The White House is no doubt abuzz with recommendations, many probably counseling avoiding being sucked further into Iraq. Such recommendations would be completely wrongheaded. We are already sucked into Iraq for the simple reason that an enemy that has claimed credit for lone-wolf attacks in the United States and Australia (which it quite probably inspired, although did not direct) is entrenched there, defeating our local partners, and threatens to establish a quasi-state that controls several large cities. Even at this stage, however, the Islamic State remains unable to stand against even a limited deployment of U.S. military forces if those forces are properly resourced and allowed to operate against the enemy. A few thousand additional combat troops, backed by helicopters, armored vehicles and forward air controllers able to embed with Iraqi units at the battalion level, as well as additional Special Forces troops able to move about the countryside, would certainly prevent further gains. They could almost certainly regain Ramadi and other recently lost areas of Anbar, in cooperation with local tribes. They might be able to do more.
The choice facing Obama is not between a massive deployment of hundreds of thousands of troops and a tightly constrained mission of under-resourced forces. It is, rather, between the serious application of a limited amount of U.S. military power and the establishment of a terrorist state. We submit that it is hard to imagine a serious policy discussion that concludes by favoring the latter outcome.