While President Obama weathered a storm of criticism for expressing just six days ago that the US “doesn’t have a strategy”, on the eve of the 13th anniversary of 9/11 he told Americans not only what our clear objective was in the fight against ISIS, but also how we would accomplish our goals.
The President laid out a four pronged strategy that included a request for money from Congress to arm and train opposition forces in Syria, to authorize more airstrikes in Iraq and potentially in Syria, a commitment to continuing our counterterrorism efforts as well as continuing to offer humanitarian assistance.
Indeed, these are all important components of an effective strategy to counteract ISIS and considering the President’s fierce opposition to boots on the ground, this is surely a step in the right direction considering a lack of ground forces.
But there is more President Obama needs to do.
The President needs to follow up and show that his ideas are actually going to work. In the past, we’ve had the manpower on the ground to guarantee American victories. This is a nuanced approach that harkens back to President Clinton using a coalition in the air campaign in Bosnia.
Further, another risk of the strategy is that we are going to be heavily investing in the Iraqi political infrastructure, a move that may come back to haunt us. The newly formed Iraqi government is not as inclusive as it should be and we’ve demonstrated little ability to inform the government machinery thus far in this campaign.
And given the less than clear view of who exactly is best suited to fight ISIS in Syria, do we risk arming our future – and potentially current – enemies, as was our experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The fundamental question that remains is whether this strategy, that is one primarily of funding ISIS’s opposition and the use American airpower, can actually destroy and not just degrade this terrorist movement.
Americans need to consider whether airpower alone can achieve this goal when boots on the ground has provided American victories for decades.
To be sure, tonight’s speech showed a decisive and thoughtful President whose vision of building a coalition of opposition holds a tremendous amount of promise. After all, the countries that have the most to lose are the ones that ISIS is either occupying or on the doorstep of now.
As I argue in my new book with Melik Kaylan, The Russia-China Axis: The New Cold War and America’s Crisis of Leadership, President Obama’s foreign policy has been lacking at best and dangerous at worst. His policies over the last six years have systematically lessened our standing on the international stage and called into question whether we continue to be – or, rather, whether President Obama believes – the US to be the indispensible nation we know it to be.
To this end, we must continue to question and push President Obama to be clear and decisive in his strategy in the Middle East generally and in counteracting ISIS specifically. Tonight was a sign that he is capable of this, but we have a long road ahead.