Micah Zenko calls out Obama’s strategy against ISIS as another example of “political leaders presenting totally unrealistic and implausible end states”, which has been a hallmark of US counterterrorism since 9/11:
Given that two administrations have failed to achieve their end states of defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda and its affiliated organizations, we should be extremely doubtful of the Obama administration’s strategic objective of destroying IS or its ability to threaten the United States or any of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. Furthermore, it is difficult to ascertain what the Obama administration has learned from the total failure to eliminate the Taliban and al Qaeda and all affiliates. Based upon White House statements, it appears that its sole lesson from the post-9/11 era is to avoid massive ground invasions, and to emulate the policies from Yemen and Somalia, which again, according to U.S. government data, have not worked.
On Friday, Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby was asked how IS would be destroyed, beyond airstrikes and supporting partners on the ground. He replied: “It also is going to take the ultimate destruction of their ideology.” If this is truly the ultimate pathway for IS’s destruction, then it was strange that it did not appear anywhere in President Obama’s strategy speech. Furthermore, altering the interpretation that others hold of a religious ideology is something that governments are really bad at.
Increasingly, I think this whole arm-the-rebels plan is just a perfunctory mad-libs answer to an obvious question about O’s ISIS strategy.
Everyone understands that we can put a hurt on them from the air; we can probably also pull together a force in Iraq between the Iraqi army and the peshmerga to push ISIS back into Syria. But what happens then? If the plan is to destroy them, how do we get them once they’re back inside their home base and hunkered down in Syrian cities? We don’t. In reality, we’re practicing a containment strategy, the first step of which is to shove ISIS out of Iraq and the second step of which is to drone their key leaders and terror camps once they’ve returned to Syria. Destroying ISIS will be left to the Shiites who are really motivated to do it, be it Assad, Iran, Hezbollah, or, most likely, Shiite militias from Syria and Iraq. This FSA pipe dream is less an actual plan than a rhetorical one, so that O has an out-of-the-box answer handy when someone asks him “Who’s going to fight our battle in Syria?” What’s he supposed to say, “Shiite death squads”? That may be the correct answer but it’s not a politic one.
Discussing the CIA’s recently revised estimate of how many fighters ISIS has, which rose dramatically from 10,000 to somewhere between 20,000 and 31,500, Carl Bialik points out how hard it is to count them:
Intelligence experts outside the CIA cast some doubt on the precision of the estimate. Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank in Washington, said even the wide range of numbers may understate the uncertainty in the count. “I’d say the estimates are no better than +/- 50%,” O’Hanlon said in an email. Anne Stenersen, a research fellow at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment in Kjeller, Norway, said the accuracy of the estimates depends on the CIA’s sources. “For a country like Afghanistan, I would trust their estimates because they have access to many different sources on the ground,” Stenersen said in an email. “In Iraq/Syria and for a group like ISIS, it is really hard to know where they get their numbers from, and how reliable they are.”
(Photo: A flag of the Islamic State (IS) is seen on the other side of a bridge at the frontline of fighting between Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Islamist militants in Rashad, on the road between Kirkuk and Tikrit, on September 11, 2014. By JM Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)