“The early evidence indicates that this strategy is succeeding.”
These are the words of White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, defending President Barack 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 Gen. John Allen, tasked by the President with coordinating the international response to the Islamic State, has said the extremists have “retained momentum” despite American and allied 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 using 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.
As the Islamic State’s influence, forces and atrocities grow, we must have a strategy that stands a chance of destroying them. If we are willing to put American pilots and military advisers at risk, then they deserve a plan worthy of their service.
Many military and the Obama Administration officials — including Vice President Joe Biden — 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 and tells our allies the United States is unwilling to fully support them. It reassures our enemies that we are not resolute.
Even as it claims — despite all evidence to the contrary — that the strategy is succeeding, the 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 U.S. 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 U.S. needs to commit its military force and 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 President Bashar al Assad? How would the Iraqi government and military maintain control over 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, 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 quickly present 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, 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 the Islamic State is winning. 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. Column courtesy of Context Florida.