It depends on which version of the military intervention at which we look. If we review the plan of attack on ISIS in Iraq, then yes, we don’t appear to be doing much to actually roll back the terrorist army from its positions. If, on the other hand, we look at it as an opportunity to degrade the air defenses of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, it looks much more robust. Major Garrett reported last night from the White House that the US will take out air defense positions that interfere with American bombing runs against ISIS in Syria:
CBS News reminds us that Congress will get its first look at the war/not-war plans of the White House. John Kerry and Chuck Hagel will present testimony in hearings this week intended to give Capitol Hill some confidence in what Barack Obama has planned to respond in this crisis:
The leaders in both chambers have been largely supportive of what the president wants, although there’s dissension within the ranks among both Democrats and Republicans. And with the clock ticking to yet another congressional break next week, there’s little time for the administration to rally more support for the authorization Mr. Obama is seeking, as well as his overall strategy.
That task will fall to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who head to Capitol Hill this week to answer lawmakers’ questions for three days of grilling before four different congressional committees.
“[Kerry] needs to tell us what the goals are, what the plans are, why this can work with no boots on the ground,” Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told CBS News.
“I think there’s just a general skepticism as to why this would work, as to why this is different, as to why this wouldn’t just be mission creep where we would wind up with boots on the ground. There are all good reasons to give to that.”
Though Engel, whose committee hears from Kerry on Thursday, expressed confidence that there are good answers to the questions Kerry will face, skepticism is a broad theme among members of Congress these days when it comes to the president’s strategy.
The skepticism in Washington is not limited to Pennsylvania Avenue. The editors of the Washington Post sounded a vote of no confidence in the “underpowered” strategy to fight ISIS. Of particular concern is the weak and reluctant coalition, especially from a President who repeatedly derided his predecessor for acting unilaterally:
IN LAUNCHING two previous wars in Iraq, the United States assembled formidable coalitions of dozens of countries. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Oman were among the Arab states that deployed substantial ground forces during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Though derided by some as a “unilateral” U.S. action, the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq was supported by troops from 39 countries, nine of which deployed more than 1,000 soldiers.
By those standards, the results thus far of the Obama administration’s efforts to marshal an alliance to fight the self-described Islamic State look meager. In Paris on Monday, two dozen governments pledged to help fight the extremists “by any means necessary, including military assistance.” But only a handful — not yet including Britain — have so far agreed to participate in air combat missions in Iraq, and none has yet signed on to support prospective U.S. air strikes in Syria. Nor is any sending combat troops.
Whose fault is that? The editorial points to the top:
In large part, however, the restraint has been fostered by President Obama himself. As The Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran reported, Mr. Obama rejected the recommendation of his top military commanders that U.S. Special Operations forces be deployed to assist Iraqi army units in fighting the rebels, and Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the administration has turned aside troop offers by other nations. …
But in the end the Islamic State will have to be defeated on the battlefield. In that respect, the alliance the administration is constructing looks underpowered.
Congress apparently thinks so, too. They will accede to Obama’s request for funds to train and deploy so-called Syrian moderates, but only for a short-term period, and want to wait on approval of military force until after the elections. That hints at a larger debate over Obama’s strategy that will be freed of short-term electoral considerations:
“People are trying to be careful about making a large commitment before we have all the facts, but eventually we need to have a new authorization that’s simple and sweeping and empowers the president to use all means necessary to destroy ISIL,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State. “Hopefully that can happen in the lame-duck session.”
Even that level of approval might be at risk if Hagel and Kerry can’t convince Capitol Hill that they have anything better in mind than just a few bombing runs and a roll of the dice on supposed moderates that the US has had trouble identifying for the past two years. This looks more like a strategy to make ISIS “manageable,” as Obama’s first instincts displayed last month, rather than confront and defeat it. Underpowered is a pretty good description of not just the strategy, but also the strategists.