The Corner

Impossible Promises

Thirteen years ago today, Islamists based in Afghanistan planned and launched an attack that murdered 3,000 innocent civilians in New York City. Last night, the president again promised to abandon Afghanistan by 2016, while returning to the war in Iraq.

Inconsistent? Not in the president’s view, because the two theaters are not related.

“ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant],” he said, “is not Islamic.”

By denying the obvious, Mr. Obama dissociated the Islamists in Afghanistan — al-Qaeda and Taliban — from the extremists in Iraq and Syria. Just as the Islamic State is not Islamic, so too purple is not purple.

Islamic extremism is a virulent cultural disease. It will run its course until snuffed out by moderate Muslims. Until then, with small expeditionary forces and steady resolve, America can contain the epidemic. For years, our military has recommended leaving residual forces of about 12,000 in both Iraq and Afghanistan, in order to avoid precisely the collapse that has forced Mr. Obama to return to Iraq.

Instead, Mr. Obama has promised to destroy the Islamic State by bombing — “without any Americans in combat missions.” That is impossible. We won’t drop bombs based on assurances from Sunni tribesmen. Effective bombing will require U.S. Special Forces teams on the ground in combat missions.

In addition to encouraging the Islamists in Afghanistan and focusing upon the tactic of bombing, last night President Obama announced two impossible war-termination goals in Mesopotamia.

First, he said our military support would be funneled through the government in Baghdad. However, it was the oppression of the Sunnis and Kurds by the Shiite political parties — not just one sectarian prime minister — that facilitated the Islamist (Islamic State) takeover. Worse still, the Iranian military — our enemy — is in Baghdad, organizing things behind the scenes.

The Iranians and Shiite parties in Iraq are at war against the Iraqi Sunnis, backed by Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Mr. Obama is the wealthy but indecisive poker player who is gambling with no strategy. That makes America the mark in the game about Iraq’s future.

Second, Mr. Obama punted about the core problem: how to resolve a chaotic Syria. To defend the president, Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, said Mr. Obama took “decisive action through [authorizing] precise air strikes by aircraft and drones.” Bombing kills civilians and enemies. But it is not decisive. Air power does not change who controls the territory, the people, and the government. Mr. Obama has no strategy for concluding the war in Syria, the homeland for the Islamic State. He is handing off a simmering, unresolved war to his Democratic or Republican successor. Neither will thank him for his half-hearted, half-baked measures.

The map of Mesopotamia was carved out by England and France during World War I. Before this Islamist war is over, there will be a new map — a breakup of the existing Iraq and the emergence of both a Kurdish and a Sunni state, comprising northern Iraq and eastern Syria.

—  Bing West regularly visits Iraq and Afghanistan and has written six books about the wars in those countries. His latest is One Million Steps: a Marine Platoon at War

Bing WestMr. West, a former assistant secretary of defense and combat Marine, is a military historian. He has written ten books about our wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the latest of which is The Last Platoon: A Novel of the Afghanistan War.


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