September 22, 2015 | Commentary on International Conflicts, National Security and Defense, Terrorism

Brookes: ‘War’ on Islamic State a failure

A year ago today in a nationally televised address, President Obama spoke to the nation about his intention to “degrade” and “ultimately destroy” the Islamic State (aka ISIS) in Iraq and Syria.

Current U.S. strategy consists of an air campaign against the Islamic State, training the Iraqi army to fight ISIS at home, and the development of a Syrian rebel force to battle the emerging caliphate.

But there’s definitely a perception that the war effort isn’t going very well. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the good, the bad and — yes — the ugly of the fight against ISIS.

First, the “good.”

While debatable, Team Obama would probably assert that the strategy is “shrinking” the Islamic State’s territory, cutting its capabilities, rocking its leadership and working through an international coalition to fight it.

Then there’s the “bad.”

Despite the strategy, there hasn’t been a big rollback of ISIS. In fact, just-retired U.S. Army chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, recently told the press that we’re in a “stalemate” with the Islamic State.

At the present, by some estimates, the Islamic State may control one-third to one-half of Iraq and Syria along with the millions of people who live there; millions more are displaced, intensifying the flood of refugees into Europe.

And even with a coalition, the U.S. is doing most of the heavy lifting in the air war, though Turkey, the United Kingdom and France are expected to up their efforts over Iraq and Syria — no doubt due to worries about the fight’s progress and a growing ISIS threat at home.

There’s also concern about our training — er, retraining, of Iraq’s army to battle the Islamic State in the wake of Baghdad’s ignominious defeat in Mosul (Iraq’s second largest city) last spring.

Today, Mosul is still in the grip of ISIS and the Iraqi army is struggling to retake another city it lost this spring, Ramadi, despite an offensive that kicked off this summer, according
to news reporting.

The strategy has also failed to develop a Syrian opposition force, a program with a $500 million price tag, and sufficiently arm the Kurds, a highly capable fighting force.

And the “ugly.”

The Islamic State, the result of Team Obama’s 2011 withdrawal from Iraq, is still in “business,” meaning beheadings, sexual slavery, crucifixions, immolations, burying children alive … ad nauseam.

The Islamic State also has a bead on the U.S.

Due to its recruiting/radicalization “successes” in America, we’ve had more Islamist terror plots and/or attacks this year than any since 9/11 — with all 11 (a determination on the Chattanooga attack is still pending) ISIS-related.

Plus, Islamic State offshoots are growing. While exact numbers are hard to come by, near on 20 countries may have an ISIS affiliate, according to experts.

Team Obama told Americans up front that it would take years to beat ISIS. While a lot of that has to do with our limited strategy, much of it also has to do with parts of the plan that haven’t been executed very well.

President Obama owes us some answers about the good, the bad and the ugly of the war on the Islamic State. Today, a year after his speech, would be a perfect time to give them to us.

-Peter Brookes is a
Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. Follow him on Twitter @Brookes_Peter

-This piece originally appeared in the Boston Herald

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy