The Corner

President Obama’s Real Promise—It’s Not to Destroy ISIS

At least President Obama didn’t mention “managing” the Islamic State. At least he said, “We will degrade, and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State.

But let’s be clear. That’s not his real promise. 

His real promise was not to use ground troops. He was very clear about that:

As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission — we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.

And again:

But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.

The job of the commander-in-chief is to defend our nation, not to promise the most expedient tactics. And while I hope and pray that we can, in fact, “destroy” the Islamic State without “American combat troops fighting on foreign soil,” it is premature to make such a promise. What happens if our allies on the ground can’t advance into the Sunni Triangle? What if the Islamic State, despite repeated air attacks, proves every bit as resilient as Hamas — which has weathered years of air strikes yet still maintains its iron grip on Gaza? Then which promise controls? The pledge to destroy or the pledge not to engage in ground combat?

When I heard the president speak of a long air campaign, what I heard was a pledge to kick the can down the road, to “do something” until his successor relieves him of the burden of fighting jihad. In so doing, he’s taking an enormous gamble with the safety and security of the American people. Let’s recall that the Islamic State controls a nation-sized land mass and disperses among the civilian population. Its ranks include hundreds of Americans, Britons, and other holders of Western passports. And let’s also recall that jihadists thrive when they’re seen as surviving and enduring American attacks. 

In the coming days and weeks, it will be interesting to see whether President Obama is even serious about the air campaign. Will we see large-scale mobilization of Air Force, Navy, and Marine assets? Will the air strikes step up, or continue at a minimal to moderate level? Or will the effort wane as media attention wanes, with Americans left to pray that whatever’s been done is enough?

Last night the president made promises. But the most important promise, to destroy our enemy, is the one he seems least willing to keep.


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