By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Last month, President Obama sent Congress his request for authorization to use force against ISIS. On Wednesday, the administration sent its top foreign and defense officials to Capitol Hill to sell the president’s military authorization to a skeptical Congress.
Democrats are leery of an open-ended military campaign which could lead to the introduction of American ground forces. Republican’s believe the presidents war authorization is too passive and will ultimately tie the hands of military commanders.
The Wall Street Journal reported March 11 that Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, appearing at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to testify on the authorization, said they strongly support the measure. They said that approving it would show allies and partners as well as Islamic State leaders that there is a strong consensus behind defeating the extremist group, known also as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh.
“A clear and formal expression of this Congress’s backing at this moment in time would dispel doubt that might exist anywhere that Americans are united in this effort,” Mr. Kerry said. “Your unity would also send an unmistakable message to leaders of Daesh.”
The issue neither President Obama (nor any member of his administration) has articulated is a coherent political strategy for what the United States is trying to accomplish against ISIS, and for that matter the broader Middle East.
As the president pushes a reluctant Congress to approve his military authorization, he must remember the statement made by Clausewitz in his famous military treatise, “War is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means.” Again, what is missing is a viable political strategy.
The president spoke to the nation during his nationally televised address last month, stating “This resolution reflects our core objective to destroy ISIL, it supports the comprehensive strategy that we have been pursuing with our allies and partners: A systemic and sustained campaign of airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria; Support and training for local forces on the ground, including the moderate Syrian opposition; Preventing ISIL attacks, in the region and beyond, including by foreign terrorist fighters who try to threaten our countries; Regional and international support for an inclusive Iraqi government that unites the Iraqi people and strengthens Iraqi forces against ISIL; Humanitarian assistance for the innocent civilians of Iraq and Syria, who are suffering so terribly under ISIL’s reign of horror.”
Since that address, events changed in Iraq as their forces began to conduct military operations against ISIS in Tikrit, but this comes mainly from Shia militia groups trained and led by Iran’s Revolutionary Quds Force commanded by Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Iraqi Shia militias may defeat ISIS in Tikrit with Iranian assistance, but how does this relationship affect the disaffected Sunni tribal minority who have been disenfranchised by the Shia dominated government in Baghdad, which is strongly supported by Iran?
Without an inclusive government in Baghdad, all this will be meaningless as the only winner in this arrangement is Iran.
As the operation continues in Tikrit, the stage is set for the larger operation to retake the Iraqi city of Mosel, but how will the U.S. leverage Kurdish forces in northern Iraq, who have consistently clamored for modern weapons they need to take the fight to ISIS? The U.S. still hasn’t given them the needed weapons to roll back ISIS; additionally how will the Kurds coordinate military operations with Iraqi forces when there is extreme tension between Arabs and Kurds?
As the administration’s foreign and military officials press Congress to approve the president’s war authorization, little has been mentioned regarding ISIS sanctuary inside Syria. The military can dispense of ISIS, but what is the strategy inside Syria?
President Obama has never mentioned what he intends to do about Syria. One only has to remember the president stating in 2011 that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s, “days are numbered,” but unfortunately Assad is more firmly entrenched than ever with the strong financial and military backing from Iran.
Military leaders have stressed that to be effective, a ground force is needed to go after ISIS in Syria, and administration officials have never articulated who this will be.
The moderate Syrian opposition that the president speaks of is only a shell of its self and has been hammered by military forces loyal to Assad as coalition airstrikes have solely concentrated on ISIS militant targets.
The numbers of moderate Syrian forces the president plans on training pales in comparison to the numbers of militant fighters populating the ranks of ISIS, and then they most likely will not be fully trained and ready to engage ISIS until the end of the year.
The president faces the added difficulty from many Arab countries who are unsure of the U.S. commitment to the region, as they see the Obama administration negotiating with the real threat to the region; Iran.
These same Arab countries are witnessing and seeing Iran extending its arc of influence deeper into Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and other areas of the Middle East. At the same time Arab nations don’t trust the U.S.-Iranian nuclear negotiations, with many Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, believing that the U.S. will do anything to get a deal done at their expense.
Since the president gave his national address last month he has largely been silent, and now needs to speak with a clear voice on what he plans on doing, and not leave it to his surrogates. The president must be fully engaged, otherwise he will not get the authorization, which will be a colossus rebuke of his power and further weaken his already weakened stance in the region.