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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Clear, cogent, cohesive ISIS strategy needed

Telegraph Editorial

It is the nature of the presidency that you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t, a condition President Obama is finding out as he struggles to come to grips with threat posed by the terrorist organization Islamic State.

Few Americans knew the group existed until just a couple of months ago, when its fighters streamed across the border with Syria to take control of large chunks of land in western and northern Iraq. At one point they had advanced so far and so fast that even Baghdad appeared in peril. Their advance has been stemmed, thanks in large part to U.S. military intervention in the form of intelligence gathering, military advice and limited air strikes. ...

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It is the nature of the presidency that you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t, a condition President Obama is finding out as he struggles to come to grips with threat posed by the terrorist organization Islamic State.

Few Americans knew the group existed until just a couple of months ago, when its fighters streamed across the border with Syria to take control of large chunks of land in western and northern Iraq. At one point they had advanced so far and so fast that even Baghdad appeared in peril. Their advance has been stemmed, thanks in large part to U.S. military intervention in the form of intelligence gathering, military advice and limited air strikes.

But, of course, Islamic State is worst known for beheading New Hampshire freelance journalist James Foley in retaliation for those air strikes. The murder raised the issue of whether the United States should alter its strategy against the group, from one of containment to elimination.

The case can be made that the president underestimated Islamic State’s potential for destabilizing Iraq’s fragile existence and, if unchallenged, eventually orchestrating terrorist attacks against the United States. Republican Sen. John McCain is one of Obama’s harshest critics

“The more he (Obama) delays and the more he acts incrementally, the more ISIS adjusts and the more difficult they will become,” McCain said.

In response to such criticisms, the administration has turned up the anti-ISIS rhetoric.

“ISIL is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen,” said Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. “They’re beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded. Oh, this is beyond anything that we’ve seen. So we must prepare for everything.”

As a first step in that preparation, Obama authorized surveillance flights over Syria to identify potential Islamic State targets. For a president with a propensity for eschewing military assertiveness, the tougher line against ISIS was a welcomed change in attitude.

But some members of Congress aren’t so sure the president is doing the right thing in turning up the heat against ISIS. Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers said Congress should debate and vote on whether the United States should take military action Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria.

“Congress must have the opportunity to debate all options and consequences, including military, economic and diplomatic ones, to prevent the Islamic State from further destabilizing the region,” said Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California.

Well, no. It’s not the place of Congress to decide military strategy. The president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and he is empowered with the authority and responsibility to protect American interests around the world, including the use of military force as he sees fit. Considering the hundreds of billions of dollars spent and thousands of American soldiers killed or wounded in two Iraq wars, the president should be given great leeway in taking actions to ensure all that effort wasn’t for naught.

Yes, the president needs to formulate and articulate a clear, cogent and cohesive strategy for confronting ISIS and he should move forward in consultation with Congress, which has, after all, the Constitutional authority to declare war – an action has become passe and hasn’t been invoked since World War II.

Congress certainly has a role to play, but the notion that lawmakers should be calling the shots is just bad government, and the international media circus that would surround such congressional hearings and debate would only further undermine America’s world reputation, and likely embolden terrorists to fight even harder.