The announcement by American officials that a raid into Syria aimed at liberating Americans in ISIS custody, including one who was later beheaded on camera by Islamic State terrorists, failed to achieve its objectives is dispiriting. While the American air campaign over Iraq appears to be successfully rolling back ISIS in Iraq, the U.S. lacks a comprehensive strategy to deal with the group in Iraq’s Sunni regions or in their Syrian stronghold. Moreover, some Democrats are now openly fretting that the latest escalation of tensions between ISIS and America will goad the U.S. into a new ground war in Iraq.
On Fox News Channel’s Special Report on Wednesday, The Washington Post opinion columnist Charles Lane spelled out the fears of some about what a true commitment to defeating the Islamic State would mean.
“What are we prepared to do once the airstrikes start yielding diminishing returns, as they inevitably will?” he asked. “It seems like the plan is to arm and support Kurds and the renovated Iraqi army on the ground, but, you know, that – it is a big ‘if’ that those guys have the muscle to really destroy this Islamic state.”
While Lane conceded that ISIS is a threat to civilization itself and must be destroyed, he seemed concerned that this noble objective could be accomplished via air power alone. Left unspoken was the unthinkable: The force that would defeat ISIS.
The columnist noted earlier that a truly effective strategy would likely require a more robust campaign and the approval of Congress, a concern that House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) shares.
The California congressman recently said that what is occurring in Iraq “certainly looks like a war” and the president would be on “more constitutionally sound” ground to execute the mission in Iraq if he sought congressional approval for it.
In an appearance on CNN, however, Schiff warned that a campaign to eliminate ISIS could mean sending Americans back into Iraq – an eventuality he does not welcome.
“I think we have to be very careful,” he told CNN’s Kate Bolduan, “not to be sucked into another military occupation in Iraq.”
Asked if the slaughter of an American on camera changed his opinion on how the U.S. should approach the threat posed by the Islamic State, Schiff said that it had not.
“I think we had to know that when we get involved with airstrikes that ISIS is going to strike back at us in any way they can,” Schiff said. “Certainly, with anybody they hold, but they’re also going to try to attack us on the homeland. But the fact is, they’re going to try to do that anyway.”
Somewhat inexplicably, Schiff insisted that the Islamic State would like nothing more than to see the reintroduction of American ground troops into Iraq. It is theoretically possible that these militants would appreciate an environment rich with American targets, but U.S. forces are on the ground in Iraq. And the Islamic State would soon learn in the wake of a new influx of U.S. troops that they should have been more careful about what they wished for.
Finally, Schiff echoed Lane’s concerns about the air campaign which will eventually lose the efficacy it presently enjoys in dislodging ISIS from its positions on the fringes of the Iraqi territory it controls. That suggests that America’s policy toward the Islamic State should change, but it will not due to domestic political considerations.
The White House agrees that James Foley’s massacre will not force America to combat ISIS in a comprehensive fashion. When asked by an AP reporter on Wednesday if the murder had changed the equation for the United States, Vice President Joe Biden said that it had not.
Even The Washington Post’s editorial board, an influential group though slightly more hawkish than the average major urban newspaper, has noticed that America lacks a strategic approach to the ISIS threat and it needs to craft one immediately.
One would hope that a brazen attack on an American citizen like what occurred recently in Iraq would be answered with a disproportionate display of force from the American government. That response may not be forthcoming.