Pentagon Says Obama’s War Against ISIS Likely To Last Years
The war against ISIS continues to silently escalate, with little input from the people's representatives in Congress.
In its first briefing in the wake of last night’s bombing attacks on Syria, Pentagon officials said that this was just the beginning of a conflict likely to last years:
The first airstrikes launched against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Syria by the U.S. and a handful of Arab allies were “very successful,” the Pentagon said Tuesday, but warned they were just the start of a long campaign that could go on for years.
“Last night’s strikes are the beginning of a credible and sustainable, persistent campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL,” Lt. Gen. William Mayville, director of operations for the Joint Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon.
“I think it would be in terms of years, yes,” Mayville said when asked about the length of the campaign.
The Defense Department offered its initial assessment of the new military strikes in which the U.S. and five Arab countries — Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — worked together to attack ISIL targets in Syria. The U.S. also unilaterally struck an Al Qaeda affiliate that the Pentagon said posed an imminent threat to the West.
“Our initial indication is that these strikes were very successful,” said Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby, emphasizing as well that Monday’s airstrikes involving a mix of Tomahawk missiles, drones, fighters and bombers were “only the beginning.”
This admission from the Pentagon that the conflict against ISIS could take a long period of time isn’t really new, of course. Early this month, even before the President had announced the new shift in policy toward attacks in Syria, aid to the “moderate Syrian rebels, and the plan to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, Administration officials were saying that it may take years for the President’s plan to work. Given the nature of the President’s plan, this seems to be a realistic, perhaps even conservative estimate of our abilities in this conflict and the fact that, even by the most conservative estimates, it would take roughly a year to both train and reorganize an Iraqi Army that has been demoralized by repeated defeats at the hands of ISIS and to arm and train the “moderate” Syrian rebels. Air strikes can obviously do real damage assuming that we know where to direct our targeting, which of course requires some kind of force on the ground to make those determinations, but it’s going to require a ground force of some kind to dislodge ISIS from its strongholds. Since the President has ruled out the use of American ground troops, even though both the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Army Chief of Staff have said that they might be necessary, these are the forces that we have to rely upon, and leaving aside the fact that neither one of them is very reliable to begin with, it’s going to take some time to get them to the point where they can actually fight the way that we need. Add into the equation an international coalition that seems more interested in sitting back and letting us handle most of the dirty work than actually getting their hands dirty, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a prolonged, sustained conflict with an uncertain future that could very easily escalate far beyond our control.
Of course, as Daniel Larison points out, when this whole thing started months ago, we were being told a slightly different story:
When airstrikes began in Iraq six weeks ago, the administration initially said that a “sustained campaign” is exactly what the U.S. was not starting. That seemed hard to believe at the time, and that’s because it was plainly untrue. Interventionists always understate the costs and duration of the military action they’re proposing at the beginning to reduce resistance, and only once the action has begun do they start to acknowledge that the original claims weren’t true. In the weeks that followed, the president and other U.S. officials have gradually conceded that the expanding mission could take several years, but it’s important to remember that this policy was originally sold as a brief, limited, and defensive use of force. Now it will be-by the administration’s own admission-prolonged, open-ended, and offensive in nature.
Every step along the way, the administration has set down restrictions on what it would be willing to do, and it then cast those restrictions aside within days or weeks of imposing them. The administration is currently saying that there won’t be American forces on the ground engaged in combat, but as we should know by now every statement like this is entirely provisional and can be revoked at any time.
In the space of just about two months, the Administration has escalated from a limited conflict with the mission of protecting the Yazadi and American diplomats stationed in and around Kirkuk, to a broader conflict designed to aid the ground forces of the Kurds and the Iraqi Army in their fight to regain territory such as the Mosul Dam from ISIS control, to what we have today, the President’s plan to “degrade and destroy” ISIS which relies upon forces over which we have, at best, indirect control. In the meantime, we have two of the top military leaders in the country telling us that the plan we’re following now may not be sufficient to achieve the goals that the President has set forth. Given the Administration’s history of escalation in this conflict, over such a short period of time, it’s difficult to believe that the President’s promise of no American ground troops is one that is going to last for very long. Whether it’s because of a military setback, the possibility that training the Iraqis and “moderate” Syrians will take longer than projected, or because the plan just doesn’t work, how long will it be before the President is back before the country announcing that he finds himself forced to send American combat forces to fight ISIS. Since we have already committed ourselves to the fight in some sense, it will be next to impossible for him to back out at that point. That’s the problem with escalating a conflict without having a coherent plan.
The probability that this conflict to drag on for years, combined with the escalation that we’ve seen just in the last two months, is of course yet another reason why this conflict needs to be debated and voted upon by Congress. The Constitution and the War Powers Act would seem to require no less, after all. Instead of doing that, however, our representatives on both sides of the aisle have evacuated Washington, D.C. to go run for re-election and won’t be back until the Lame Duck Session in December, when it may well be too late for Congress to have a meaningful debate about a conflict that by then will have been going on for nearly five months. Moreover, the idea of a Congress that will include people who have been voted out of office voting on something like this after the election is, to say the least, pretty appalling, but of course it’s just the end result of the fact that most of the people on Capitol Hill did not want to be forced to weigh in on this issue before facing the voters in November. That’s nothing less than cowardly, but that’s basically what we get from Washington these days.