Until 2011, this was the face of international terrorism, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. That year, President Barack Obama gave the go-ahead for a top secret mission to take out bin Laden, who had been found living in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The mission succeeded and for a long time much of the world relaxed, knowing the man who was behind September 11th was gone forever. Obama was widely praised for his decisive action against the world’s most wanted man.
Just three years later, the Islamic State took al-Qaida’s slot as the most dangerous terrorist organization, emerging out of the wreckage of Iraq with its signature brutality of beheading hostages and taking huge swathes of territory. A president once admired for acting boldly against al-Qaida is now under withering criticism for not doing enough to stop this latest incarnation of radical Islam. With the shooting deaths of 14 Americans at a workplace holiday gathering in California by a radicalized Muslim-American couple last week, a new poll shows Americans are now just as nervous as they were right after September 11th.
What Should the U.S. Do About ISIS?
Elliott Abrams – The National Journal
Bomb ISIS. Topple Assad
Instead of saying, “There is no military solution,” the United States should realize that there is no solution without stopping ISIS militarily—and breaking its momentum.This means more bombing and more men on the ground as spotters—a role the Canadian military is now playing in some areas of Iraq but that President Obama forbids for the U.S. military. Recent disclosures that, in 75 percent of bombing runs, our jets return without having dropped their ordnance show how useful forward-deployed spotters would be.
Second, the United States needs to recommit itself to the downfall of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Shadi Hamid – The National Journal
Stop Seeking Quick Wins
Beyond Syria and Iraq, the basic assumptions of our ISIS strategy need to be rethought. As long as the Middle East has both failing states and strong, brutal (but brittle) states, ISIS and its ilk—or something like it—will exist. It’s no mistake that ISIS is the dominant opposition force in the two countries riddled by civil war: ISIS’s brutality is at least in part a function of what were already extremely brutal contexts.
U.S. strategy must address governance deficits not just in Syria and Iraq but also in Yemen, Libya, and even more “stable” countries, such as Egypt.
Why the Islamic State Will Haunt Obama’s Successor
Andrew J. Bower – The National Interest
Would a President Clinton or President Rubio or Cruz (or Trump for that matter) deeply expand the U.S.’s military commitment? Probably not. The most likely prospect is that a future administration will likely expand the training and equipping of local ground forces, expand the aerial campaign and deepen their engagement with regional partners.
A future administration will also likely attempt to exert more pressure on Iran, Russia and President Assad to come to a settlement on Syria. Assad arguably has the best window now to make a deal. If he and his patrons miss this chance, there’s no guarantee that a settlement would be as favorable as it is now.
On the face of it, then, counter-ISIL strategy going forward will not likely look drastically different (in absence of a substantial event such as another terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland) than the present strategy, for all of its flaws. Until a political settlement on Syria can be reached, ISIL will have a space to continue to operate.
On Syria, U.S. Military Leaders Offer Only Timidity
Dana Milbank – The Washington Post
The U.S. military is the world’s most powerful fighting force, but its leaders sounded downright timid on Capitol Hill Wednesday….
Carter, in his opening statement, ruled out a major U.S. ground force. “While we certainly have the capability,” he said, “it would be a significant undertaking” and could “Americanize the conflict.”
McCain tried to shake Carter from his caution toward the Islamic State. “There are 20- to 30,000 of them — they are not giants,” he said, arguing that “a small component of American forces with an international force” could “take out this caliphate.”
The secretary said he had “less high hopes, perhaps, than you that they would assemble such a force.”