Quotes of the day

Washington expanded its month-long air campaign to Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland, hitting Islamic State fighters west of Baghdad as troops and allied tribesmen launched a ground assault on Sunday.

The new strikes deepen Washington’s involvement in the conflict and were a significant escalation for President Barack Obama, who made his political career opposing the war in Iraq and pulled out US troops in 2011…

“We conducted these strikes to prevent terrorists from further threatening the security of the [Haditha] dam, which remains under control of Iraqi security forces, with support from Sunni tribes,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said…

Iraq moved on Sunday to capitalise on the strikes, launching a drive against militants in the Haditha area.



President Obama will give a speech next week outlining his strategy for taking on the threat posed by ISIS, ABC News has learned…

It is not expected that he will make any major new announcements such as a decision on Syria air strikes, but he will describe the efforts he is already taking, including air strikes in Iraq and building an international coalition.

In other words, the president wants to leave no doubt he does in fact have a strategy for taking on ISIS despite his words two weeks ago — “We don’t have a strategy yet” — when asked about taking on ISIS in Syria.


It may take three years to defeat the Islamic State, according to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who was nevertheless certain that the terrorist group will be destroyed.

Hagel co-chaired a NATO meeting on how to defeat the group, also known as ISIL. “So we’re convinced that in the days ahead we have the ability to destroy ISIL,” he said during the meeting. “It may take a year, it may take two years, it may take three years. But we’re determined it has to happen.”…

“The president is totally committed; there is a strategy that is clear, becoming more clear by the day. And it really relies on a holistic approach to ISIL,” he said. “When we say holistic, we mean every aspect of this group, and I think this could become conceivably a model that can help us with Boko Haram, could help us with Shabaab, with other groups if we can do this successfully.”


Iran accused the United States Sunday of not taking the threat from Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria seriously, and charged that US aid had previously helped the jihadists…

“There is still no serious understanding about the threat and they (the United States) have as yet taken no serious action,” Zarif was quoted as saying by Iran’s Mehr news agency.

“They have helped (IS) in Syria in different ways,” he added, alluding to support that the United States has provided to some rebel groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.


As The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin reported, the administration has given Congress four distinct reasons for waging war in Iraq: to protect American personnel in Erbil; to save the Yazidi minorities trapped on Mount Sinjar; to protect the Mosul Dam; and to break ISIS’s siege on the Shiite town of Amerli.

And for each objective, there’s a slightly different set of American allies being supported by U.S. air power.

“The ground coalitions we’re supporting with air power are uniquely different in each case,” said Doug Ollivant, a former advisor to Gen. David Petraeus who served in the National Security Council under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. “In Sinjar, it’s largely the PKK [a Kurdish militia] who rescued the Yazidis,” Ollivant said. “In Mosul, it was the Golden Brigades [An elite unit of the Iraqi army] with the Peshmerga in support, and in Amerli it looks like Shia militias with the Iraqi military in support…

Hassan Hassan, an analyst at the Delma Institute, believes “the appearance of U.S. support for Shia militias and tacit coordination with Iran are a mistake many thought the Obama administration would avoid.” It’s a mistake that “plays into the hands of ISIS and makes it difficult to draw a wedge between extremists and other Sunni forces that have legitimate concerns and demands,” according to Hassan.


Critics of the president argue that airstrikes in Iraq alone are only half-measures, and we must take the fight to ISIS in Syria as well. But the conditions on the ground in Syria are not the same, and cast great doubt on the efficacy of airstrikes…

We do not have a regime that we can work with in Damascus, nor one that holds any promise of mending the sectarian divides which have fueled ISIS rise there. Far from it. Bashar al-Assad has gassed and dropped barrel bombs on his own people and teaming up with him would only further drive Sunnis into the arms of ISIS…

