- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Barack Obama, war president.

Middle Eastern war president. Iraq war president. Syrian civil war president.

Whodathunk it? Certainly not President Obama himself, with that unearned Nobel Peace Prize sitting on his desk.

The United States is now officially at war with the Islamic State and related terrorist groups. This week, we, along with several Arab allies, unleashed cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs on the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria and the Khorasan leadership, launching a new phase of the war against these terrorist organizations.

One year after telling the annual gathering of world leaders, tyrants and terrorists at the United Nations that the world is “more stable than it was five years ago,” Mr. Obama spent his time there this week explaining his actions in Iraq and Syria to a skeptical crowd. He also couldn’t wait to bolt from having to discuss the cold truths about ISIS to the warm embrace of discussions of “climate change.”

Mr. Obama, of course, was the driving force in creating this problem by withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq, contrary to the recommendations of his top military commanders, and by waiting far too long to address the resultant threat from ISIS.

Alas, here we are. Mr. Obama is to be credited for enlisting five Arab countries — Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — to support our military engagement. There should be many more willing to combat ISIS alongside us, so let’s see if Mr. Obama can expand the club.

Perhaps the biggest player is still out of commission: Turkey. Turkey shares a border with Syria and Iraq, is a member of NATO and should have a strong interest in stopping ISIS. But like so many other players in the region that have long played double games, Turkey thinks it can have its cake and eat it, too.

Its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leads an Islamist government that supports the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and sundry other Islamists. There are also reports that it has been purchasing black market oil from ISIS. So far, the Turks are getting away with playing both sides, but that may change if and when ISIS becomes a direct threat to them. That may already be happening. This week, ISIS continued to attack the Kurdish area of north-central Syria, killing large numbers of people and sending more than 130,000 refugees fleeing over the Turkish border, according to a column in Commentary Magazine.

ISIS is not made up of clueless rubes. It knows exactly what it’s doing. It wanted to prod the United States into joining the fight and knew the best way to do that was to kill Americans. The beheadings of U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff provoked enough outrage to create public pressure on an otherwise reluctant president to intervene.

For ISIS, it’s mission accomplished. It is now in direct competition with al Qaeda and other Islamist groups to be the world’s premier terrorist organization. By forcing America’s hand, ISIS is now — at least symbolically — at our level. It took al Qaeda years to get there. It took ISIS mere months.

Mr. Obama has made the classic national security mistake of telling our enemies what we are willing to do — and what we’re unwilling to do. He has repeatedly and emphatically said that he will not commit combat troops to ground warfare in either Iraq or Syria — an assertion roundly criticized by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey; the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Ray Odierno; two former Obama Secretaries of Defense — Robert M. Gates and Leon E. Panetta — and other military commanders.

Can victory be achieved without U.S. combat troops? In Iraq, it may be slightly possible — if we properly arm, train and support the Kurds, the Iraqi army and the Sunni militias that performed well with us during the surge. It will take at least a year to get these forces up to speed, and the likelihood of their achieving victory on their own looks dim. After six weeks of U.S. air support, Iraqi forces have scarcely budged ISIS terrorists from their firm grip on more than a quarter of the country. Worse, ISIS terrorists in the Anbar province of Iraq reportedly killed more than 300 Iraqi soldiers this week after entrapping about 800 of them. Few if any Sunni tribal fighters did anything to stop it, and the Iraqi army demonstrated an inability to fight effectively.

In Syria, if we equip and train what may be left of some “moderates,” such as members of the Free Syrian Army (as the U.S. Congress just approved), they’re likely to use our weapons in their primary fight against Syrian President Bashar Assad, not ISIS. Further, getting these forces battle-ready would also require a year to 18 months.

The hard truth is that there is no substitute for American power. There wasn’t in Vietnam. There isn’t in Iraq. And there certainly won’t be in Syria. U.S. ground forces are always needed to win, secure and hold territory. There’s no way around it.

Another hard truth: ISIS went from being a local al Qaeda franchise to a regional menace to a global threat within one year, thanks in large part to Mr. Obama’s mistakes, weaknesses and inattention. Now that ISIS has our attention, we must act as quickly and overwhelmingly as possible. If ISIS can build a jihadi army and seize great swaths of territory in just one year, imagine what it can do in the next year and the one after that.

We are in an existential battle for the literal life and soul of Western civilization. We must not try to win it on the cheap, or we will fail.

Monica Crowley is online opinion editor at The Washington Times.

This column was updated to include an attribution for factual information gleaned from Commentary Magazine.

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