16 Dec '15     home | previous

Defeating ISIS: Obama and the Republican Debate

In yesterday's Republican debate the candidates agreed that we must defeat terrorism by defeating the Islamic State. There was much mention of what was described as President Obama's deficiency in this regard, and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State was described as partly responsible for this deficiency – no matter that she was the president's agent.

The day before, (December 14th) President Obama addressed the nation again. He suggested that he has become tougher in his determination to defeat the Islamic State – matching perhaps the change in public sentiment since the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

Obama said:

Today, the United States and our Armed Forces continue to lead the global coalition in our mission to destroy the terrorist group ISIL. As I outlined in my speech to the nation last weekend, our strategy is moving forward with a great sense of urgency on four fronts -- hunting down and taking out these terrorists; training and equipping Iraqi and Syrian forces to fight ISIL on the ground; stopping ISIL's operations by disrupting their recruiting, financing and propaganda; and, finally, persistent diplomacy to end the Syrian civil war so that everyone can focus on destroying ISIL.

The president spoke of coming actions, "more firepower and Special Operations forces." ISIL, he said is dug in, including in urban areas, and they hide behind civilians, using defenseless men, women and children as human shields." He went on:

At the same time, our partners on the ground are rooting ISIL out, town by town, neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block. That is what this campaign is doing.

We are hitting ISIL harder than ever. Coalition aircraft -- our fighters, bombers and drones -- have been increasing the pace of airstrikes -- nearly 9,000 as of today. Last month, in November, we dropped more bombs on ISIL targets than any other month since this campaign started.

We're going after ISIL from their stronghold right down -- right in downtown Raqqa, to Libya, where we took out Abu Nabil, the ISIL leader there. The point is, ISIL leaders cannot hide. And our next message to them is simple: You are next.

Every day, we destroy as well more of ISIL's forces -- their fighting positions, bunkers and staging areas; their heavy weapons, bomb-making factories, compounds and training camps. In many places, ISIL has lost its freedom of maneuver, because they know if they mass their forces, we will wipe them out.

In recent weeks, we've unleashed a new wave of strikes on their lifeline, their oil infrastructure, destroying hundreds of their tanker trucks, wells and refineries. And we're going to keep on hammering those.

The Republican candidates wanted to communicate a clear difference between Obama and themselves in pursuing ISIS militarily. During the debate, none of them said a good word about the president's new effort. But there was anti-Obama hyperbole.

Senator Cruz was asked about his plan to "carpet bomb ISIS into oblivion" about the ISIS capital of Raqqa in Syria where there are hundreds of thousands of civilians. Cruz said that he "would carpet bomb where ISIS is, not a city, but the location of the troops." He said, "You have embedded special forces to direct the air power." He described Obama as "launching between 15 and 30 air attacks a day" and said, "It is photo op foreign policy. We need to use overwhelming air power."

Lindsey Graham, a member of the junior debate that preceded the main debate, remained strikingly different from Obama in his claim that the US needs more America boots on the ground in Iraq and eventually in Syria. Also, Jeb Bush claimed that we "will need to increase our presence on the ground." Ben Carson said "we've got a phobia about boots on the ground. If our military experts say we need boots on the ground, we should put boots on the ground." John Kasich called for troops on the ground in a coalition similar to what we had in the First Gulf War.

Senator Rand Paul said "the boots on the ground need to be Arab boots on the ground."

Senator Marco Rubio claimed that ISIS "cannot just be defeated through air strikes. Air strikes are a key component of defeating them, but they must be defeated on the ground by a ground force. And that ground force must be primarily made up of Sunni Arabs themselves, Sunni Arabs that reject them ideologically and confront them militarily.

There seemed to be agreement among the Republican candidates that taking territory away from the Islamic State militarily would diminish attraction for the ISIS cause and its recruitment among Sunni Muslims.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.