President’s plan to battle ISIS needs improvement

On Sept. 10, President Obama addressed the nation on the subject of the terrorist organization ISIS. His message was a carefully phrased expression of an intention to engage in counter measures against them.

While the president’s speech clarified some prior indecision, in my view, there were some major defects.

Although the president proposed certain steps to be taken against ISIS, he studiously avoided any expression that they would constitute war. Mr. Obama apparently failed to recognize that we have been at war against terrorism for 13 years following the Sept. 11, 2001 al-Qaida attack that cost 3,000 American lives. We are now facing a new and potent al-Qaida offshoot organization that has brutally killed two American citizens. Our anti-terrorism war has simply taken a new direction.

Mr. Obama’s address mentioned that we would use our air power to strike at ISIS strongholds, but he specifically denied that any American ground troops would be used. It is generally understood that use of air power is a key element of a military campaign, but a war cannot be won without defeating the enemy on the ground. The implicit Obama proposal is that the ground forces will be composed of Iraqis, Kurds and Syrians. Mr. Obama should have learned the lesson from Vietnam that victory is not achieved by use of American air power and surrogate armies.

In his remarks, Mr. Obama stressed that he was building a coalition of nations to join America in the mission against ISIS. That is good, as America should not be standing alone, but at the time of his speech only nine countries had expressed a willingness to support America and all of them had limited their commitment to financial aid and helping the aerial assault. In contrast, in the campaign against Iraq nearly 50 nations supported the effort including ground support. If it is the consensus that destruction of ISIS is needed, a much wider and deeper support should be sought.

Mr. Obama’s aversion to accuracy in his description of the ISIS organization extended to his denial that ISIS is an Islamic force. It may be politically correct to avoid any general condemnation of Islam, but it can hardly be denied that an entity whose leaders and members praise Allah and which claims it is establishing a Caliphate is Islamic.

Conspicuously absent from the president’s speech was any sense of timing. The only temporal reference was his conclusionary statement that America would seek the “ultimate” destruction of ISIS. No expression of any kind of time urgency was stated.

Yet, the evidence is clear that ISIS is growing and its threat tomorrow will exceed that which it may have today. If ISIS is to be halted, a prompt and vigorous assault on ISIS is clearly needed.

Isn’t it readily apparent that no comprehensive program has been developed, that broad base international support for our purposes has not occurred and no adequate assessment has been made of the action that will be required to implement the stated purpose of the destruction of ISIS?

It is yet early in the day and the president may have the opportunity to correct the deficiencies noted above. It seems to me that what is required is consultation with and enlistment of bipartisan Congressional support for what is to be undertaken and then to formulate with our allies the course of action to be followed.

One huge obstacle must be overcome. If there is to be a successful result, it must be achieved under a unified command with all components being appropriately coordinated. If America is to be at the head of this broad effort, it must participate in all elements of it and reverse the current restriction of the use of American ground forces. A leader cannot shrink from doing what he expects others to do.

America needs a commander in chief — we have a speech maker in chief. A commander acts, a speech maker talks.

Mr. Obama is our leader. When able, he should return and inform the people of our country about the action he proposes and its benefits and consequences. His statement should include a commitment to proceed with an ample force on a well-designed attack as promptly as may be practicable with a mission to eliminate ISIS.

America is de facto the leader of the free world and, I believe, it is vital that we accept that role when necessary.

Walter Lewis is a retired attorney who lives on Kauai and writes a regular column for The Garden Island.


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