The recent military successes of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, and the ongoing disintegration of Iraq’s “central” government have created a strategic crisis for the United States. Barack Obama’s belated, narrow authorization to use military force against the Islamic State does not constitute a coherent response, let alone a comprehensive one. The president seems curiously inactive, even as American influence in the region collapses and, not coincidentally, his political-approval ratings suffer. From the outset of the Islamic State’s campaign, his policies have been haphazard and confused, especially the halting, timid decision to intervene militarily. And, based on his record as president, there is no reason to believe a strategic vision of the Middle East’s future will ultimately emerge from his administration.
Approving U.S. military force against the Islamic State on August 7, Obama stressed two limited goals: protecting U.S. civilian and military personnel in Irbil, the Kurdish capital, which the Islamic State was rapidly nearing; and aiding refugees who had fled as the group advanced into Iraq from Syria. These are legitimate objectives, but they are far too constrained even in humanitarian terms, let alone against the serious regional and global strategic threats the Islamic State poses. The approximately 40,000 Yazidis were clearly in dire straits, but their plight had been preceded months earlier by the even greater number of fleeing Christian families. Obama stood by while the Islamic State butchered its way around Iraq.