Kobane — a town in northern Syria, not the dead rocker — is one of the focuses of President Obama’s war against ISIS. The fighting is confused by the fact that there aren’t just two sides, but at least six or seven. Obama told the UN last week that “the terrorist group known as ISIL must be degraded, and ultimately destroyed.” Our effort to do so, aided by a coalition of sorts, is going at a glacial pace that will not foreseeably grow faster.
First things first. I’d guesstimate that we’re applying about 2-5 percent of the combined airpower of the U.S. Air Force and Navy to the president’s effort to destroy the Axis of Evil 3.0. That may be because we lack the actionable intelligence to do it faster. And it may be that neither we, nor our coalition members, are willing to do more.
Second, it’s always been clear — as we can see in areas of fighting from Kobane to Iraq’s Kurdish region — that ground forces are needed to drive ISIS from the ground it has taken by force and remains in control of. Either we or our allies will have to provide those troops if Obama’s plan is to succeed. Our allies aren’t willing to do that, and President Obama’s plan to train Syrian “moderates” cannot succeed because that plan is to train too few soldiers and it will take too long.
As Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said last week, the plan is to train only about 5,000 Syrians, and it will first take about five months to vet the possible trainees and another six months or more to train and deploy them. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said recently that at least 12-15,000 such troops would be necessary to force ISIS out of Syria even with the help of American airpower. The creation of such a force — whether it’s 5,000 or 15,000 men, making it effective and integrating it with American airpower — would take decades if it were even possible, which history tells us it’s not.
British General Lord Richards, who until last year was Dempsey’s equivalent as head of the British general staff, said that the only way to defeat ISIS is to take back the land it’s now ruling, which would require a campaign by ground troops, and that air power cannot do the job. According to the Sunday London Times, Richards said that meant Western armies have to do it.
If ISIS and other such groups are an immediate threat to American security, shouldn’t we be applying more U.S. airpower and demanding the Arab nations who are members of the Obama coalition supply the troops now, rather than rely on a training program that will only produce too few troops a year from now?
Our deployment of air forces — even if American troops join them — in the fight against ISIS will have to have to be repeated again and again. Even if ISIS is degraded by air power it and its successors cannot be destroyed because other groups just like it will continually arise and achieve the same strength while espousing the same ideology and goals. And it’s not only new groups, but the usual terrorist groups appearing under new names.
The so-called “Khorasan Group” in Syria, we are told, is the most imminent danger to us because it is planning attacks right now on American targets. But — as the Wall Street Journal and Andy McCarthy have made clear — “Khorason” is just another branch of what the president calls “core al-Qaeda,” sent to Syria to conduct jihad by al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Those facts should, but probably won’t, propel us to a comprehensive analysis of our overall strategy in the war organized networks of terrorists are waging against us.
The first of those facts is that al-Qaeda is and has always been a Sunni force. Finding it in Syria is no shock because the fighting between ISIS — another Sunni force — and the Alewite-Shiite regime of Bashar Assad is the just the latest and biggest overall battle between Sunni and Shia that has been going on since Islam was founded and split between the two sects.
President Obama’s UN address last week took great pains to befog these facts. One part of his long and laborious speech was actually important. After saying that America wouldn’t focus its foreign policy entirely on combating terrorism, he added:
So we reject any suggestion of a clash of civilizations. Belief in permanent religious war is the misguided refuge of extremists who cannot build or create anything, and therefore peddle only fanaticism and hate. And it is no exaggeration to say that humanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect; race or religion.
That’s typical of Obama. His words express a high-minded sentiment designed to appeal to everyone, including our enemies, and has no relation to reality. The president speaks of uniting against those who would divide us, but those divisions have already been drawn though he refuses to recognize that fact. They cannot be eradicated as long as Sunni and Shia are dividing Islam, and as long as both sects remain divorced by religious belief from the ability to accept — far less embrace — the common aspects of what we call Western civilization. For too many among them, even peaceful coexistence with us isn’t possible.
If humanity’s future were dependent on our uniting the Muslim world or even the West against terrorism, against Russia’s neo-Sovietism or against China’s expansionist ambitions, the preservation of what we call civilization would be a forlorn hope. But we can’t give up that which Obama has already surrendered. At the very least, the reexamination of our strategy should commence with a thorough debate of Obama’s plan by Congress.
The Authorizations for the Use of Military Force — passed after 9/11 and before the 2003 invasion of Iraq — are old and entirely outdated. The first authorized military action against al-Qaeda, its people and its allies who made the 9-11 attack possible, and the second authorized ending what was the perceived threat from Saddam’s Iraq. Last year, Obama in a speech to the National Defense University said he wanted to repeal the original AUMF and two months ago National Security Adviser Susan Rice asked Congress to repeal the AUMF for Iraq. He hasn’t proposed anything to replace either.
Congress has not undertaken any action on AUMF mainly because it doesn’t want to accept the responsibility whatever results. Neither John Boehner nor Harry Reid wants to risk his members’ elections on such an exercise. But it’s their constitutional responsibility, and it shouldn’t be evaded.
Hearings should be commenced immediately in both the House Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees. Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey and other military experts including General Lord Richards should be asked to testify in open and closed classified sessions in order to examine what Obama’s strategy does and doesn’t do, how his tactics may or may not work, and how effective our overall strategy to deal with the threat of Islamic terrorism is under Obama’s guidance. His failures — evident since the 2009 decision to try to close the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — need to be examined in that context.
After that — whether it’s in the lame duck session after the election or next year — the time should be taken to craft a new AUMF that authorizes, with specificity, what our military, economic, and diplomatic strategies should be. If Congress fails to do this, it will have failed the American people in a way that will damage us, perhaps forever. It has no job equal in importance, but almost certainly it will shirk it.
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