Obama whispers “bang-bang” to terrorists

According to the Washington Post, weapons and ammunition are in such short supply at the centers where Iraqi army units receive training to fight ISIS that the trainees are yelling “bang-bang” instead of shooting.

Last August, when President Obama announced that the U.S. would undertake a mostly proxy war against ISIS, I would have said that yelling “bang-bang” is the perfect metaphor for his anti-terrorism campaign. Today, whispering “bang-bang” is more like it.

Iraq, where trainees lack weapons and ammunition, is the site of America’s most robust anti-terrorist activity. Elsewhere, our efforts are even more pathetic. The Post’s editors write:

In Libya, the job of stemming an incipient civil war has been left to a feckless U.N. mediator, even though the Islamic State is known to be operating at least one training camp with hundreds of recruits.

In Nigeria, where a new offensive by the Boko Haram movement has overrun much of one northeastern state, a U.S. military training program was recently canceled by the government following a dispute over arms sales.

The bankruptcy of U.S. policy toward the Syrian civil war was underlined again on Wednesday, when Secretary of State John F. Kerry expressed hope for a patently cynical and one-sided diplomatic initiative by Russia, which has been working to preserve the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

It’s been nearly a year since the last U.S. diplomatic effort to end the war collapsed, and the administration continues to offer no strategy for how to stop the regime’s assaults on moderate Syrian forces it is counting on to fight the Islamic State. It has ignored widespread assessments that its program for training Syrian forces is too small and too slow.

Max Boot’s assessment is equally harsh:

The Wall Street Journal reports that Iraqis are frustrated with the U.S. campaign which they deride as “too slow and too small.” The U.S. has been especially remiss in not doing more to mobilize Sunni tribes; most of our aid is going to Kurdish forces, even though they can’t take and hold Sunni Arab areas, and to government security forces, even though they are deeply penetrated by Iranian militias that are anathema to Sunnis. . . .

The situation is even worse in Syria. Another Journal article notes that “jihadist fighters have enlarged their hold in Syria since the U.S. started hitting the group’s strongholds there in September.” About the only thing the U.S. has accomplished in Syria is to prevent the border town of Kobani, held by Kurds, from falling to ISIS. Everywhere else ISIS remains on the offensive. The fact that ISIS enjoys a safe haven in Syria also makes it virtually impossible to defeat it in Iraq: If you squeeze too hard in Iraq, ISIS fighters can always retreat and regroup across the border.

Much of the problem in Syria is that the U.S. has no reliable proxy on the ground to coordinate and exploit air strikes. Yet the Obama administration still refuses to launch the kind of crash training program for the Free Syrian Army that it should have undertaken years ago. Nor will it declare a no-fly zone to prevent Assad’s air force from bombing moderate rebels or set up buffer zones along Syria’s borders where anti-Assad forces can mobilize a more moderate alternative to ISIS and the al-Nusra Front.

According to Boot, the weakness of Obama’s ISIS campaign is leading to the growth of conspiracy theories which hold that the U.S. secretly wants ISIS to succeed. The theory is absurd.

However, Boot’s theory is quite plausible:

The fact that the administration isn’t doing more suggests that President Obama may well be content to run out the clock on his administration–only two more years to go!–and hand off the problem to his successor.

Yelling “bang-bang” at ISIS always seemed more designed to help Democrats in 2014 than to thwart ISIS in any meaningful way. Whispering “bang-bang” seems, as Boot says, like an exit strategy.

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