U.S. must attack ISIS in Iraq and Syria
September 11 taught us that we can no longer ignore the threats of foreign terrorists who declare war on America. With hundreds of millions of dollars on hand from ransoms paid and outright theft, the Islamic State (ISIS) has emerged as the most well financed terrorist group in history. ISIS has over 31,000 fighters, including American citizens, and has displaced al Qaeda as the primary terror threat to the United States.
I welcome the President’s newfound resolve to confront ISIS. When terrorists threaten America, we must respond decisively. I support using military force against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but let’s make one thing clear: we are in this position because we faltered in our commitment to Iraq. Furthermore, I’m disappointed we delayed launching a heavy air campaign against ISIS, which has given them time to hide their troops and leaders. Syria is mired in a civil war so bloody that it is no longer a coherent state, and it’s unlikely to reunite under a central authority. ISIS operates on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border, and unless we hit them in both Iraq and Syria, we’ll never defeat them. We must launch a serious air campaign immediately, not limited airstrikes, and hit terrorist targets across both countries.
I oppose committing US ground troops, but arming proxy groups is fraught with peril as well. As a combat veteran in Vietnam, I witnessed firsthand the inability of local proxy forces to carry the fight to our enemies. The Iraqi army collapsed before the ISIS onslaught this year, reinforcing that lesson. The Kurds are our most loyal allies in Iraq, and we should arm them directly. However, the administration’s plan to arm rebel groups in Syria to fight ISIS might be the only plan available, but it isn’t a great plan.
In Syria there are only three major forces on the ground opposing ISIS, and America cannot cooperate with two of them. The al-Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, is the most powerful rebel group in Syria other than ISIS; they should be targeted for destruction along with ISIS, not armed. Joining forces with Syrian President Bashar Assad isn’t viable either. Assad’s regime is an Iranian puppet that arms Hezbollah terrorists to wage war on Israel. Assad has killed tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Syrians and cannot be trusted.
The Free Syrian Army is the only viable Syrian ally for America, but its membership and leadership have proven unreliable and schizophrenic in the past. While some factions contain moderate reformers, others are radical Islamists. Unfortunately, we cannot defeat ISIS with air strikes alone, and the Free Syrian Army is the only force on the ground that is not virulently anti-American. I reluctantly support providing limited arms to the Free Syrian Army after proper vetting and in conjunction with strict oversight of the training program.
Fighting ISIS by proxy is a high-stakes poker game, and it might backfire. The Free Syrian Army is intent on removing Assad – ISIS is a temporary problem to them. Their goals and our goals do not overlap entirely, and they might prove themselves an unreliable partner. That said, our mission is to destroy ISIS, not end the Syrian civil war. Syria is not our concern so long as the next Syrian government does not support terrorism. Sending American forces into harm’s way is the most serious decision that we can make. The threat from ISIS to America and its allies is clear, and ignoring it will only cause the threat to grow. That’s why we must attack ISIS in Iraq and Syria.