If I was President Obama, I’d be thanking my lucky stars that U.S. financial markets today are looking like roller coasters because investors apparently are at last losing faith that even more free money from the Federal Reserve and other major world central banks will turn the current global recovery into something more than an embarrassment. And that Washington’s approach to fighting ebola apparently has a few more holes than officials initially let on.
Bad as that news is, it’s at least distracting the public and much of the media from growing evidence of utter administration incompetence in the battle to destroy ISIS’ terrorist army in the Middle East.
Those Americans who have continued to follow Middle East turmoil rightly worry about the ineffectiveness of the president’s strategy of combating ISIS through U.S. (and a little allied) air power plus (somehow) mustering enough ground strength from countries and insurgent forces in the region to accomplish the mission. But I’m even more worried that the administration has completely lost sight of what need to be America’s overriding goal.
As I’ve written, the endgame Washington should be seeking is marginalizing the Middle East to America’s fate through domestic measures – sealing the border and ensuring ever greater energy independence. The results would be an America substantially protected from the main actual and potential threats it faces from the Middle East: another major terrorist attack, and major disruption in world energy markets. Of course these goals will be difficult to achieve. But such successes are much likelier than indefinitely keeping the lid on terrorism overseas because nations always have more control over what happens domestically than abroad.
But because these jobs remain unfinished – especially establishing adequate control over entry into the country – for the time being, the nation must also act militarily against ISIS.
It’s good that the president has finally realized this – or has been pushed into acting as if he realizes this. But tragically there’s no reason to think that he understands what military force needs to accomplish above all until immigration and energy policies can neutralize Middle East threats. Job one needs to be preventing ISIS from consolidating firm enough control over enough territory to create a haven for bases and training camps that can support 9-11-like attacks.
Al Qaeda was granted this sanctuary when the Taliban took over Afghanistan, and destroying this capability has been the achievement that has justified that grueling effort. U.S. strategy in Iraq and Syria needs an identical focus. As the Afghan war has demonstrated, success has not required any nation-buildng progress. In fact, trying to bring Afghanistan out of the 13th century has seriously distracted allied forces from the major imperative – keeping the Taliban out of Kabul, and harassing its forces and Al Qaeda fighters sufficiently to keep them completely off balance.
Relentlessly harassing and indeed disrupting ISIS forces should be America’s current priority as well. And that’s why it was so discouraging to hear Secretary of State John Kerry say this week that America could afford to let the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani fall to ISIS because the top U.S. goal these days is “to rebuild some of the morale and capacity of the Iraqi army. And to begin the focus of where we ought to be focusing first which is in Iraq. That is the current strategy.”
These remarks strongly indicate that Kerry – often described as one of the adults on the Obama foreign policy team – has no clue that it doesn’t matter where ISIS consolidates control. A terrorist sanctuary that winds up being established mainly on Syrian territory would be just as dangerous to America as a sanctuary mainly located in Syria. American and coalition military actions, therefore, need to target concentrations of ISIS forces wherever they’re found.
Americans can be thankful that geography gives the nation options against threats like terrorism that most other countries lack. But they’ll never be nearly as secure as they should be unless they start electing leaders smart enough to capitalize on these advantages, not ignore them.