I’ve often criticized President Obama’s approach to the threat posed by ISIS and terrorists in general with worldwide reach and ambitions, and the new draft document released by the White House seeking Congress’ authorization for anti-ISIS military operations justifies many of my concerns.
In particular, it looks like an exercise in legalistic parsing, not a blueprint for defeating a strong, determined enemy. Specifically, the resolution would permit using “the Armed Forces of the United States as the President determines to be necessary and appropriate against ISIL or associated persons or forces….” But no permission is sought for the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.”
The president and the other career lawyers he mistakes for policy advisors clearly believe that this phrasing enables him to keep his promise to avoid putting “boots on the ground” back in the Middle East. They seem less concerned with how cripplingly bogus in a real-world military sense the distinction between offensive and defensive operations tends to be. And then there’s the matter of defining “combat” and “enduring” in inevitably chaotic war zones. Will commanders need to vet their day-to-day – or minute-by-minute – tactical decisions with attorneys?
And of course the president has sent a clear message to adversaries that if they wait him out, they could well prevail. For “This authorization…shall terminate three years after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution, unless reauthorized.”
But what of the loyal opposition? Does it have a better alternative plan? Not even close. Just look at the version outlined on Sunday by Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who retired just last year as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and who has emerged since as a major critic of the president’s strategy.
It’s hard to argue with Gen. Flynn’s description of the challenge:
“…we are facing a form of a cancerous component of the Islamic religion which has a fanaticism to it that has everything, which is against our way of life and they, in fact, have declared war on us. And I think that we have to recognize that the biggest challenge right now is what I kind of describe as the wolf or the wolf pack closest to the sled is ISIS. But there are other wolf packs around the world right now that are actually part of this larger expanding violent extremist version of Islam.”
Previously, Flynn had compared “the fight we face against Islamic extremism to World War II or the Cold War and our battle for half a century against the communists” and told Fox News Sunday that “Today, what you are seeing is a doubling of the enemy.”
So what’s Flynn’s plan? On top of some useful suggestions for organizing America’s response better Flynn said, “Internationally, we have to come to grips with the Arab nations that are part of this problem in many cases to get them to come together….” The second half of his sentence? “…it’s not just, you know, what’s happening in Jordan or what’s happening in Saudi or what the Emirates are doing, what is going on in Libya, or Mali or Nigeria?”
After reemphasizing that although “All of them need to come together. But there are problems with that” Flynn confirmed that he wants to create “an Arab NATO.” When Fox anchor Chris Wallace asked “A kind of mutual defense organization like we have with our allies in Western Europe. Is that realistic to get these countries to come together?” Flynn responded:
“If we don’t, then what we’ll continue to see is a breakdown between what I call the leader and the led. I mean, these countries, all of them, are at risk if they don’t come together and work together to achieve what it is that we are all saying is to get to this moderate form of Islam, if it exists.”
So one of the go-to Obama critics is placing many of America’s best hopes for victory over ISIS and real security against terrorism on creating something that has never existed and, that given the excruciating internal weaknesses of its likeliest foreign participants, has no hope of existing. And the most compelling reason he cites is, in effect, “If this fails, we’re sunk.”
As I’ve written previously, there is a vastly more promising alternative – harassing ISIS and its allies through air strikes and special forces operations with the aim of keeping them off balance and preventing them from creating a genuine haven for planning 9-11-type operations until Washington gets serious about border security. That’s a much more realistic way to protect the homeland than wars (however big or small) fought half a world away, alongside abysmally weak, unreliable allies against an adversary that can feed on massive, longstanding economic, social, and cultural dysfunction on its home turf. But none of the major, or even minor, players in American foreign policymaking has demonstrated the slightest clue about these pitfalls. They’d rather debate rival fantasies.