Why Are We Going To War?

David Rothkopf suspects that, “what Obama began last night will be left to another president to finish”:

A strategy requires achievable goals and a plan to realize them. A good U.S. national security strategy also should be built around an outcome that enduringly advances national interests. This speech lacked several key components in both respects. It did not specify who was in the coalition that would help achieve our goals or what the division of labor would be among the participants. Most glaringly in this respect, it did not address the issue of who would be providing the critical “boots on the ground” component of the coalition, the ones our air power would support. There is no strategy without them. There is also no good strategy if, by default, they end up being bad guys who pose a different kind of threat – as would be the case if we end up being the air force for the Syrian regime in its battle with IS, or with Iranian troops, or with Iranian-led Iraqi troops (as has already been the case in Mosul and Amerli).

Christopher Dickey predicts ISIS will survive the onslaught:

The group originally known as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which evolved into ISIS and now Islamic State or the Caliphate, has proved especially resilient. During the American-led surge in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, the organization bore huge casualties. But detailed research into documents captured from the group shows it had a well-defined structure that enable it to survive despite enormous losses.

“It could not do much when it was in survival mode, but it did survive,” says Princeton Prof. Jacob Shapiro. “The implication for dealing with the Islamic State is that we should not expect it to be destroyed for a long time. Even if there is a successful coordinated effort against it, the group will likely remain capable of conducting terrorist acts in Iraq and Syria for the foreseeable future.”

Friedersdorf pinpoints the faulty logic in Obama’s speech:

[I]f America didn’t successfully eliminate violent extremists in Afghanistan or Iraq even with tens of thousands of boots on the ground, if extremists in those countries began to gain more power as soon as Americans left, if we didn’t manage to successfully train their armies even during a years long deployment of our best forces, why do we think that a foe Chuck Hagel characterizes as the most formidable we’ve seen in the War on Terror can be beat with airstrikes and a few hundred advisors? Or are they not as formidable as Team Obama has led us to believe? The White House may have an internally consistent logic that they’re not sharing. Evaluating it is difficult so long as they talk to us like we’re stupid.

But what if Obama’s goals are much more modest? Juan Cole asks, “What if he really does mean he has a Yemen-like situation in mind?”

What if Obama wants to prevent the fall of Baghdad, Erbil and even Riyadh? What if he is privately skeptical about Baghdad recovering Mosul any time soon? He has after all used drones in Waziristan in northwest Pakistan not to inflict military defeat but for tactical advantage. Iraq and Syria are the new Waziristan. ….

Don’t listen to his expansive four-stage program or his retooled, stage-managed John Wayne rhetoric. Look at his metaphors. He is telling those who have ears to hear that he is pulling a Yemen in Iraq and Syria. He knows very well what that implies. It is a sort of desultory, staccato containment from the air with a variety of grassroots and governmental forces joining in. Yemen is widely regarded as a failure, but perhaps it is only not a success. And perhaps that is all Obama can realistically hope for.

That is my one sliver of hope: that Obama knows this can only be a permanent mowing of a lawn, that he’s just trying to stop ISIS from further expansion, that what we eventually get will be minimalism. If so, this speaks to a much broader question: is it in any way prudent to declare a lofty, even unachievable, goal, when you have only a modest hope for getting there? It’s the expectations game all over again – and I would have thought this president would have figured out by now the costs of over-promising.