In Syria, we also lack a reliable and effective fighting force that is capable of holding ground we seize from ISIS. The so-called moderate opposition—made up of hundreds of disparate groups—is often immoderate and rarely cohesive. Fighting in shifting alliances, sometimes with and sometimes against the most radical Islamist groups, the Free Syrian Army is far from the well-organized and highly-motivated Kurdish Peshmerga that provides such an effective ground component to our airstrikes across the border…

If we are to displace ISIS from territory in Syria by bombing it, who will occupy the ground? Will it be Jabbat al Nusra, the official al Qaeda franchise in Syria? Bashar al-Assad’s forces, relieving pressure on his troops so that he can continue to attack the more moderate opposition? Hezbollah?


McChrystal’s success proves that small units of superbly selected, trained, educated, led and bonded soldiers can kill much larger aggregations of enemy while holding the deaths of friendly forces and innocent civilians to a minimum…

The day will inevitably come when the McChrystal method is employed against the Islamic State. But crushing the group will require a scaling-up of the method, never attempted before. The Islamic State is huge, and, sadly, the men and machines necessary to do the job are too few and have been terribly overused. To succeed, the McChrystal method will have to be cloned to a degree as yet unimagined within the Defense Department…

The Islamic State cannot be defeated by diplomacy, sanctions, coalitions or political maneuverings. Its fighters must eventually be killed in large numbers, and Americans will never allow large conventional military forces to take them on. The butcher’s bill would simply be too large. The only sure means for defeating the group is with a renewed, expanded and overwhelming legion of capable special fighters who have learned through painful trial and error how to do the job.


A little more than a decade later, however, the U.S. is a changed country. Because of the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, to suggest sending even a few thousand troops to fight anywhere for any reason is almost unthinkable. The most hawkish members of Congress don’t think it safe to argue for a ground attack on the Islamic State or for a NATO troop presence in Ukraine. There is no serious discussion of reversing the cuts in the defense budget, even though the strategic requirements of defending U.S. allies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East have rarely been more manifest while America’s ability to do so has rarely been more in doubt.

But Americans, their president and their elected representatives have accepted this gap between strategy and capability with little comment—except by those who would abandon the strategy. It is as if, once again, Americans believe their disillusionment with the use of force somehow means that force is no longer a factor in international affairs

This lesson won’t be lost on others who wield increasing power in other parts of the world and who, like Vladimir Putin’s autocratic Russia and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s fanatical Islamic State, have grievances of their own. In the 1930s, when things began to go bad, they went very bad very quickly. Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931 exposed the hollow shell that was the League of Nations—a lesson acted upon by Hitler and Mussolini in the four years that followed. Then Germany’s military successes in Europe emboldened Japan to make its move in East Asia on the not unreasonable assumption that Britain and the U.S. would be too distracted and overstretched to respond. The successive assaults of the illiberal aggressors, and the successive failures of the liberal powers, thus led to a cascade of disasters.


It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, despite constant encouragement by the president, congressional leaders and the media, war-weariness was never as broadly or deeply felt in the country as supposed. And the shift in polls now is less a spurt of anger at ISIS atrocities than a return to the traditional belief in the need for and morality of American strength. This is too large a trend to be an expression of the Jacksonian class – who, as Beinart says, have never much cared for the president – it’s a measure of the Jacksonian strain in us all.

At the same time, polling trends to not necessarily translate into larger political shifts. Outside of John McCain or Lindsey Graham, the Jacksonian strain lacks much of a voice these days. And not even those two red-meat-eaters seem to have the stomach for more than an airstrikes-plus-proxies strategy in Iraq and Syria. But if you’re serious about “eradicating” ISIS or following them to the gates of hell – at least before Judgment Day – you must be prepared to commit U.S. land forces beyond special operating forces with laser designators and satellite radios. This time, a replay of Operation Enduring Freedom needs to be, well, enduring.

Nonetheless, our neuralgia over the use of military power seems to be abating. All that remains is for a leader to seize the Jacksonian day.