Well, another American war in Iraq is exactly what is going to happen, sooner or later. The president has already slowed the Islamic State’s (IS) momentum with his strikes near Erbil, but it is not clear if this is a one-time response or the beginning of a campaign to first contain, then destroy the jihadist force. The sooner we begin such a campaign, the less complicated our involvement will be, the greater our chances of success, and the more likely IS’s forces can be defeated before they tear apart the region completely — and directly threaten America.
The stakes in the struggle with IS are clear. As the president himself said in June, if the Islamic State is allowed a permanent foothold in the center of the Middle East, core American interests are at risk: protecting the region and ultimately America and the West from another wave of 9/11-like terror; keeping oil shipments flowing from the Persian Gulf; and protecting our allies and friends increasingly threatened by the jihadist advance — the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), Turkey, Jordan, Gulf allies, and Israel.
President Obama’s strategy has three core elements: 1) counterterrorism, and specifically augmenting our campaign against al Qaeda to focus more on the Islamic State; 2) U.S. military actions to strike IS when its military crosses U.S. “red lines” — which so far have been limited, officially, to specific humanitarian catastrophes or endangered American personnel, or possibly key infrastructure; and 3) the broader campaign to provide limited military and intelligence support both to a more inclusive Iraqi government that can undermine IS’s appeal to Sunni Arabs and to the moderate Syrian resistance.