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Is President Obama’s Strategy toward ISIS Working?

By John Ubaldi
Alumnus of American Military University

After two months of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria one has to assess, is President Barack Obama’s strategy for confronting ISIS working? Unfortunately, the debate regarding ISIS centers around whether or not America will place “boots on the ground” in order to destroy the Islamic militants. One unfortunate result is that it has led to contradictory statements by the Obama administration, which again continued over the weekend.

In an interview on ABC’s This Week, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey stated that no circumstances had yet arisen which would warrant recommending the limited use of American ground troops as advisers in combat conditions. But he did add in the interview “There will be circumstances when the answer to that question will likely be yes.”

This contradicts statements made by National Security Advisor Susan Rice when she said, “the president has been very plain that this is not a campaign that requires, or even would benefit from American ground troops in combat again.”

Presently, ISIS has adjusted it’s tactics in countering the American led air campaign, and now the Islamic militant group has made steady gains in the Anbar province of Iraq and is putting pressure on the Bagdad Airport.

If the administration’s stated strategy is to keep from putting American combat forces on the ground, then who will play that role? Military experts have long stated that airstrikes alone will not defeat ISIS; that it will require some sort of ground force.

Right now, Kurdish forces are barely holding on to the Syrian town of Kobani, and many expect it to fall any time now. Why haven’t we been arming the Kurds? ISIS is well funded and well-armed, with sophisticated weapons taken from the Iraqi army when they fled the battlefield upon the advancement of ISIS forces.

In addition, an issue addressed by the president—and reiterated by Rice this last weekend in an interview—is that Iraqi military forces will have to be involved in stopping ISIS. This begs the question, what leverage does the U.S. have in ensuring the Iraqi government becomes more inclusive of all ethnic groups in Iraq, especially the Sunni minority?

The main reason the Iraqi army fled their posts is the blatant corruption perpetrated by senior Iraqi military commanders, with one of the more egregious act being skimming the pay of the rank and file Iraqi military. This also coincides with competent military commanders replaced by less competent commanders that have ties to the Iraqi government. Why would anyone fight under these circumstances?

How will the Obama administration ensure the Iraqi government becomes more inclusive when we have little leverage? The only reason former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stepped down wasn’t because of pressure from us, but from pressure from the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei and Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani, the highest level cleric in Iraq.

The administration will have a difficult time gaining the support of the Sunni tribes against ISIS when the Shi`ite controlled government has marginalized them. Why would they fight for the Shi`ite government in Baghdad, against the Sunni terror group of ISIS?

Without the change of direction in Baghdad you will not get the Sunni tribes to turn against ISIS, because as they see it, if ISIS is defeated, who will protect the Sunni minority?

Senior Military Analyst at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, Anthony Cordesman, reported that there was some Iraqi political progress, but no clear progress in bringing Sunni tribes and factions back into active political or military support of the central government. Nor has there been much progress in creating effective unity and cooperation with the Iraqi Kurds and Pesh Merga, or producing a greater capability on the part of the Iraqi Army.

Beyond airstrikes, which so far have not met the strategy outlined by the president, what is plan B? At some point the president will have to answer this question, either now or after the midterm elections.

Note: This article originally appeared on The Ubaldi Reports.

About the Author: John Ubaldi is President of Ubaldi Reports which provides credible, political content, addressing domestic and global issues written by military veterans with expertise on domestic and international issues. He has a Master’s in National Security Studies from American Military University with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies and a Bachelor’s in Government from California State University, Sacramento.  

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