David Ignatius asks a series of pointed questions:
● What’s the exit strategy? As Obama begins his effort to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State, his aides told the New York Times the campaign could take three years. How will the United States and its allies know when they have “won”? Or will this be more like the Cold War, a decades-long ideological battle punctuated by periods of intense local combat? If so, are the American people ready for such a long and patient struggle?
● If Obama is serious about using U.S. military power against the Islamic State, why has he initially been so tentative? Militarily, a sudden, sharp attack makes more sense than a drizzle of airstrikes. There may be sound political reasons for the cautious U.S. approach, to force countries in the region to step up and make commitments themselves, but this goes against military logic.
● The United States may begin with the limited goal of helping allies fight the Islamic State, but what if the campaign goes badly, or it spreads more widely to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, or the U.S. homeland is hit in retaliation? We may plan a restrained campaign, but the enemy gets a vote. Won’t the United States inevitably have to escalate if it seems to be losing?
And, finally, the hardest question: Is the United States walking into a trap that has been constructed by the Islamic State — launching attacks that will rally jihadists around the world? From everything the jihadists proclaim in their propaganda, we can sense that they have been dreaming of this showdown. This is why the United States needs to make sure that, with every step it takes, it is surrounded by Muslim friends and allies.
That’s more than I’m usually comfortable with quoting and I apologize to Mr. Ignatius for it but there’s really no other way of getting the point across.
I think I would begin at a different point than Mr. Ignatius does. What is the U. S. interest? If it’s avenging the deaths of two young Americans who put themselves in harm’s way with foreseeable consequences, it returns to the point I made a couple of weeks ago about the War of Jenkins Ear. Is that really a reason to go to war?
If it’s to remove threats to our security, our security will remain threatened as long as the factors that produce and enable the threat are in place. Those factors are both at home and abroad. As long as those factors remain going after Osama Bin Laden or Al Qaeda or Afghanistan or Saddam Hussein or IS are just disconnected actions without strategic coherence.
As I’ve said repeatedly, I don’t object to not going to war. I do object to lurching uncontrollably into war without articulating our interests or objectives. It’s up to President Obama to articulate those interests, lay out the objectives, and produce a plan to achieve them.
One thing of which we shouldn’t lose sight. Saudi Arabia and Jordan are much more in the crosshairs than we are. Does a more, er, kinetic role for the U. S. encourage or discourage their own involvement? I think the more we commit the less they will.