By Sal Bommarito
The next chapter of America’s involvement in the Middle East kicked off last night in a speech by President Obama. One of Obama’s principal campaign promises was to exit Iraq and Afghanistan during his tenure as president. Notwithstanding the carnage created from hasty departures from these countries, Obama came close to meeting this promise, until yesterday.
ISIS ruined the president’s victory dance by rampaging through Syria and Iraq, and most importantly, by beheading two American journalists and broadcasting it on the Internet. Amazingly, public opinion has dramatically changed because of ISIS’ brazen and disgusting acts.
The president’s first response to ISIS was to reluctantly admit that he did not conquer the terrorists in the Middle East. But, he refused to act militarily. The American public and Congress screamed for some kind of retaliation, the latter probably because of polling that demanded an aggressive reply.
So, Obama started bombing in Iraq on a limited basis under the cover of humanitarian need to save a group of innocent Iraqis and to protect Americans operatives in the area. This was done shortly after Obama said he had no plans to deal with ISIS, a staggering admission for the president to make publicly.
But, the polling continued to worsen for Obama, and the calls for even more military action reached unprecedented levels. So, the president created a new plan, which he unveiled on the night before the 13th anniversary of 9/11.
Even Obama’s most staunch critics believe his plan is a step in the right direction, but it will likely fall short if the objective is to eradicate ISIS. In any case, the president felt the need to broadcast his intentions and to take certain military options off the table.
It never makes sense to take anything off the table. Of course, this refers to “boots on the ground.” Obama wants to bomb from the safety of 64,000 feet and recruit Iraqi, Kurds and other Arabs to do the dirty work on the ground. This strategy is dubious when you consider the fact that the U.S. trained Iraq soldiers for years, and they have been incompetent and ineffective for the most part. Now, they will trained once again in a few weeks and are expected to do a very difficult job.
Secondly, the naiveté of informing the enemy that any action is not possible is stunning. Why give your foe any details about your plan? Why give him an opportunity to change his tactics to take advantage of new information?
Generally speaking, and we only heard generalities last night, the U.S. is going to conduct an air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. 475 new U.S. advisers will be deployed in Iraq bringing the total American force up to about 1,100 soldiers
These men and women will not be fighting in the field; they will be training and helping local ground troops with tactics. The U.S. will try to cut off funding of ISIS, which has been substantial. A large amount of cash has come from the theft and sale of oil. Further, the U.S. will strive to end the flow of foreign fighters into the region. And finally, America will provide humanitarian assistance while it is obliterating terrorists.
The president referred to a “broad coalition” that will conduct this operation. So far, no Arab nation has signed up. Saudi Arabia is supposed to provide a place to train ground troops, but not much else. If another Arab powerhouse were on board, it surely would have been mentioned last night.
Obama’s coalition will be far different than the Bush I group assembled to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in the early 1990s. And, Americans should expect to fund most of this operation.
The president made a point to mention that he has the constitutional authority to move without Congress’ endorsement. However, Congress will need to approve money needed to train the local fighters. Obama wants Congress to support his plan, but why? Is it for solidarity, or because he wants Congress’ buy-in just in case this operation falls apart.
The risks are abundant. Nobody knows how ISIS can be defeated without effective ground support. It is questionable that the local fighters will be able to do the job.
We should expect the American presence on the ground to grow. At first, it will be advice, but it is likely to expand. This will increase the odds that the American public will witness body bags coming from the war zone.
The costs of the operation were not even mentioned last night by the president. The U.S. can hardly afford to pay for another costly military operation.
But, the real concern is that this new adventure cannot succeed because Iraq and Syria have been preordained to fight a civil war. No matter what the U.S. does militarily, will it ever end jihad and religious fanaticism in the area?
The gravity of the ISIS threat is being questioned by those not in favor of the impending invasion. Some say the public relations efforts of the administration and hawkish commentators have created a bogeyman far more dangerous than reality. For instance, do westerners who have enlisted with ISIS represent a credible terror risk to their home countries? Who really knows?
One final point should be made. Barack Obama is not happy that he will be invading Iraq and Syria. He doesn’t have his heart in the project and would rather get on with greater income distribution and demonization of American businesses domestically. If he wants to be an effective wartime president, he better get into the task at hand and act like a strong leader.