Another Long War Begins?

According to some sources (NYT), the Obama administration’s plan to stamp out ISIS is likely to last at least three years:

The first phase, an air campaign with nearly 145 airstrikes in the past month, is already underway to protect ethnic and religious minorities and American diplomatic, intelligence and military personnel, and their facilities, as well as to begin rolling back ISIS gains in northern and western Iraq. The next phase, which would begin sometime after Iraq forms a more inclusive government, scheduled this week, is expected to involve an intensified effort to train, advise or equip the Iraqi military, Kurdish fighters and possibly members of Sunni tribes. The final, toughest and most politically controversial phase of the operation — destroying the terrorist army in its sanctuary inside Syria — might not be completed until the next administration. Indeed, some Pentagon planners envision a military campaign lasting at least 36 months.

The president went on Meet the Press yesterday, where he intimated that going into Syria to fight ISIS is still very much on the table. To Max Fisher, this translates into good news for Assad whether Obama wants it to or not:

At this point … all of the US-supplied kalashnikovs and mortar rounds in the world are probably not going to be enough to help Syria’s moderate rebels take on both the Assad regime and ISIS at the same time, much less seize all that ISIS-held territory in eastern Syria. The possibility of US airstrikes against ISIS territory in Syria would make a difference, but far from a decisive one. The calculus of the war has to change, and that appears to mean that the United States will now form its own unspoken and unacknowledged agreement with the Assad regime: let’s put aside our differences, for now, and cooperate against ISIS, a mutual enemy we both hate more than each other. In its basic contours, it is almost identical to the tacit deal that the Assad regime made with ISIS against the moderate rebels.

But Ed Morrissey argues that ruling out boots on the ground, as Obama did yesterday, “tips our hand to ISIS and probably made them breathe a sigh of relief”:

The US can’t dislodge ISIS from the ground they firmly hold through bombings, because it would result in high numbers of civilian casualties. If Obama and whatever coalition he brings together can’t sustain boots on the ground, they won’t sustain that kind of collateral damage either, which means that ISIS’ leaders will only need to worry about assassinations via drones. Without boots on the ground, the US won’t be able to get reliable intel for that to make enough of an impact to drive ISIS back into the desert.

But the issue is more strategic than tactical, too. We will likely hear on Wednesday that only a united Iraq can defeat ISIS, but the Sunnis are not going to trust the Iranian-backed Shi’ites to share power again, and aren’t going to respond to American guarantees unless we put boots back on the ground. Given the choice between ISIS and the subjugation of their tribes by Iran, most of those tribal leaders will choose ISIS, which is the direct result of us abandoning them by leaving Iraq despite our earlier assurances that we could force Nouri al-Maliki to share power.

Meanwhile, Mark Thompson updates us on the weekend’s air strikes, some of which targeted Anbar province, expanding the campaign from northern to western Iraq. Juan Cole lists some other salient developments. One item on his list:

The mufti or chief legal adviser of Saudi Arabia on Islamic law (Sheikh Abd al-Aziz Al Sheikh) gave a fatwa or ruling on Sunday that ISIL is just a band of rebels and murderers who have blood in their hands. Those Western pundits demanding evidence that Muslims have condemned ISIL should take note. The mufti of a Wahhabi country has done so, showing that the Saudi elite has had a scare thrown into it, even if some Saudis secretly support ISIL.

Another bit of news Cole highlights:

The Arab League declared its enmity with the so-called “Islamic State.” All the governments are afraid of ISIL. Although Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Alaraby met with US Secretary of State John Kerry, however, it is not clear what exactly the body can do in any practical way for the war effort. The state best poised to intervene against ISIL, Jordan (which borders Iraq and has a good little military and intelligence capabilities) is at least in public begging off, for fear of ISIL reprisals in Amman.