President Barack Obama paid a rare visit to the Pentagon this week and gave an update on his ambition “to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group ISIL.” He painted a rosy picture.
“This is a cause, a coalition, that’s united countries across the globe -- some 60 nations, including Arab partners. Our comprehensive strategy against ISIL is harnessing all elements of American power, across our government -- military, intelligence, diplomatic, economic, development and perhaps most importantly, the power of our values,” the president said.
He went on to list his administration’s achievements.
“Our coalition has now hit ISIL with more than 5,000 airstrikes. We’ve taken out thousands of fighting positions, tanks, vehicles, bomb factories, and training camps. We’ve eliminated thousands of fighters, including senior ISIL commanders. And over the past year, we’ve seen that when we have an effective partner on the ground, ISIL can be pushed back.”
Yet, the next day, Republican Sen. John McCain delivered a blistering critique of the administration’s policy before a Senate committee.
“President Obama delivered remarks that were in delusion. It is right, but ultimately unneeded, to point out that we have done airstrikes and pushed equipment out of the territory. None of the progress of the president cited suggests that we are on a path to success,” McCain said.
“Since U.S. and coalition airstrikes began last year, ISIS has continued to enjoy successes, including taking Ramadi and other key terrain in Iraq, holding over half the territory in Syria, and controlling every border post between Iraq and Syria. The longer ISIS remains undefeated in Iraq and Syria, the more potent its message is to those around the globe who… may be radicalized and inspired mayhem on its behalf,” he continued.
“It is not that we are doing nothing. It is that that there is no compelling reason to believe that anything we are doing currently will be sufficient to achieve the president’s long stated goal of degrading or destroying ISIS in the short-term or long-term … They suggest that we are not winning. When you are not winning a war, you're losing,” he concluded.
McCain voices the same concern many share here in the Middle East. It’s a worry that U.S. policy toward ISIS is weak and impotent. In the meantime, this Islamic scourge continues to devour lands and peoples. They seem compelled to make their latest monstrous deed worse than their previous atrocities. For example, 25 Syrian soldiers met their doom in the ancient ruins of Palmyra. In a scene worthy of Rome’s Coliseum 2,000 years ago, young boys lined up behind the kneeling and bound soldiers and executed them before a bloodthirsty crowd.
Tragically, it was thumbs down for the ill-fated soldiers and many, including Sen. McCain, feel it’s thumbs down for President Obama’s policy.
Perhaps the group most affected by the administration’s policy is the Kurds. Despite being the most cohesive fighting group staring down this Islamic menace, according to a recent report in The Telegraph, Obama is preventing other Arab nations in the Middle East from arming the Kurds with heavy weapons.
“Some of America’s closest allies say President Barack Obama and other Western leaders, including David Cameron, are failing to show strategic leadership over the world’s gravest security crisis for decades.
“They now say they are willing to 'go it alone' in supplying heavy weapons to the Kurds, even if means defying the Iraqi authorities and their American backers, who demand all weapons be channeled through Baghdad.
“High-level officials from the Gulf States and others have told this newspaper that all attempts to persuade Mr. Obama of the need to arm the Kurds directly as part of more vigorous plans to take on Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] have failed … The officials say they are looking at new ways to take the fight to ISIL without seeking U.S. approval.
“If the Americans and the West are not prepared to do anything serious about defeating ISIL, then we will have to find new ways of dealing with the threat,” a senior Arab government official said. “With ISIL making ground all the time we simply cannot afford to wait for Washington to wake up to the enormity of the threat we face.”
As this reporter chronicles in his book, Destination Jerusalem, Kurdish military officers on the front lines told us they needed heavy U.S. weapons to confront ISIS. Since ISIS captured tons of weapons from a fleeing Iraqi army, they stood outgunned on the battlefield. Ironically, the Kurds find themselves facing modern American weapons while they fight with outdated equipment.
One year after they asked for better weapons, along with adequate training, those pleas are largely unanswered even though they appear to be the one military force in the region capable and willing to confront ISIS successfully.
McCain concludes that ISIS can be defeated but not given our current strategy.
“ISIS is not 10 feet tall. It can be and must be defeated. But that will never happen if we continue to delude ourselves about our current campaign,” McCain said. “The president is fond of the truism that there is no military solution to ISIS or any other problem, but what he is so often fail to realize is that there is sometimes a major military dimension to achieving a political solution. It is clear that we are moving in a time of unprecedented turmoil. We see it on our television screens every day.”
With the current strategy, it appears we will be seeing this “unprecedented turmoil” for the foreseeable future.