Joint Chiefs chair: No, ISIS is not contained

If readers will recall, Barack Obama claimed that his policies had “contained” ISIS in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on the morning of November 13th. Later on that same day, ISIS launched a Mumbai-style attack on Paris, just weeks after successfully taking down a charter jet with 224 on board, mostly Russian tourists. Stephanopoulos sounded skeptical, and for good reason (emphasis mine):

I don’t think they’re gaining strength. From the start our goal has been first to contain, and we have contained them. They have not gained ground in Iraq. And in Syria it — they’ll come in, they’ll leave. But you don’t see this systematic march by ISIL across the terrain.

Given the recent expansion of ISIS into international terrorism and its recent advances in Palmyra and on Aleppo, that was a highly curious claim. Does the military share Obama’s conclusion? Under tough questioning by Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Joint Chiefs chair Gen. Joseph Dunford (USMC) said that the Pentagon has not reached that conclusion at all. And in fact, Dunford disagrees with Defense Secretary Ash Carter about whether the US is in a state of war, too (via Twitchy):

The United States has “not contained” Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the nation’s top military officer said Tuesday, contradicting President Obama’s remarks last month about the terror group.

“We have not contained ISIS,” Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing. …

Carter had declared during his opening statement that “we’re at war” with ISIS.

Forbes pressed Dunford whether the U.S. was at war with ISIS, and who declared that war.

“We are technically not at war,” Dunford replied.

The second point is more a term of art than a literal declaration. We’re bombing ISIS positions in Syria and Iraq, which means we’re at war whether we’ve declared it or not. It’s an interesting position for the Obama administration to take, for that matter. They insisted that bombing Moammar Qaddafi in Libya did not constitute making war, a claim which Obama and his administration used to refuse to engage Congress on the issue. On the other hand, Obama continues to insist that Congress has to pass a new authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) to fight ISIS when the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs give the president ample authority to pursue the al-Qaeda affiliate-turned-wannabe-caliphate.

On the first point, however, there simply is no nuance at all. Not only is ISIS not contained, but containment isn’t the policy Obama announced 15 months ago anyway. Obama pledged to “degrade and eventually destroy” the Daesh, neither of which his policies have done, and neither of which his policies promise to do in the foreseeable future either. “Containment” is nothing more than a prevarication meant to take the political heat off of Obama’s back for his failed national-security and foreign policies, and the nation’s top Marine isn’t going to play along. Good for him.

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