With ObamaWar You Can Keep The Bad Strategy You Like

Whether it's ObamaCare or ObamaWar, the American people have the same impression of this guy running it—they don't like it. Americans are fine having health care or Islamic State dealt with for the betterment of citizens, but let's just be glad the first thing Obama needs to do to fight Islamic State is not to set up a working website. And let us hope we do not hear the word "Surge", especially not associated with David Petraeus, mentioned during the course of the new chapter of the endless war.
Fully embracing the jingoistic rhetoric of his foreign policy mentor, George W. Bush, Barack Obama said Wednesday night that he was bringing ObamaWar to Syria and that this would degrade and destroy Islamic State:
“Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.”
In a speech that was promoted as an explanation of Obama's strategy for fighting Islamic State, he spent very little time talking about that, and a lot of time talking about American exceptionalism, suggesting that the war against IS was an expression of this:
"American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world. It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny. It is America—our scientists, our doctors, our know-­how—that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola. It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so that they can’t pose a threat to the Syrian people or the world again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, and tolerance, and a more hopeful future."
As with so much Obama said last night, this is basically campaign rhetoric, intended to convince the American people to support the war, but it is not straight talk about the facts, which speak so strongly to the limitations of American power to achieve the goals Obama has set.

For example, many critics would point out that America's rallying the world against "Russian aggression" has achieved very little, if the idea was to stop the aggression. And nor have American scientists stopped the Ebola outbreak. And while yes, Syrian WMD has been removed and destroyed, the problem comes in the word "declared", which the UN has recently suggested did not equal the total of the Syrian government's WMD. Lastly, painting the USA as the savior of "Muslim communities" in their fight for "a more hopeful future" is simply ludicrous.

The United States of course was the main foreign driver in the overthrow of Egypt's democratically-elected government, and is currently dictating to the Iraqi government the form of apparent inclusion it has to present in return for American support against an enemy Obama says is such a dire threat to US interests that destroying it should not depend on how kumbaya-esque the government in Baghdad pretends to be.

One reason Obama spent little time talking about his strategy and more time talking about the great and powerful America, is that while the goals Obama set out Wednesday night (eliminating Islamic State) are generally popular (at this point) amongst the American people, and with many leaders in the Middle East, Obama’s strategy to obtain these goals is very complicated, and thus very difficult to coherently and concisely explain to the American people. Further, the basic assumptions behind Obama’s strategy seem to many experts dubious—if not outright naive.

Example, Obama, attempting to act as some kind of expert on Islam, lectured to the American people about the nature of the enemy:
“Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’ No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq­ Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor by the people it subjugates.”
There are many problems with this analysis, but mainly it is a statement of propaganda—not of facts.

1. Islam may not condone the killing of innocents. But the establishment of “innocence” as a characteristic of victims is the key point. The Koran views all infidels as devils, and against God:
“Whoever is an enemy to Allah, His Angels, His Messengers, Jibrael (Gabriel) and Mikael (Michael), then verily, Allah is an enemy to the disbelievers.”—"The Cow", 2:98
2. This is especially true of Muslims who have in some way fallen away from the faith, or who have believed in heresy:
“Whoever changes Allah's Favour after it had come to him, [e.g. renounces the Religion of Allah (Islam) and accepts Kufr (disbelief),] then surely, Allah is Severe in punishment.”—"The Cow", 2:211
3. This is not a characteristic only of Islam. Judaism and Christianity both feature the slaughter of the faithless—including women and children—as being a holy and acceptable thing. Whereas Christians generally, in theory, expect God to carry out the sentence, Christians have had no problem “helping” God by dispatching the infidels (in large numbers) for him. And Jews have their own history, in the Bible, of invading Canaan and wiping out numerous communities (men, women and children), whose only sin was to believe in a different God.

4. As for Islamic State’s status as something more—much more—than a mere terrorist organization, Obama’s assertion is again nothing but factless propaganda. Islamic State controls a large swath of territory. It has a capital city. It has a national flag. It has an army of around 100,000 fighters. And it has easily defeated in battle the three groups that Obama claims will be the ground combat game-changers. Does that make Islamic State a real state? That depends on how long it exists—just like any new state. If the US can, as it claims it will, degrade and push back IS in relatively short order, most people will view IS as a temporary terrorist blip. But if the US cannot accomplish this, IS will gain respect and recognition as standing up to the US and its allies.

5. Lastly, on Obama’s claim about “the people it subjugates”, it is useful to look at the comments made last night by NBC Middle East analyst, Richard Engel, who was sharply critical of Obama’s strategy and his claims about the reality the US was facing against Islamic State. Engel noted that, unlike what the President was claiming, Islamic State actually was ruling over many Sunni populations, especially in Iraq, that were much more fearful of the Iraqi army (i.e., the Shia-majority army) than they were Islamic State.

Engel, commenting from Erbil, Iraq last night, said this:
“[Obama] is talking about having the Iraqi army reconstituted and using that Iraqi army to secure this country [i.e., Iraq, especially the Sunni portions of it]. The problem is, the Iraqi army over the past several months has collapsed. It has been reconstituted already by many Iranian advisors, and sometimes regular Iranian ground forces that have been witnessed on many occasions. And these Sunni villages, that are now with ISIS [i.e., Islamic State], are afraid of the Iraqi army. They don't want the Iraqi army to come into their villages. So we talk about a partner on the ground, that we are going to link up with to rid Iraq of ISIS, well that partner on the ground in many cases is a reason that people support ISIS in this country."
As Engel and others have pointed out in the past 24 hours, if Barack Obama has any hope of actually achieving the goals he set out in his statement last night, the first thing he needs to do is to seriously and accurately asses the threat he is engaging, and to consider the consequences of trying to degrade and destroy it, especially without a large US ground-troop commitment.

As with so many of Barack Obama’s campaign speeches, once you get beyond the promises, to the nuts and bolts of how he expects to deliver, the whole thing just doesn’t make any sense.

Finally, Obama made the one promise that he must keep—if he expects anything other than Bush-level hatred to come his way:
“We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.”
For most people actually looking at the situation, they might say the US has already gotten dragged into another ground war in Iraq. Last night Obama announced he was sending another 475 US soldiers to Iraq to bring the total in country to over 1,500. Some number of those troops reportedly will now be embedded with Iraqi and Kurdish troops, as advisors only, but in or near combat.

How long will it be before the mission creeps along to a brigade or two or ten of US ground troops going back to the fight that never seems to end?

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