July 12, 2020

Objectives, threats, and means

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 22 October 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Objectives, threats, and means

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Everyone is hoping the shooting of a soldier at a Canadian war memorial is an isolated event, but hope is not a strategy. Authorities in Canada, the U.S. and Britain must take seriously early reports that the shooter is a likely ISIS sympathizer. Whether he acted on his own or is linked to others will be the investigative focus in the coming days.

Whatever new information is uncovered, we already know that the self-described Islamic state is more powerful than Al-Qaeda. They have significantly more money, and their extremism attracts zealots worldwide. Western governments must now monitor the flow of people heading to the Middle East. Impressionable young men and women drawn to the idea of an Islamic caliphate are eager to join the battle.

We don’t know enough about the particulars of the attack in Canada, but we do know that ISIS has proven to be exceptionally competent not only on the battlefield, but in the chilling videos that they produce, and which serve as a recruiting tool.

With a small force, they have captured the western part of Iraq, and the northern part of Syria, military feats that win grudging admiration from war planners in the U.S. Their sophistication in using video and social media combined with their battlefield tactics make them a force greater than anything Al-Qaeda ever dreamed possible.

Al-Qaeda under the direction of Osama bin Laden pulled off a series of attacks on African embassies, the USS Cole, and then finally on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a flight that ended tragically and heroically on a field in Pennsylvania.

Since that September day in 2001, America waited for the next attack from Al-Qaeda. It never materialized. Instead, more than a dozen years later, the hatred and resentment that boils in the Middle East yielded ISIS, an enemy that is cannier and therefore deadlier.

The Dow Jones stock index dropped more than a hundred points after word of the shooting in Canada. If one attack by one shooter that results in one death can have that immediate repercussion, it could well encourage additional attacks by copy cats seeking the limelight, or it could presage a coordinated strategy by ISIS to chip away at Western economies and instill fear in their populations.

All possibilities must be considered. The U.S. public is skittish enough already that another incident would put pressure on President Obama to ramp up the administration’s response to ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It is stunning that this force estimated at 20,000 soldiers, which has taken the city of Mosul, second largest in Iraq, and is on the outskirts of Baghdad, still has the manpower to fight in Kobane in northern Syria.

Obama doesn’t want to put boots on the ground in Iraq or Syria, but if he is serious about confronting ISIS, his administration is going to have to do a better job arming the Kurdish army, which has 170,000 trained soldiers, but is sorely lacking in modern equipment.

It’s fine for Obama to keep American combat troops out of the fight, but sending advisors and forward observers to the front lines to pinpoint air strikes would not violate his pledge, The battle is not winnable without more direct U.S. engagement. ISIS has proven very adept at “concentrating on the battlefield,” a military term that means they don’t travel in target-rich convoys or large formations, but move in small, dispersed groups that come together at the front only when they’re ready to attack.

Among their leaders are former Iraqi soldiers and officers whom U.S. envoy Paul Bremer dismissed out of hand following the 2003 war, thereby planting the seeds for a Sunni resentment that has become so toxic in the form of ISIS. Actions have consequences, and if Obama wants to carry out the mission he identifies as “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, he can’t minimize what it will take. Only by destroying ISIS at the source will the threat to the U.S. and its allies be minimalized.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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