Six years after George W. Bush left office, 5 years after President Obama's Cairo outreach speech to reset relations with the Islamic world and undermine support for jihadis, 3 years after "responsibly ending" the Iraq War, and 2 years before he "ends" the Afghanistan war, President Obama discovers that the Long War against jihadis is still going on because they still hate us (and everyone else, it seems).
Tonight, the day before the 9/11 anniversary, the president will speak to the nation about what we will do do fight ISIL, which has erupted from Syria to take over large parts of Sunni Arab Iraq.
Is it too much to hope that the president will be bludgeoned by reality into recognizing we are at war--a Long War?
Or will the speech fall somewhere in the continuum ranging from "we will degrade them on the beaches" to "why do they hate us (and how can we stop doing what they hate)?"
Actually, my worst fear is not that this will be a "September 10th" speech that, as if it was the day before the September 11, 2001 attacks, fails to recognize we are at war with Islamist terrorism.
My biggest worry is that it will be a November 4th speech--mere words designed to bolster his party's Senate chances in the fall election, which will be followed by little long-term action to actually win the war he is re-declaring tonight.
I will watch the speech. Assuming I have power, given the gathering storm approaching Michigan today. Bigger storms are afoot, of course.
UPDATE: Wow. Already President Obama has made me grit my teeth. We will go back into Iraq because we failed to stay to defend our gains; and the president boasts that we will end the war in Afghanistan in two years. Somehow he doesn't see the connection between leaving too soon and risking defeat.
UPDATE: Reality grasping eludes our president, still. Assad was prevented from gassing his people by our efforts? We rallied the world to stop Putin in Ukraine? We are so screwed.
UPDATE: This was not a war speech. This was a time-limited, scope-limited military action speech.
UPDATE: This is the heart of the plan:
First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq.
This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.
Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground. In June, I deployed several hundred American servicemembers to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi security forces. Now that those teams have completed their work –- and Iraq has formed a government –- we will send an additional 475 servicemembers to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission –- we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. We’ll also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL’s control.
Across the border, in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. Tonight, I call on Congress again to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters. In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its own people -- a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost. Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.
Third, we will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks. Working with our partners, we will redouble our efforts to cut off its funding; improve our intelligence; strengthen our defenses; counter its warped ideology; and stem the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the Middle East. And in two weeks, I will chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort.
Fourth, we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization. This includes Sunni and Shia Muslims who are at grave risk, as well as tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities. We cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homelands.
I cut out the parts that are either BS or things separate from the military campaign that one would do regardless of whether there is an active military campaign.
Of course, the goal the president sets makes the plan harder:
Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.
A counter-terrorism strategy relies on simply killing our way out of a problem without trying to secure the people and territory which the terrorists operate in.
Obviously, the Kurds and Iraqis want to reclaim the territory and people. This requires them to conduct a military campaign of movement to retake enemy-held ground and to focus on the Sunni Arabs to get them to switch sides (again) to reject the jihadis of ISIL and their Baathist friends.
So right off the bat, there is a disconnect between what we say we will do and what our allies on the ground want to do.
I suspect--since the president also spoke of arming local Sunni Arabs in both Syria and in Iraq, that framing our involvement as a counter-terrorism approach is pure politics designed to deny that we are fighting in Iraq the way we did from 2003 to mid-2009 when our combat role came to a formal end.
The president spoke of hitting ISIL in Syria as needed while hitting ISIL in Iraq on an expanded rate. I think this is good.
I know military experts have spoken of the need to hit ISIL everywhere hard, that otherwise sound advice doesn't apply to the current situation. ISIL is not a single problem.
ISIL is an Iraq problem and a Syria problem. Destroying ISIL in Iraq as soon as we can will allow Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim ground.
By contrast, a rapid destruction of ISIL in Syria--even if it is possible without reliable friendly forces on the ground--means Assad's forces can reclaim ground. We shouldn't want that.
So my view is that the war should be sequential: win, build, win.
Defeat ISIL in Iraq while striking targets in Syria only to the extend that it helps win in Iraq; build up the Syrian non-jihadi opposition with real and sustained material and other help; and then defeat ISIL in Syria so that the non-jihadi rebels rather than Assad can exploit our air offensive in Syria.
I suspect the military plan that the president announced could fit with my notion. So as far as that goes, I think it is good.
While the last two stages could fill out those years the president says this will take, there is no reason that the defeat of ISIL in Iraq needs to take that long. If local ground forces to exploit air power can be organized and if Sunni Arabs can be re-Awakened to reject the jihadis (likely to be more easy in Anbar than in the north in the near term), ISIL's control could potentially collapse rapidly the way jihadi control collapses in Mali when the French struck in 2012 and the way Taliban control collapsed when we struck in 2001.
But by trying to disassociate our efforts (just counter-terrorism to kill jihadis--like in Yemen and Somalia!) with efforts to reclaim Iraqi land from ISIL and help non-jihadis rather than Assad take over Syria land, the president refrained from trying to really rally the American people for renewed war against the jihadis.
And he still fails to understand that this is a Long War for the soul of Islam. We've done much. Much more needs to be done:
We've made a good start. But we need to accomplish a lot. Stand fast, people. This is the Long War. Even if we get tired of fighting, our enemies do not tire of trying to kill us. We have no choice but to seek out the terrorists and kill them, destroy the regimes that refuse to halt their support of those terrorists, discredit and marginalize the ideology theat propels stone cold killers, and for God's sake, prevent insane regimes from going nuclear. No matter how tough the fight proves to be or how long it takes.
President Obama says that ISIL does not represent real Islam. But that's the question in debate, isn't it? ISIL (and other jihadis) consider themselves the Moslem wing of the Moslem Ummah. If the jihadis win, they will impose their version of Islam as the real form of Islam, won't they?
While we battle the actual jihadis, we need to help Moslems reject Islamist ideology and seek to give Moslems an alternative to living in Islamist states or autocratic states.
I know it is popular to dismiss the Arab Spring as a failure. But at least it was a realization by Arabs that they need a third alternative--democracy they hoped--to Islamism or autocracy. Islamists have taken advantage of the unrest and the autocrats are not willing to go quietly, but the third option was raised. In Tunisia, it may work.
Heck, in Iraq it is working at least partially despite our failure to support rule of law in Iraq after 2011, and Iraq could work even better if we succeed in our new Third Iraq War.