Hardest hit: Donna Brazile, who argued on Twitter this week that the criticism over the Obama administration’s handling of ISIS was just a scare tactic for the midterm elections. Eugene Robinson’s essay at the Washington Post shows that concern over the strategy in dealing with Iraq is not limited to one side of the political spectrum, although Robinson has a much different prescription for a strategy. Robinson first points out “the obvious”:
It’s not too soon to state the obvious: At this point, the war against the Islamic State can be seen only as failing.
U.S.-led air power has barely been able to keep the jihadist militants from capturing the Syrian town of Kobane, near the Turkish border — and the besieged city may yet fall. Far to the southeast, Islamic State fighters have come within a few miles of Baghdad and threaten to consolidate their control of the vast Anbar Province, the Sunni heartland of Iraq. The self-proclaimed “caliphate” remains intact, and its forces are advancing.
As we have noted for quite some time, Robinson’s assessment is correct. More to the point, the current strategy couldn’t have produced any other outcome. Air strikes on small-scale terrorist networks make sense, as dropping an army into places like Waziristan to find a few needles in a haystack can create more problems than it solves. When one wants to “degrade and destroy” a marauding army that has seized significant amounts of territory, it takes an army to push them off of that ground. Air strikes in civilian areas won’t force that army to move out where they can be more easily targeted, after all.
Barack Obama and John Kerry keep counseling patience, but Robinson has run out of it:
But patience is justified only if there is a reasonable expectation that the myriad political obstacles barring the path toward success can be overcome. I’m not sure whether the president and his aides are guilty of optimism or self-delusion.
Robinson’s convinced it’s the latter — and the actions of the Turks certify his conclusion. The White House announced that Turkey had agreed to allow us to use Incirlik as a base for our operations against ISIS, and the Turks immediately disputed that report. They won’t attack ISIS to save Kobani, but they allow Islamist fighters to cross the border to fight Assad, or did until very recently. Finally, he seizes on a point that gets to the heart of the issue without perhaps realizing it:
In Iraq, the Islamic State will not be defeated as long as it has the support, or at least the acquiescence, of large segments of the nation’s Sunni minority. This will not change as long as Sunnis view the jihadist militants as a bulwark against the Shiite majority and its sectarian militias.
Obama knew from the beginning that these — and other — problems in Iraq and Syria are essentially political and can’t be solved by military action alone.
He didn’t — but he should have. That is precisely why Leon Panetta and Robert Gates kept advising Obama to find a way to keep American troops in Iraq. Had we kept that force in place, we could have put more pressure on Nouri al-Maliki to integrate the Sunnis into the public life of Iraq. Instead, we walked away and allowed Maliki to purge the Sunnis, creating exactly the conditions that Robinson now laments.
Robinson wonders why we’re bothering to fight this war at all, which is an honest position to take, even though it’s just as honest to believe that it’s short-sighted and dangerous. What isn’t honest is pretending to try to “degrade and destroy ISIS” while employing a strategy that has no hope of success, and no hope of creating a ground force among allies to push ISIS off its ground and into the open for its destruction. One can disagree with Robnson’s overall opinion while agreeing that doing what we’re doing now is worse than either of the alternatives.