Quotes of the day

Some lawmakers fear this week’s action [in Congress on ISIS] will be akin to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which was approved in 1964 after President Lyndon B. Johnson said North Vietnamese forces had launched two unprovoked attacks on U.S. ships off Vietnam. The resolution stated that the United States was ready to do all it could militarily in the region but stopped short of openly approving military action. Presidents in both parties went on to cite that resolution — approved unanimously in the House — for an escalating war in Vietnam…

“As we say in Montana, the horse is out of the barn, the cows are out to pasture,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said.


The White House is seeking to gloss over the rift between the president and his top general, but it is clear that just below the waterline Obama is not on the same page as the commanders who will be leading the new fight. U.S. military officials and members of Congress have complained privately for weeks that Obama appears unwilling to commit the resources necessary to achieve his aim of defeating ISIS

The internal dissent is likely to intensify with Obama’s choice of John Allen to lead the international campaign to persuade U.S. allies to pony up troops, money, and arms for his new war. Allen, a retired general beloved by Washington’s neoconservatives, has called for a robust U.S. war against ISIS since June. Obama and Allen sat down together Tuesday at the White House.

Soon after he retired in 2013, Allen took a veiled shot at his old and now new boss, observing that in the wake of Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq, “the body count is going up, the bloodletting is going up.”…

“If you are serious about the ground counteroffensive, an attack up the Tigris River valley and also a counteroffensive to the west in the Euphrates River valley, if we are serious about that being successful, then you have to put the elements in there to help the ground forces to succeed,” [Ret. Gen. Jack] Keane said.


The Obama administration’s new strategy for combating the Islamic State militant group terrorizing Iraq and Syria should not limit discussion of putting U.S. boots on the ground, and doesn’t go far enough overall, recently retired U.S. Gen. James Mattis told the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

“You just don’t take anything off the table up front, which it appears the administration has tried to do,” said Mattis, who served as the top U.S. general overseeing operations in the Middle East before leaving military service last year…

“Specifically, if this threat to our nation is determined to be as significant as I believe it is, we may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American ‘boots on the ground,’ ” Mattis said. “If a brigade of a our paratroopers or a battalion landing team of our Marines would strengthen our allies at a key juncture and create havoc/humiliation for our adversaries, then we should do what is necessary with our forces that exist for that very purpose.”


Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, said Friday it might be necessary to deploy more U.S. forces to Iraq beyond the 1,600 troops already there, warning that the fight against the Islamic State will intensify and could go on for years…

In a breakfast interview with the Defense Writers Group, Odierno said that “1,600 is a good start” and that “I don’t think there’s a rush, a rush to have lots of people in there now.” But he predicated that as operations accelerate against jihadist fighters from the Islamic State, military commanders will revisit U.S. troop levels. “Based on that assessment, we’ll make further decisions,” he said…

Asked if it might become necessary to embed U.S. tactical air controllers or Special Operations Forces with Iraqi troops on the front lines, Odierno replied: “I don’t rule anything out. I don’t ever rule anything out, personally.”


The man who was the top Marine general from 2006 until his retirement in 2010 says President Barack Obama’s strategy to defeat the terrorist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is doomed to fail.

“I don’t think the president’s plan has a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding,” retired Marine General James Conway, who served as the 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps during the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of the Obama administration, said at the Maverick PAC Conference in Washington, D.C. Friday, according to a source in attendance…

The source said Conway’s major concern was that the U.S. did not have a force on the ground in Syria it could rely on, like the Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq. Though the Obama administration believes it can support what it says are moderate rebel forces in Syria to aid in the fight against ISIS, many critics warn that there may be no truly moderate force in the country of any significant strength.


Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that Iran has a role to play in an international coalition to fight ISIS — just days after the Iranian president dismissed the U.S.-led coalition against the terror group as “ridiculous.” “The coalition required to eliminate ISIL is not only, or even primarily, military in nature,” Kerry said at a United Nations Security Council meeting on Iraq, using an alternative name for the radical Sunni militants. “It must be comprehensive and include close collaboration across multiple lines of effort. … There is a role for nearly every country in the world to play, including Iran.”

The remarks came after after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Ann Curry, lambasted ISIS for its savagery but also appeared to criticize the U.S.-led battle against the militants. “Are Americans afraid of giving casualties on the ground in Iraq? Are they afraid of their soldiers being killed in the fight they claim is against terrorism?” Rouhani said.


