have now been reinforced by fighters from France, and Britain has agreed to hit Syrian targets. Further, Germany will help to supply logistics and intelligence resources. The anti-ISIS coalition has launched over 8,000 air strikes against the Islamic State over the past 16 months in Iraq and Syria. These attacks have killed some 20,000 fighters, according to U.S. estimates. New supplies and weapons are being put on the ground.
The administration also recently proposed to utilize U.S. Joint Special Operations Command to launch targeted raids against Islamic State leadership across Iraq and Syria, copying the way U.S. commandos previously hit the ranks of al Qaeda in Iraq and Taliban leadership in the past. The military is working on added programs to hit the heart of ISIS. Already, according to Secretary Carter on Wednesday, ISIS oil sales are down due to the bombing and the start of closing the Turkish border and other actions have been taken to stop funds and fighters from getting into Syria. Assistance to key anti-ISIS and yes anti-Assad fighting forces, with mixed objectives, is starting to put real local pressure on ISIS. Russia is a problem that needs and is getting diplomatic attention.
Third, and most important, America and some allies are working the key tract of a short and long-term strategy for defeat of ISIS in its home ground and create the framework for a future stable and peaceful society. The key hard challenge will then be to put together a coalition of the existing diverse players to create the conditions for peace and some measure of fair and broad based governance in the region.
I do believe that soon some kind of humanitarian zone is needed and practical if an effective international peacekeeping force is also included along with the enforcement of a “no-fly zone.” Syrian displaced citizens which must form the heart of a future nation need to stay in their own country and be part of a future government and help with nation building. Already the current millions of refugees have denuded the nation of among its best talent which is needed more than ever. That meas resources to support these people who have lost so much.
Finally, what we do not need is more calls for American ground troops in the fight, we do not need those that create, at home, a divisive and anti-Muslim bigoted rant of the nature of Trump and many of his fellow GOP candidates which play into the hands of ISIS. Obama’s caution is wise as he noted that most Muslims are our fellow citizens, and we should be mindful of our words and actions given our past experience of unneeded recklessness calls for war and hate towards others.
Nothing in this world of conflict is certain but stupidity and lack of counting the costs and risks is true disaster and complicates solving the problems of the Middle East. The time has come for the U.S. to apply wisdom, smart power, and due forethought and act with others while looking at what needs to be done when the fighting abates. Sadly the right-wing Republicans have no answer to these questions and only seem to want endless costly war and not, it seems, peace. If America is to continue to be the key accepted wise world leader and to win in a conflict filled globe we need to avoid fascism, racism, and hate to be our call letters.
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