Obama promises a long and limited war on ISIS

Tony Karon writes: President Barack Obama used the broadest of brushstrokes on Wednesday night to describe his “comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State insurgency, providing few details and skirting discussion of key dilemmas facing any such plan.

The United States will lead a “broad coalition,” Obama said, but its war plan “will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.” Instead, the campaign would rely on U.S. air power and support for “partner forces on the ground” to put the Islamic State (IS) to flight. The U.S. would supply intelligence, weapons and logistics and training. But it would be up to those forces to drive out the IS.

It was telling that the example he cited as the model for confronting the IS was the approach “we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” That comparison underscores the message that “ultimately” is the operative word in Obama’s promise to “ultimately destroy” the IS. In both Yemen and Somalia, America’s enemy remains very much intact and active, and the U.S. approach has thus far succeeded in managing and containing the threat, but not in destroying it.

If anything, the challenge of confronting the Islamic State movement in Iraq and Syria is more complex. That’s because the IS is a symptom of the current state of play in regional power struggles that have raged with unprecedented intensity over the past decade; it is not their cause. Yet it is on the warring regional proxy powers that the U.S. must now rely to roll back the IS.

The insurgency’s impressive recent success “is due only in small part to IS itself,” wrote International Crisis Group analyst Peter Harling last week.

“The way has been paved for it by its enemies, who make an impressive roll-call of major players in the region,” he added. [Continue reading…]

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