There is something pathological about the Obama Administration’s need to identify an end date for every conflict it conducts. It was sort of understandable with respect to Iraq, given that Washington and Baghdad had failed to agree on a new status of forces agreement. Even then, the administration bore some responsibility for this failure. It made little sense to treat the campaign in Afghanistan like a milk container with an expiration date. Nonetheless, we informed the Afghan government, the Taliban and the world the month, date and minute when we would leave.
Now the administration is contemplating a new conflict – it never uses the “W” word – against the Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL, take your pick). Even as the President was publicly acknowledging that he didn’t have a strategy for dealing with this threat, administration officials were putting temporal boundaries on the campaign to defeat IS. At last week’s NATO Summit, Secretary of State John Kerry apparently sought to reassure shaky allies by declaring that “We have the ability to destroy ISIL. It may take a year, it may take two years, it may take three years.” I guess that is the time it takes to travel from Washington, D.C. to the gates of hell.
Really, as much as three years to destroy an enemy that in January was described as Al Qaeda’s JV team? The administration has made it clear that it will not deploy ground combat troops to this conflict, even though that is the most certain way of defeating IS. The President apparently cannot even muster up the determination or courage to conduct air strikes against IS in Syria. Nor does it have any real idea what forces and capabilities our coalition partners will bring to the game. The Iraqi Parliament only approved a new unity government yesterday; who knows if it will even hold together. If it does, it is likely to take a more than a year just to put the Iraqi army back together, assuming the coalition is willing to provide the arms and trainers. But regardless of these unresolved issues, it will be at tops three years and IS will be defeated or we will do what, leave the field?
Imagine if President Roosevelt had proposed the same time limit for defeating Germany and Japan. This would have meant that World War II would have come to an end in December 1944. At that time, German forces in the West had been driven from France and the Low Countries. Soviet forces were deep in Poland and had seized Budapest. But Germany had not been invaded, much less defeated. In fact, Hitler was planning his counterstrike in the Ardennes and V-2 rockets were landing on London and Antwerp. U.S. forces in the Pacific had returned to the Philippines and were flying B-29s against Japan from the Marianas. Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the dropping of the atomic bombs were months in the future. In other words, both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan would have survived and been able to continue fighting, probably for years.
There is a growing consensus across the American political spectrum that IS is evil and must be destroyed. How can you put a timeline on this kind of mission?
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