17 Dec '15     home | more politics

ISIS, War and Obama, continued

My column yesterday was titled, "Defeating ISIS: Obama and the Republican Debate." In today's Washington Post, David Ignatius sharpens the picture in a column titled, "In fighting the Islamic State, Obama is a tortoise and the GOP is harebrained."

Ignatius describes President Obama as warring against ISIS but not at the cost to the United States of an all-out war. Ignatius writes. "The comparison between Obama's wary analysis and the often slapdash, half-baked proposals of GOP candidates at the debate was striking."


Obama appears to recognize that there's a missing link in his strategy — the lack of a Sunni ground force that can reliably clear and hold the Islamic State's heartland in Syria and Iraq.

Rather than an all-in commitment with ground forces,

Obama prefers the slower, bumpier process of using Special Operations forces to partner with admittedly weak Sunni allies. In the near term, this strategy will be messy and sometimes painful, because the local forces are so disorganized. But the White House has concluded that, over time, it's likely to be a more stable and sustainable approach.

Ignatius writes of Obama's advisers fearing that an all-in commitment of ground forces against ISIS would expand to other collapsed Sunni states, such as Libya and Yemen. "The United States , in effect, would become the governor of Sunnistan."

Obama clearly regards this option as a mistake. Advisers warn the monthly cost could be 100 U.S. troops killed, 500 wounded and $10 billion. Though Obama gets hammered on all sides for an allegedly feckless policy, he has resisted being forced into this commitment by a media firestorm that the White House sees as combining jihadist propaganda, GOP presidential politics and cable news hype.


Calming the country is hard when GOP candidates are describing an inferno. But Obama seems convinced that the Republican proposals amount to more bombs and louder talk, rather than a coherent alternative strategy.

Ignatius adds that "a big, orchestrated terrorist incident" and a frightened US public could result in Obama doing what he least wants: switching to the alternative of warfare with tens of thousands of US troops.

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