By James Boggs
President Barack Obama finally took to the press room last Wednesday and announced that the United States would act against ISIL after months of reluctance acknowledging the threat posed by ISIL.
In his statement, the president announced that the United States would engage in a “comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy,” to, “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.”
Though it would be inaccurate to say that ISIL presents a direct and immediate national security threat, the group does threaten national interests in the region, including a stable Iraq.
Moreover, if the group manages to hold the territory it has gained, there is real potential for a new country to emerge, guided by strict Shariah law and a dictatorial Caliph. If such a state should emerge, the United
States’ position in the Middle East would become even more tenuous, and the region could be further destabilized. It could, in effect, be the creation of another Iran.
The president’s solution to this threat is purposefully limited. Obama made the extraction of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan the cornerstone of his foreign policy for six years, and is reluctant again to commit American ground forces to a war in the Middle East.
He noted in his speech that, “American forces will not have a combat mission — we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.”
Instead, the president intends to make use of America’s immense airpower to provide effective support for Iraqi and Syrian rebel troops on the ground by, “hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense.”
This is a solid strategy, and demonstrates the immense power the United States still has abroad. Yet, it is not enough, and the president knows that.
In an effort to be proactive against the ISIL threat while still avoiding an all-out ground war, Obama has instigated a sort of proxy war.
He has deployed roughly 1,600 troops to Iraq as a method of supporting and training the Iraqi army, and passed through Congress a bill to arm the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebel group Free Syrian Army.
This bill, passed a few days ago, allocated $500 million to “train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the moderate Syrian armed opposition” in order to combat the rapid spread of ISIL.
Yet many are unsure of what constitutes “moderate” or how they’ll be vetted. It is possible that some of the weapons and funds given to the FSA might end up in the hands of more extreme terrorist groups in the region, or even ISIL itself.
The biggest problem is that, despite its name, the Free Syrian Army is not a real army. It is a conglomeration of several different armed groups in an ever-shifting network.
Many of them, including the Islamic Front, have ties to or direct relations with terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, while others such as the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front are largely secular. The vetting process would be, at the minimum, arduous, and by no stretch of the imagination infallible.
Despite the risks, Obama’s plan is at least a start. ISIL presents a much larger threat than the possibility of al-Qaeda acquiring more weapons.
While al-Qaeda seems content to work from the shadows in a nebulous network of nefariousness, ISIL is grabbing land in a bid to form a true state of its own, a state that would menace peace and progress in the Middle East.
It is in the United States’ best interest to nip this problem in the bud, before it spirals out of control.
There are two primary reason why this is the case.
Firstly, ISIL threatens the peace and security of a region, which is constantly on the edge of chaos. The Middle East is a hotbed of religious and political strife, but the vast majority of the countries in it manage to keep at least a tenuous peace with their neighbors.
ISIL would not abide by this desire for peace. Its goal is to create a “caliphate” across the Middle East, a kingdom of Allah guided by the Quaran and Shariah law.
Secondly, if ISIL managed to form a real country, they would have a springboard from which to launch an anti-American and anti-Western coalition.
They could and would fund a myriad of terrorist groups in order to bring down the West, and it would be far harder for the US to combat them.
These threats, though not both imminent, present good reason for the US to take action, perhaps even more action than Obama has committed to.
Just a few days ago, Pentagon officials noted that they were open to sending troops in on a combat mission, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said that, “If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I will recommend that to the President.”
Although Obama shouldn’t jump the gun on troop deployment, he should keep an open mind to the possibility of its necessity. His fear of engaging in another Middle-Eastern war is keeping him from acknowledging the risk posed by ISIL, and the steps that might be necessary to combat it.
In order to truly, “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL,” Obama will have to open his mind to a broader range of possibilities.