Former terrorism adviser tells Obama: Change your strategy

Michael Vickers writes: One of the duties of a senior policy adviser is to tell the president when his strategy isn’t working. By any measure, our strategy in Iraq and Syria is not succeeding, or is not succeeding fast enough. We are playing a long game, when a more rapid and disruptive strategy is required. In my role as a senior counterterrorism adviser to both Presidents Bush and Obama, I played a major role in our counterterrorism campaigns against Al Qaeda, and in the Osama bin Laden raid; earlier, I was the principal strategist for the covert war in Afghanistan against the Soviets. Were I still in government, this is some of what I would say.

First, time is not on our side. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is not just a regional insurgent army. It is a terrorist group with global reach and the leader of global jihad. We cannot rely on intelligence to disrupt all plots, and ISIL cannot be contained any more than Al Qaeda could prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The flow of Western passport holders in and out of Syria and the sanctuary ISIL enjoys there to train operatives and plan attacks is a clear and present danger. ISIL must be disrupted, dismantled and defeated. Whatever we would do if ISIL made good on its threat to attack Washington, D.C. and New York, we should instead do now, before the attack occurs.

Second, we need a “Syria-first” strategy to replace the Iraq-first strategy we’ve been pursuing. So far, two-thirds of coalition airstrikes have been in Iraq, as have the bulk of our capacity building efforts. But it’s now clear that the threat in Iraq is local, while in Syria, it’s global. It’s Syria where ISIL has its principal sanctuary, and that’s where the battle for the future of the Middle East is now taking place.

Third, we need a strategy that draws its inspiration from President Bush’s 2001 Afghanistan campaign and President Reagan’s Afghanistan strategy in the 1980s. ISIL, as its name implies, is a de facto state. It holds territory, controls population, and funds its operations from resources that it exploits on territory it controls. If there’s one thing the American military knows how to do it is defeating an opposing force trying to hold ground. [Continue reading…]

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