- The Washington Times - Monday, November 16, 2015

President Obama’s year-old military strategy to defeat the Islamic State is noteworthy for what he will not do, as well as the steps he has taken for a projected drawn-out war lasting years.

Now a number of analysts say the Islamic State’s massacre of over 100 innocents Nov. 13 in Paris is the watershed moment for jolting the president and his policymakers into making substantial changes.

“America, wake up and get serious,” said retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, who has been an adviser to commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“ISIS is at war with America, but America is not at war with ISIS — not the president, nor the Congress and certainly not the American people,” he said, using another name for the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIL. “Throw out the policy of ‘strategic patience,’ which is an excuse for a lack of an aggressive, coherent policy. Recognize that dragging out the war provides ISIS with a degree of invincibility, a sense of destiny shrouded in the aura of success.”

He called for an expanded use of special operations forces, who are in the region in small numbers and have conducted only a smattering of missions. He also urged a “devastating air campaign without the imposed restrictions of the last 15 months, which have been disproportionate to all previous air campaigns.”

“The French attack gives us an opportunity to rethink our whole approach to fighting a global war,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik. He said the U.S. needs to lead in the creation of a new global coalition of nations to fight the Islamic State and other terror groups, acting in unison with identical approaches.

“We have not for 14 years established any sort of transnational coordinative body that implements decisions and adapts those decisions, yet we’ve been fighting a global war,” he said.

While hawkish retired officers and Republicans, along with some moderate Democrats, have called for deeper military involvement, Mr. Obama again on Monday refused to change his war plans. His theme at a press conference in Turkey was: “What I will not do.”

Both inside and outside the administration, Mr. Obama has heard ideas to enhance the military part of defeating the Islamic State but rejected most of them.

The president’s list of “nos” includes:

Target spotters, called Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs), on the ground to guide American strike aircraft to Islamic State targets. Strict rules of engagement have forced many pilots to return to base with ordnance intact.

A large contingent of special operations troops to conduct regular kill-or-capture missions and full-bore raids on high-ranking terror leaders.

Imbed hundreds of American troops directly into Iraqi combat units at the front lines.

No-fly zones to protect Syrian civilians, as was done in northern and southern Iraq after the 1991 Desert Storm operation.

Safe zones on the ground as temporary homes for Syrian refugees instead of watching them stream into Europe by the thousands.

Mr. Obama has referred to some of these options as “mumbo-jumbo.”

Early on in the so-called Arab Spring of 2011, Mr. Obama also rejected unanimous advice from his war cabinet, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, for a robust program to arm moderate rebels in Syria to fight the regime of President Bashar Assad and extreme Islamic groups.

One new program he did say “yes” to last year was a $500 million operation to train Syrians to fight the Islamic State. The effort failed, with only a handful of fighters produced. Afterward, Mr. Obama said he knew it would fail.

In the post-Paris massacre era, Mr. Obama’s bottom line is the current U.S. war strategy stays: daily airstrikes on Islamic State facilities and leaders in Iraq and Syria, train and equip the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga and arm specific moderate Syrian Arabs and Kurds.

Retired Army Gen. Dubik, who commanded troops in Iraq, said the Paris attack provides a time to assess how the administration controls the 60-plus-nation coalition assembled last summer after the Islamic State invaded Iraq from Syria.

“We have been treating coalitions as if they were posses,” he said. “You join the posse. You’re with us or against us. You join the posse but you follow the sheriff, the United States. I think it’s time to realize that this is a flawed approach.”

Mr. Dubik, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, said a brand-new coalition needs to be created based on a set of principles that go beyond just military ideas. This group of Western, Middle Eastern and African nations would share intelligence as a group, decide police and military transnational policies and look at how each governs.

“In many countries in Europe, Muslims are second-class citizens,” he said.

As for immediate tweaks to military tactics, Mr. Dubik said, Mr. Obama should put more American advisers into Iraq at the front lines.

The Iraqi army has displayed a penchant to retreat in the face of Islamic State invasions of Mosul, Ramadi and Fallujah.

Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan, military scholars at the American Enterprise Institute, helped guide the George W. Bush administration to the 2007 policy shift in Iraq.

They say the Paris attack should prod the top brass to seek less restrictive rules of engagement so U.S. strike jets can hit more targets, even if civilians may die.

“Do take the gloves off against ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” the two wrote in a policy paper on Sunday. “Restrictive rules of engagement have prevented U.S. aircraft from attacking many targets in Iraq and Syria known to be ISIS nodes. President Obama’s desire to avoid civilian casualties is laudable from both a moral and a practical standpoint. But the president has gone too far in precluding all targets with any risk of civilian casualties. The U.S. military has long experience now in choosing targets carefully to minimize that risk while still accomplishing its missions, and it should be allowed to operate as it had been doing for the first six years of this presidency.”

The Kagans also want ground troop numbers increased from over 3,000 Americans to 10,000 to provide direct support. These would include target spotters, special forces and artillery.

Mr. Obama did make one key change in policy recently when he approved sending 50 special operations troops into Syria to meet up with and school moderate rebels whose major objective is to isolate the city of Raqqa, Islamic State’s self-declared capital.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the Senate Committee on Armed Services on Oct. 27 he would also be authorizing more raids by commandos. Such missions do not appear to have taken place since then, or have taken place but not announced.

Mr. Carter described the administration’s strategy as a series of “lines of effort” that include, he said, “supporting effective governance in Iraq, enhancing intelligence collection, disrupting ISIL’s financing, countering ISIL’s messaging, stopping the flow of foreign fighters, providing humanitarian support and protecting our homeland.”

On Monday the Pentagon announced the first tweak of its strategy as it pertains to France.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said Mr. Carter spoke with the French defense minister on Monday. Later Mr. Cook announced a new arrangement “that will enable U.S. military personnel to more easily share operational planning information and intelligence with our French counterparts on a range of shared challenges to the fullest extent allowed by existing law and policy.”

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