In the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s monumental gaffe admitting that he did not have a strategy for dealing with the Islamic State terrorists in Syria, America’s pundits have had a field day. They are roughly divided into two camps – the apologists who sought to minimize the gaffe by asserting “what the President meant to say;” and the critics who used it as proof that Mr. Obama is unfit for the high office he holds. I tend to lean toward the latter. For five years I have been critical of the claims of Mr. Obama’s superior intellectual capacity (he is simply not the smartest man in the room unless the only other person in the room is Vice-President Joe Biden), his honesty (he has lied to everyone from the Pope to the average Joe seeking healthcare coverage) and his duplicity (so evident that today not a single world leader believes him or trusts America, under his leadership, to follow through on a promise or a threat).
But amid all of the babble a series of comments by conservative commentator George Will stand out as a rational analysis and a path forward. Mr. Will notes that the Sunni terrorist organization known as the Islamic State (or ISIS or ISIL) poses a global threat but that the threat is most immediate for Iran (a Shiite theocracy), Syria (a nominally Shia dictator) and Saudi Arabia (a Sunni monarchy). Saudi King Abdullah, acknowledging the threat to his kingdom and realistically looking beyond today’s reality said on Friday:
“I am certain that after a month they will reach Europe and, after another month, America,”
Mr. Will went on to note that the Saudi’s possess over two hundred modern fighter/bombers (supplied mostly by the United States) and airborne warning and control systems (AWACS). Their pilots train in the United States along with America’s top guns. Similarly, Iran possesses the most potent military force in the Middle East (with the exception of Israel) including hundreds of military aircraft, drones and guided missiles.
Even though the Shia of Iran and the Sunnis of Saudi Arabia have been bloodthirsty enemies for over 1500 years, they possess the common belief that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. There is the short-term ability of these historic adversaries to set aside their religious, ethnic and tribal hatreds to confront a common enemy – the Islamic State. By all accounts, the Iraqi armed forces (now rid of the duplicity of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki) and the Peshmerga forces of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region are quite capable of dealing with terrorists of the Islamic State when given intelligence and air cover. Currently that air cover is being supplied by the United States while additional nations are providing air cargo for arms and supplies.
The point is that it is not the role of the United States to fight the wars for others – particularly those with significant capabilities. Conversely, as King Abdullah has pointed out, this is not a regional conflict – it has terrifying ramifications beyond the Middle East – and, therefore, America should engage. Even though Iran and Saudi Arabia possess significant military capabilities, America possesses superior combat leadership in strategies, tactics and supplies. It is in America’s interest to participate in the elimination of the Islamic State. But it is in America’s best interest to ensure that those directly effected participate also.
The goal here should be clear – the elimination of the Islamic State. That means all of its leaders are captured or killed and all of its weaponry is confiscated and destroyed. It does not mean “contained.” Mr. Obama’s repeated assertion that these monsters and their barbarous brand of the Islamic religion should be “contained” is further demonstration of his naivete and his weakness as a leader. The words of Prime Minister Winston Churchill should be ringing in Mr. Obama’s ears:
“I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.
“You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs—Victory in spite of all terror—Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”
However, to render such a statement requires resolve and Mr. Obama has yet to show any in his nearly six years as President.
There is a last canard to be dealt with. The press routinely raises the issue of whether attacking the Islamic State, particularly in Syria, doesn’t provide aid and assistance to Syrian dictator and Iranian ally, President Bashar al Assad. Collateral, albeit temporary, benefit to Mr. al Assad should not deter Mr. Obama from doing the right thing. He has already embarrassed himself repeatedly by doing the wrong thing in his dealings with Syria and Mr. Assad. One more embarrassment while doing the right thing shouldn’t matter.
A great leader would thus do the following as the danger from the Islamic State rises:
- Engage with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey to bring their armed forces – primarily their air forces – into the battle with the Islamic State.
- Provide additional tactical air support for Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the battle.
- Create an open and continuous aerial supply line to Iraqi and Kurdish forces for weapons and supplies.
- Provide necessary supplies to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey to ensure their air forces are fully equipped and combat ready.
- Embed special forces units with the Iraqi and Kurdish forces to assist in planning and executing combat missions. The special forces units should also be authorized to capture or kill the leadership of the Islamic State.
- State categorically that the United States will treat members of the Islamic State forces as combatants subject to military law – an end to the simple-minded notion that terrorist should be dealt with as common criminals and afforded rights due to the very people they have sought to destroy.
- Follow and destroy the forces of the Islamic State wherever they may go including into the nations that would give them shelter – no more sanctuaries.
War is a horrific act. People die, things get blown up. Wars end when the brutality and destruction become untenable. It is not a video game. It is not surgical. Wars end when one side causes such sufficient death and destruction that the other side is incapable of continuing or the population of the loser removes the leaders and sues for peace. Virtually every war is fought in a manner in which more civilians die than military personnel – it isn’t right but it is virtually unavoidable. In the end, war should sicken the victors and terrify the losers.
If you are unprepared to accept these consequences you should not engage in war. However, the failure to engage elsewhere can result in the eventual necessity to engage in your own country.
It is for these reasons that diplomacy should be given the opportunity to succeed. But understand, the brutality of war often provides the fear that drives diplomatic solutions.