Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
Running Out of Time
By David G. Young
Washington, DC, July 21, 2015 --
An attack on Americans would derail efforts to keep American ground troops out of the war against the Islamic State.
The murder of 38 Europeans at a Tunisian beach resort last month is just the latest attack on the West by agents claimed by the Islamic State.1 A similar attack on Western tourists at Tunisia's premier museum in March left 23 dead.2 While no Americans were killed in either attack, it is probably only a matter of time before citizens of the most powerful military power on earth fall victim. How will America respond?
While America currently leads a coalition of nations attacking the Islamic State by air, the Obama administration has pledged not to use American ground troops on a large scale.3 Without a doubt, shifts in public opinion can quickly force Obama to abandon this pledge. If the Islamic State claims responsibility for a future attack on American citizens, Americans will call for revenge. But it will leave America's president in a tough spot, given that he was elected on a platform to bring the unpopular Iraq war to an end.
The alternatives for defeating the Islamic State without American ground troops are currently limited. The radical Islamist group controls a large swath of territory in eastern Syria and Western Iraq, as well as smaller and more tenuous enclaves in Libya and Yemen. All of the major military powers in the region are either sympathetic to the Islamic State, or are unable to challenge it directly without sparking a wider war:
Only Jordan, which had a pilot brutally killed by the Islamic State has shown unwavering opposition to the group. While it has pledged the use of ground forces to defeat the Islamic State4, its military is simply not powerful enough to tip the balance of power.
That leaves American military planners in a similar position as in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, where they were forced to combine American air power with a number of local forces to serve as its ground troops. But the same strategy has not worked after over a year of trying. While Kurdish militias have nipped at Islamic State territory from the north, Iraqi forces have had as many losses as gains on the western front. Meanwhile, the main forces battling the Islamic State on the eastern front, are those of the Syrian government -- a nation against which America has long been hostile.
Islamic State attacks on Western targets show that this strategy is running out of time. If a weak coalition cannot soon dislodge the Islamic State from controlling large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, a major attack may eventually force the American president's hand.
Related Web Columns:
Welcoming Kurdistan, June 17, 2014
1. BBC News, Tunisia Attack: Did Islamic State Direct Sousse Assault?, June 27, 2015
3. Fox News, Obama Opens Door to 'Limited' Ground Combat Operations Against ISIS, February 11, 2015
4. Al Arabiya, Iraq Says Jordan Offers All Military Means in ISIS Fight, February 12, 2015