While [Syria’s rebels] long for greater international support and hate the Islamic State, sometimes called ISIS or ISIL, ousting Mr. Assad remains their primary goal, putting them at odds with their American patrons.

“Just as the priority of the international community is to fight ISIS, our priority is to fight Assad,” said Hamza al-Shimali, the head of the Hazm Movement, which has received arms and salaries from the Military Operations Command…

Even if the training goes as planned, the rebels will be outnumbered. While the United States has proposed to train and equip 5,000 rebels, the Central Intelligence Agency has said it believes that the Islamic State has between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters in Iraq and Syria.

And in starting the process now, the United States will have to play catch-up with the group, which has been training its recruits at four camps in Raqqa Province, the largest of which is based in a seized oil company compound and named after Osama bin Laden.


Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has advised the Pentagon, acknowledged the strategy represented a gamble but said there were no risk-free options given the sectarian politics that were out of America’s control.

The political debate in Washington was marked by “over-simplified” soundbites and did not reflect the fraught situation, he said.

“Everyone would like to be able to do this neatly with decisive force,” he told AFP. “But there’s no way to do it in practice.”

If US ground combat troops were sent to Iraq, they “would be an unpopular, non-Islamic force that would inevitably be perceived as taking sides in Iraq’s civil conflict,” he said.


So what choices are the anti-IS allies left with? Well, none it seems, especially now, as their last best hope, Jamal Maarouf of the Syrian Revolutionary Front, was reported to have struck a non-aggression pact with IS. If true, it would be a major embarrassment for the Barack Obama administration as it tries to convince the world that backing “moderate” Syrian rebels is the right approach. The alleged deal may also point to the fear among Syrian rebels of a brutal backlash, coming on the heels of the spectacular bombing on Sept. 9 that obliterated Ahrar al-Sham’s top leadership and effectively destroyed the powerful Salafist militant group. Many believe IS was behind the brazen and sophisticated attack, which sent shudders through the entire anti-regime camp and suggested that the Islamic State’s reach and dominance goes much further than any of them had thought.

If the allies’ last best hope on the ground is petrified of taking on IS, then their strategy seems most certainly doomed to failure. This is not surprising, considering that a powerful NATO member (Turkey) and other staunch regional allies (such as Jordan) are extremely reluctant to get involved in any military action against IS for fear of blowback.

The only alternative then appears to be an unpalatable and unholy alliance with the Syrian regime, the only force on the ground right now capable of taking on and defeating IS with any degree of success. To that effect, the regime’s army has been relentlessly pounding IS positions in the east of the country for more than a month with heavy airstrikes and barrel bombs, showcasing its terrorist-fighting credentials to its would-be suitors. The fact that the regime itself, among a few other regional players, was partially responsible for the rise and growth of the group appears to be a mere afterthought now, as a healthy dose of pragmatism and a shared sense of threat kicks in and forces bitter enemies together, or at least that is what Damascus is counting on.


The WSJ’s recommendations, like the Obama administration’s projected activities, are all about discrete measures—some air strikes, some arming of local forces, etc. But they abstract from the fundamental reality of any and all activities: He who wills any end must will the means to achieve it. As in Bush’s war, as is the custom in Washington nowadays, our ruling class’s several sectors decide what actions they feel comfortable undertaking about any given problem, while avoiding reasonable judgment about whether these actions will actually fix the problem. This is the very definition of irresponsibility. But they call it “strategy.”

Obama has made clear that he envisages a very limited, tightly targeted air campaign against the IS. It goes without saying that this cannot possibly hurt it severely. But, were the U.S. government somehow to mount a serious air campaign, nevertheless the inescapable fact remains that the IS can be finished off only on the ground. But how? By whom? Obama stays away from the question. The Journal, however answers: “the Kurds, the parts of the Iraqi military that aren’t dominated by Iran’s militias, and the moderate Sunnis in Syria and Iraq.”

This is beyond dumb. Believing in the saving power of a “moderate Sunni” wave is as politically correct though patently silly as believing in global warming after years of record cold. All know that the Kurds will fight only for Kurdistan. The Iraqi army has proved beyond doubt that, as a fighting force, it exists only insofar as it is composed of Shiite militias. But our inward-looking, bipartisan ruling class refuses to deal with reality. War consists of massive killing that dispirits the survivors. Yet our ruling class refuses to consider how many of what categories of people will have to be killed in order to end this war with the peace we want. War does not tolerate solipsism.