President Obama has authorized US air assets to fly over Iraq and drop things in an attempt to halt the advance of the inhuman Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS, also known as ISIL, replacing Syria with the Levant]. Thus far, only humanitarian supplies have fallen from US aircraft targeting the victims of the barbarians. However, the White House has not ruled out dropping ordinance on those who would put the local calendar back 1,000 years. This is an acceptable use of US air power, but it should be used sparingly. Above all, Mr. Obama needs to define his objectives now before the mission starts to creep.
The success of ISIS in expanding the territory under its control stems from the simple fact that the Iraqi army’s personnel turn up to collect a pay check. Most of the troops are not there to fight and die to protect the Green Zone Government of Prime Minister al Maliki. The fact that ISIS has seen its advance slow is hardly due to a better performance by this mercenary national army but rather due to the recruitment of Shi’ite militias who are willing to go to paradise to protect their flavor of Islam, which ISIS deems heretical.
However, in such a fight, it’s one rag tag band fighting another with whatever weaponry can be found and resupply happens when the victor of a firefight strips the loser of his ammunition and rations. Air power has the capacity to alter the power equation in favor of the Iraqi government and Shi’ite militias. And while neither of these groups is particularly nice by the standards of suburbia, they are less nasty than ISIS. The guys in the grey hats are preferable to the guys in the black ones.
The use of American assets to supply refugees with food, water, blankets and medicine does carry some risk in that the combatants can, and in the past have, made off with such supplies. However, that is a poor reason not to save lives if possible. That is what has motivated President Obama to act as he has.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted after Mr. Obama’s announcement, “I completely support humanitarian aid as well as the use of air power. However the actions announced tonight will not turn the tide of battle.” He is correct; however, his statement begs the question of whether the anti-ISIS ground forces have the stomach to fight. If they do, then American air power can help immensely. If not . . . . Moreover, America cannot allow itself to get drawn into the trap of believing that air power alone can win it. This has been a lie fostered by Hermann Goering, Arthur Harris and Curtis LeMay — not one of whom won his war without ground pounders (indeed Reichmarshall Goering and General LeMay lost their wars).
Moreover, defeating ISIS and hanging its leaders for war crimes (ideally summary execution in the field) is only part of the matter. The other fragment is just what happens when ISIS is gone. The Syrian Civil War will continue with the odious Ba’athist regime winning and actually strengthened by the defeat of ISIS. Meanwhile in Iraq, the Shi’ite grip will have increased, much to the benefit of Iran.
This might be an opportune time to think about the constellation of powers in the region that will arise with the defeat of ISIS. A stronger regime in Damascus and an Iran that can act as a regional superpower through Iraqi proxies doesn’t sound like winning. Does President Obama or Senator Graham have any idea what to do about those?