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Obama on ISIS: ‘We Don’t yet Have a Complete Strategy’

By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security

Speaking at a news conference Monday, President Barack Obama stated that “We don’t yet have a complete strategy,” with regard to ISIS, as the Pentagon hasn’t presented him with a “finalized plan” in how the U.S. should proceed in dealing with the Islamic State.Obama War ISIS

The president is in Europe as part of the international G-7 summit in Kruen, Germany, Obama continued with his remarks that “because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis as well about how recruitment takes place, how that training takes place. And so the details of that are not yet worked out.”

Since last summer when ISIS gained substantial ground in Northern Iraq, the U.S. has not had a coherent comprehensive strategy for dealing with ISIS, and the president made the surprising statement last August that the U.S. doesn’t have a strategy for dealing with ISIS yet.

This statement by the president is confusing as the U.S. has been conducting combat operations against ISIS since September as part of a broad coalition, and in February the president sent Congress his war authorization, which is now stalled by both Democrats and Republican; albeit for different reasons.

The biggest obstacle is the president hasn’t articulated what is strategy for “Degrading & Destroying ISIS” is?

In his comments the president signaled out the Pentagon for not sending him a complete strategy, but before one can be conceived one needs to know what the political policy is first, before the military can present one.

One first needs to understand the military axiom articulated by 19th century military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, “We see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means.”

The other means Clausewitz is referring to is the military being used as the political instrument, but as we have seen in the past without clearly defined political goals, and absence of a coherent political strategy this will only lead to chaos as we have already experienced.

The president has to define what his political strategy is, considering events in the Middle East have radically changed since he sent Congress his war authorization.

President Obama in his statement at his news conference, “As soon as a finalized plan is presented to me by the Pentagon, then I will share it with the American people. We don’t yet have a complete strategy because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis as well about how recruitment takes place, how training takes place, so the details of that are not yet worked out.”

What is not spelled out in detail is how the president plans on leveraging the Shiite dominated Iraqi government of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to be more inclusive of all groups especially, the Sunni ethnic minority, and The Kurds in the north.

Anthony Codresman, military analyst for Center for Strategic & International Studies wrote, Iraq began to fall apart with the 2010 election and the struggles that kept Nouri al-Maliki in power. Maliki increasingly used the Iraqi security forces to maintain and expand his power base, and to support his Shi’ite faction at the expense of national unity. He appointed leaders on the basis of loyalty rather than competence and tolerated steadily higher levels of corruption. He sidelined the Sunni Sons of Iraq, and increasingly used the security forces to suppress peaceful opposition. These problems were compounded by cuts in the role of U.S. forces and training efforts before newly formed Iraqi forces were ready to operate on their own, efforts to impose U.S. systems that Iraqis had not successfully absorbed, and other problems in the train and assist effort.

Now the question is how to reconstruct the Iraqi army after the disastrous polices of Maliki, and to get the Sunni tribes to fight against ISIS, has never been articulated by the president.

The other aspect which needs to be addressed, is that Baghdad is now heavily influenced by Iran, and with the Iraqi army is disarray, Shiite militias are now filling the vacuum. The current operation to retake Ramadi is “Labaik ya Hussein,” named after a one of the most referred figures in Shia Islam, but hardly a way to gain the support of Sunni population.

How does the president plan on dealing with Iran in Iraq, when he is pre-occupied with the nuclear negotiation with Tehran?

Another problem, which hasn’t been discussed, is the situation in Syria. David Ignatius commented in Real Clear Politics that U.S. officials see mounting pressure on Syrian Bashar al-Assad from four directions. A potent new rebel coalition known as Jaish al-Fatah, or the Army of Conquest, backed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, seized the capital of Idlib province late last month. Fighting ferociously alongside this coalition is Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, which is affiliated with al-Qaida. Moderate rebels known as the “Southern Front,” backed by the U.S. and Jordan, are finally gaining some ground in southern Syria. And the Islamic State, the most fearsome group of all, is rampaging across northern, central and eastern Syria.

What is the strategy if the Assad regime collapses, as this will create a massive humanitarian disaster affecting Jordan, which already has hundreds of thousands of refugees inside its border from the Syrian civil war?

These are many of the problems confronting the president and they will not wait until 2017, when a new president is sworn into office.

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