It was the day Obama finally seemed to wake up. He got up in front of the country, outlined a bold plan for destroying the group he calls ISIL, and assured Americans that he would do it without ground troops. There was some serious skepticism about whether that could be done, but okay, let’s see where this goes. Even some of the most derisive critics of Obama’s speech figured it would be months before we started to see cracks in the strategy.
But they’ve already begun to form. Before you dismiss the words of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, you have to realize that they didn’t just “misspeak” when they started talking about boots on the ground. This was a calculated decision by the Obama administration to start erasing that promise from the public’s memory. That it is happening so quickly is a sign that Obama knows he messed up.
The coalition he promised us is not going to materialize. NATO countries are happy to sign on to destroy ISIS, but until they are pouring money, weaponry, and military reinforcement into the region, their help is largely symbolic.
As for depending on Iraqi fighters…we spent 10 years training soldiers in the Iraqi army, and they fell to pieces once confronted with an enemy the size and scale of ISIS. Now we’re going to go in and train Syrian moderates to fight their battles? That’s without even getting into the question of whether these Syrian rebels are really the kind of people we need to be training and arming.
Without a willing multinational coalition, without a strong Iraqi army, and without trusted Syrian rebel forces, what we’re really talking about are U.S. airstrikes. And that simply won’t be enough to get the job done. We can’t do unfettered bombing raids, destroying Iraqi civilians at a 10-1 rate. If we’re really determined to take out ISIS, it’s almost certainly going to require combat troops on the ground.
So we know that, barring a miracle, Obama is going to have to go back on some of the things he said in his speech last week. Either he’s going to have to go back on his word that we would not stop until we defeated ISIS completely, or he’s going to have to go back on his “no ground troops” promise. The only other option is to forge a partnership with Iran, a move that would probably mean coming to terms with their nuclear program.
That’s a tough spot (though one that could have probably been avoided by a president more concerned with foreign policy than Par 3s), and none of those options are going to make him very popular.
At least in the short term, it would appear that Obama is leaning towards the second option. Troops on the ground. Let’s hope that before that becomes a reality, we hammer this out in Congress. The American people deserve a say in whether or not we sacrifice hundreds…or thousands…of military troops in this war.