- - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In their testimony before Congress, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said unequivocally that we are at war with the Islamic State (aka ISIS) in both Iraq and Syria. They readily admitted that should the current war plan falter, they would go to President Obama and ask for ground forces. They said the president will not seek additional congressional authorization. They’re mission-creeping us into another Iraq war, without the upfront approval of the American people. It’s a prescription for disaster.

The Islamic State war plan, in its current version, is unlikely to work. It’s too little, too late, relies on a coalition we don’t yet have and allies who are unlikely to fight. For it to succeed, three rather dubious propositions must come to fruition:

First, the Syrian rebel army: Just a few weeks ago, the president dismissed the Syrian rebels as “pharmacists and doctors.” Now he plans to base his war plan on their ability to stand up to the Islamic State.

Second, the Iraq army: Earlier this summer, the Iraqi army, trained and equipped by the U.S., fled at the first sight of the Islamic State. There may be a new government in Baghdad, but it has the large task of reincorporating Sunnis and Kurds into its largely Shiite army and persuading them to fight.

Third, the coalition of the willing: So far, very few other partners have signed on, perhaps sensing the president’s own ambivalence. In past Iraq wars, they’ve held our coats while we’ve done the bulk of the fighting. If that is all they are willing to do this time, it’s hard to see the war plan succeeding. U.S. boots on the ground won’t win the war against the Islamic State. Even the president’s own advisers admit we need Arab sandals in the sand to do the bulk of the fighting.

Perhaps if the president had responded more decisively in the beginning, we would be off to a better start. The speech I wanted to hear from him would have included the following:

“ISIS has beheaded two American citizens. I can report to the American people and our allies in the region that we have bombed ISIS headquarters in Syria in retaliation. If they capture and murder more American citizens, we will respond similarly.”

He didn’t say that, though. Instead, he dithered, and now our allies have got the slows.

We are where we are. If the current war plan fails — say, six months down the road — what is the backup plan? If there is one, nobody’s discussing it. There are three possible options, none of them palatable:

One, we walk away without defeating ISIS.

Two, we escalate our military commitment, put significant American combat boots on the ground, and hope that somehow this Iraq war will end differently than the last one.

Three, we partner with Iran to finish the job, knowing Iran’s price is likely be our tacit approval of their nuclear program.

Leaving aside the possibility the sectarian civil war spreads across the Middle East with us caught in the middle, there remains the threat the Islamic State and radical jihadists pose to the U.S. homeland. There is growing evidence that Islamic State terrorists have entered or are poised to enter the United States illegally across the open southern border. We know more than a hundred American and several thousand European passport holders now fighting with the Islamic State could enter the U.S. legally, without a visa. They can move freely around Europe and sneak across Turkey’s porous border into the Islamic State without a stamp on their passport. How will we identify them if they arrive at U.S. passport control? We know there are a handful of radical elements in the United States preaching jihad and recruiting fighters and terrorists.

These all present a clear and present danger to the American homeland, yet our fighting focus remains on the Middle East. Will the government take steps to secure the southern border, redouble efforts to keep terrorists out of legal entry points, and ferret out domestic terrorists? If so, they’ve haven’t discussed it.

For more than a decade, we’ve lived by the credo that if we don’t fight them “over there,” we will have to fight them here. However, after expending staggering amounts of blood and treasure, we’ve failed to destroy radical jihad, be it al Qaeda, al Qaeda affiliates, or now the Islamic State. They are today in more places and in greater strength than ever before. We now have to fight them both over there and here at home.

I wish the president and his team every success. If we can destroy the Islamic State while at the same time not empowering a nuclear Iran, America and the world will be a better and safer place. I just don’t think it’s likely to happen. In any event, we must not lose sight of our first priority — protecting the homeland.

K.T. McFarland is a Fox News national security analyst. She held posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations.

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