New York, NY- Late last month, President Barack H. Obama, addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Acknowledging that the world faces many threats, including the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa, and Russian aggression in Ukraine; President Obama made clear, that the most pressing and concerning issue facing the world, is the specter of the terrorist organization ISIS. “The shadow of World War that existed at the founding of this institution has been lifted, and the prospect of war between major powers reduced... yet there is a pervasive unease in our world -- a sense that the very forces that have brought us together have created new dangers and made it difficult for any single nation to insulate itself from global forces,” remarked Obama, who in recent weeks, has ordered over 175 targeted airstrikes in Syria.
ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), also known as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant) has captured vast swathes of strategic territory in both Iraq and Syria, and is thought to be more extreme in their violence, and fanatical in their beliefs, than Al Qaeda. Formed during the vacuous and violent power struggle in Iraq, after the late Saddam Hussein was ousted; the group has established Buquba, Iraq, as its main headquarters for their advance into Syria, a region they consider as their homeland. According to the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), a 2,800 strong group of government, legal, and academic professionals, who compile and provide valuable research on religious based violence, their surprising strength and prowess is a recent development. “The ISIS was preceded by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) that was established during October 2006, and comprised of various insurgent groups...The organization known as the ISIS was formed during April 2013 and has evolved in one of the main jihadist groups fighting government forces in Syria and Iraq.”
Policy makers on both sides of the aisle agree that ISIS must be stopped, and the United States, must lead the effort. In an address to the nation on September 10, Obama laid out a comprehensive, 4-part strategy to deal with ISIS, “...tonight, following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home... I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat...Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.”
The strategy Obama outlined, included air-strikes (which are already underway), increasing ground support, further mobilizing international intelligence gathering, and finally humanitarian support to religious minorities in the region being affected by the attack. While scattered, and unconfirmed reports of an ISIS attack on U.S. soil have been floating around since January, the President stated that there was no God or religion on the planet that condones the brutal manner in which ISIS has taken control of the oft troubled region. In sharp contrast to President Bush’s “against us or with us” comments following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, one point Obama reiterated time and again, in his address to the nation, and to a lesser degree to the U.N., was that the, “United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. Islam teaches peace. Muslims the world over aspire to live with dignity and a sense of justice. And when it comes to America and Islam, there is no us and them, there is only us -- because millions of Muslim Americans are part of the fabric of our country.” Indeed, while it is clear from recent statements by Muslim leaders, coalition members, and the U.S. Congress, that there is resounding agreement on the need for military force against ISIS; what has also become clear in recent days, is that air-strikes will not be enough. While President Obama has assured the American people, and the world, that he would not place U.S. boots on the ground, drawing America into another war in Iraq, the option has been left open. The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, explained that while he feels the current coalition strategy is appropriate, he would not hesitate recommending that the Commander in Chief deploy ground, if necessary. Recent Gallup polls regarding U.S. military action against ISIS show that while, “...60% of American’s support military action in Iraq/Syria...54% oppose the use of ground troops...” Despite the support for military action, another top concern for Americans is still our rumbling economy. Many economists have posited rightly, that if the billions of dollars spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had been spent domestically instead, the economy very likely could have withstood the Great Recession of 2008. In that case, there is an apparent informational gap between the government and its people, as the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments recently reported, “The cost of U.S. military operations against ISIL through September 24 is likely between $780 and $930 million...If air operations are conducted at a higher pace and 5,000 ground forces are deployed, the costs would be between $350 and $570 million per month. If operations expand significantly to include the deployment of 25,000 U.S. troops on the ground, as some have recommended, costs would likely reach $1.1 to $1.8 billion per month.” A fight that many leading political scientists and economists feel is either un-winnable, un-sustainable, or simply not our business; may only be mathematically possible with a quick end to current operations. Whether you distinguish between ISIS/ISIL or conflict/campaign, there is no questioning now, that the U.S. is fully committed to seeing this to the end. In rare form, President Obama has acquired vast bi-partisan support from Congress for the current action, and both parties have publically announced they would offer little resistance to any further requests by the Obama Administration – whether it be for resources, soldiers, or a formal declaration of war. While the air strikes have most surely destroyed their intended targets thus far, the true effectiveness of Obama’s strategy will only be known in the coming weeks. However, with new terrorist organizations springing from where the last were buried, there is no telling what new vacuum of insurgency could be created, and how many fronts or how many years the ‘War on ISIS’ will require.