Americans take great solace in knowing that their fearless leader has extensive military experience, including playing in the White House holodecks for hours. Here, Obama is dressed up as General Patton, and looks quite convincing, doesn’t he? One can just imagine Obama leading his tanks into battle against Islamic State, or anyway, gallantly pressing the “fire” button in a drone-driver’s chair.
Nine nations, in addition to the United States, have agreed to supply varying, and quite conditional, support to Obama's war to stop the Islamic State's advance into Iraq, and presumably to eliminate IS's bases of operation in Syria.
The Syrian part of Obama's strategy and mission goals for the war was not publicly addressed, other than that Obama said part of the strategy would be to arm and train Syrian "moderates", to help them replace Islamic State as the key opponent of Obama's other supposed enemy in Syria, the government forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
This suggests the truly surreal situation of the US trying simultaneously to defeat Assad, while trying to destroy the one effective fighting force in making that happen—Islamic State.
Exactly what US interest would be served by the Syrian portion of the war against IS is difficult to see. Simply identifying "moderate" Syrian rebel forces to arm and train has thwarted Obama in the past, as he himself recently admitted.
The fear of many experts has been that giving arms to what Obama has referred to as "former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth", would be an indirect way of simply delivering those arms into the hands of IS in Syria, as happened in Iraq when the Iraqi government troops abandoned their US-made arms and fled before IS fighters earlier this year.
But Obama now needs these dubious Syrian allies as one part (in fact the important part) of the one thing his strategy currently lacks—an army. So terrified is Obama (and the Core Coalition) of putting US and allied "boots on the ground" again in a combat role in Iraq—much less Syria—that Obama has announced ground combat against IS will be handled by three groups that Islamic State has already easily defeated in battle:
1. The Iraqi national military—US-trained and armed (for years!), this crew took one look at Islamic State's smaller but more nimble and ruthless forces earlier this year, and fled the scene. In the process, the Iraqi soldiers stripped off their uniforms, threw away their weapons, and abandoned an army's worth of tanks, artillery, and lighter battle vehicles and supplies, which Islamic State fighters took for their own. The Iraqis have plainly said they cannot fight against IS on their own, but the US expects the Shia-dominated forces of Iraq to not merely stop IS from further driving towards Baghdad, but in fact to push IS back towards Syria. Can that be accomplished merely by providing US air support? Earlier, back when the US air strikes were alleged to be temporary in duration, Obama had asserted that the US would not operate as the Iraqi air force. The thing that has to be remembered about IS in Iraq—it is largely made up of Iraqi Sunnis coming home, to battle what they view as a corrupt, repressive, and an illegitimate Iraqi regime set up and propped up by the United States. This is not a united Iraq battling against Islamic State, a foreign invader. It is the continuation of a Sunni-Shia civil war, that began because of the 2003 American invasion and occupation of Iraq.
2. The Kurdish Peshmerga Militia—The very existence of this Kurdish defense force, which is a glorified version of the Sunni insurgent forces allied with IS, speaks to the weakness of Obama's strategy. The Peshmerga and the Kurdish region of Iraq want to be independent—i.e., NOT Iraqi at all. Before IS attacked and defeated the Peshmerga militia a few weeks ago, the Kurdish fighters were taking advantage of IS's advance into Iraq to seize more oil-producing territory away from the Iraqi government. One reason the IS attacked the Kurds is that they likely did not want this Kurdish appropriation of Iraqi assets to continue. In other words, IS attacked a rival opposition force (just as they regularly do in Syria). While the Kurds are unquestionably the most pro-US group of Obama's army, the Peshmerga can only be seen as a short-term and highly unpredictable force. The main problem they pose is that any ground they take away from IS is likely territory they will not want to return to Iraq.
3. The "Moderate" Syrian Rebels—These small (in number), and ineffectual fighters are, as everyone says, hard to find. This is because the truly "moderate" forces in Iraq are not on the rebel side at all. They belong to the Syrian government, which is to say they belong to the secular government of Bashar al-Assad. If Obama were really serious about fighting Islamic State, and radical Islam, the most obvious ally in that fight would be Assad. But that would put Obama into the position of calling as "friend" a man and a regime he said were so horrible and immoderate that Obama almost ordered the US military to (limited, of course) war against Syria just last year. In that situation, Obama reached out to another one of his frenemies, Assad's longtime ally, Vladimir Putin, and Russia helped broker a deal where Assad would give up his WMD. This was back before Putin had sized Obama up as a weakling, and before Putin became Obama's other bad actor in the world, with Putin's war against Ukraine. Not surprisingly, the UN recently reported they think maybe—just maybe—Assad did not really declare or give up all his WMD. But, it is doubtful Obama will do what he threatened in that event—attack Assad too. Worst case, already being discussed: IS gets its hands on some of the remaining Syrian WMD.
As you can see, Obama's reliance on this ragtag group of amateurs, even if it is backed by US air strikes and whatever aid the Core Coalition deigns to supply, is hardly a demonstration of a strong US commitment to degrade and destroy Islamic State.
Add this to the fact that this expanding war (which Secretary of State John Kerry is saying could last three years!) is not being presented to the Congress for a vote on its authority (something that is required by the Constitution), and you begin to see that Obama's war strategy appears to be more of an intellectual exercise—working out and promoting what an anti-IS strategy (with no US ground combat troops) could look like—rather than crafting a realistic action plan to obtain victory in war.
Is this really the best the US military planners could come up with?
About the best you can say for this Core Coalition plan is that it sounds like the sort of military campaign Barack Obama would devise—plenty of shared responsibility, even to the point of relying on demonstrably weak and unreliable allies, combined with totally absurd expectations for their behavior. In this way, Obama, who cannot be so stupid as to have any high hopes for such a plan, has plenty of ass-covering room when it all goes bad.
But then, Obama's sudden war fervor, his anxiousness to "destroy" (instead of just limit) Islamic State, seems to have been pushed by recent events, mainly the video beheadings of two Americans, that invite an emotional, i.e., a purely political, response. For a fellow who is supposed to be careful to a fault, this war plan seems like the product of rash and foolish hysteria.
The pols, the pundits, and the American people, who rightly showed great skepticism when Obama demanded the US should go to war last year in Syria, need to be asking Obama a couple of questions now:
If Islamic State is so threatening to the security and interests of the United States, then why send in three version of the Keystone Kops, instead of the US Marines, to win the war?
And if Islamic State isn't that threatening to the security and interests of the United States, which in the past Barack Obama has repeatedly asserted it wasn't, then why not find a another solution?
NOTE: See also today, "State Department Says “Core Coalition” Thrown Together Without “Rhyme or Reason"