The Corner

Every ISIS Victory Will Be Perceived as an American Defeat

I truly hope that Rich Lowry’s military source is correct and the situation is stabilizing at Kobani (we’ll know soon enough), but let’s clear up one misconception right away — contrary to “senior administration officials,” the fall of Kobani should be a “major U.S. concern.” Even if one assumes relative administration indifference to extreme human suffering and the blow to the heart and soul of the Kurdish people more broadly, it’s time that we recognize a key reality of our fight against the Islamic State. Once we launched air strikes against the Islamic State, in the relevant sectors of the Muslim world, this war became a struggle between the U.S. and the Islamic State, with the Islamic State’s victories counting as triumphs over the world’s lone superpower.

Charles Krauthammer is exactly right that Kobani’s fall would represent a “tremendous strategic and symbolic victory” for the terrorist group. In concrete terms that means new recruits and new prestige — all of which translate into greater capacity to take and hold territory in the Middle East and greater capacity to strike into Europe and the United States. Let’s not forget that the Islamic State’s proven ability to recruit British and American citizens is based in large part on its success in the field. After all, there’s nothing all that distinctive about its jihadist message. So far, it just wins.

The Pentagon understands this, and it also understands that it simply can’t do the job from the air — not just because air strikes alone tend to be generally ineffective without ground forces to direct the attacks and exploit success, but also because they know very well that they’ve not been allocated sufficient resources to inflict truly significant harm on a large, geographically dispersed, highly mobile, and well-concealed terrorist force. 

No wonder Rear Admiral Kirby is expressing obvious frustration.

The Soldier’s Creed declares that the American soldier stands ready to “deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.” (Emphasis added.) Since 9/11, America has not lacked for warriors willing to do just that, and we do not lack such warriors now. We know air strikes won’t be enough, and we know victory in the face of our air campaign empowers the enemy. 

How long must we sideline our best warriors in the interests of preserving the last tattered shards of a president’s misguided ideology? 

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