No short term solutions. There is no single action the US can do to defeat ISIL. Eliminating ISIL or similar groups with the jihadist philosophy is likely impossible, in that it only takes a couple of fanatics to pull off an act of terrorism. What Obama and the rest are focused on, is helping Iraq and Syria take back their control of cities and cutting off access to resources. This is what I concluded after listening to President Obama on Sunday, December 6 and Susan Rice on CNN, which aired on the same day. What began, at least for the US, under George Bush, and continued under Obama, will continue to be a problem for the next president as well.
Susan Rice is President Obama’s National Security Advisor. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, CA made this interview very timely. She was interviewed by Fareed Zacharia, as part of his normal weekly program, CNN-GPS.
The lack of US troops in Syria is being construed as a) a lack of leadership, lacking in resolve, b) not being in touch with reality, delusional (Lou Dobbs prefers the latter) or c) ignorant of the facts. The strategy is actually a result of being very informed of the facts, on a daily basis. McCain has blasted Obama for not sending in large numbers of troops into Syria, saying the US has not plan. Truth is we don’t have his plan.
Susan Rice was asked if the Obama administration underestimated the force of ISIL. She sidestepped the question by responding that since mid-2014, the Obama administration has been considered ISIL a major threat to both Iraq and Syria, and steps have been taken to destroy their organization. But, it’s clear, Obama underestimated the threat. The infamous “Junior Varsity comment” occurred in January 2014, shortly after Fallujah fell in Iraq. This year, ISIL has shown to be incredibly resourceful and organized in establishing new bases in other countries.
Rice did not want the interview to focus on prior mistakes. The list of mistakes is long and goes back George Bush’s administration. But, it is not likely in late 2013 and early 2014, there was much the Obama administration could have done.
The question of whether we are winning or losing the war against terrorism, is another one that Susan Rice chose not to directly answer. There are a number of scorecards. Since San Bernadino, there is a real gut feel that we’re losing to terrorism. It particularly hit home, when they were showing the stockpiles of arms and bullets these two terrorists had accumulated. But, this is not my scorecard. I see it more as the cities under their control and the growth of the organization world wide. A major defeat occurred when Boko Haram pledge allegiance to ISIL.
I agree with President Obama, that putting troops in Syria, beyond the small special op’s group, would be counter-productive. It would be seen as an invasion force by both the Syrian government and ISIL, and recast the fight against terrorism as a fight against the Muslim world, which we must avoid at all costs. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in this world, obviously outnumbering us 5 to 1. We have far more latitude in Iraq, and may be able to increase are presence there- but it must be a multinational presence.
Susan Rice in her interview, was asked if the world is becoming less stable place to live. This clearly open the discussion to go beyond ISIL. She responded to the many initiatives taken by the Obama administration to lower tensions and help solve world problems. The Ebola epidemic is one success. The Iran deal is another one- yet it is way to early to know if this succeeds in the end. The end of a policy of containment of Cuba, is another initiative to lower tensions- and hopefully create a more durable relationship with our neighbor. A lot of crises which are hardly resolved, including Libya were not discussed. Conflicts with Russia are a colossal regional destabilizing threat, and Rice simply stated that the US is looking for common ground.
I was thinking how much opposition the Obama administration has gotten with each of these initiatives. I remember how much flack Obama got when he sent 3,000 troops to Africa to help with the Ebola crisis in the transport of supplies. Fox News commentators acted like Obama was insane- saying there will be 3,000 infected troops coming back to the US, and pretty soon the numbers will be be 3 million or 30 million Americans with Ebola. Ebola is a case where international cooperation produced incredible success.
Most of the really important efforts will take enormous international cooperation. This includes the international climate change accords, likely to come from the Paris summit. It’s a tough road ahead, to find unity abroad, while there is so much division in the US.