President Obama should be commended for yesterday’s air attacks against ISIS. In addition, his decision to bomb the jidhadist Khorasan group, which is believed to be plotting attacks against the West, is praiseworthy. As to this affiliate of al Qaeda, Obama seems, for once, to be acting rather than reacting.
Even so, I tend to agree with Max Boot who argues that the most consequential news from the Levant yesterday is not the air attacks, but rather advances by ISIS on the ground. In Iraq, ISIS attackers in Anbar Province reportedly killed more than 300 Iraqi soldiers after a weeklong siege in which the Iraqi army seemed unable to supply its soldiers or fight effectively.
In Syria, ISIS continued its successful attacks on Kurds in the north. More than 130,000 refugees have fled to Turkey.
The question, of course, is whether our bombing attacks will reverse ISIS’s successes on the ground or at least halt them. For Boot the answer is no — not in the absence of an effective ground force able to take advantage of the disruption created by American bombs.
No such force seems to exist in Syria, at least not one that we would like to see succeed. The forces we hope are moderately aligned with U.S. interests apparently are being pulled out of Syria for a year of training.
In Iraq, the army seems incapable of taking on ISIS. And, says Boot, the Kurdish peshmerga is in only marginally better shape. Accordingly, six weeks of U.S. air strikes have failed to dislodge ISIS from its strongholds in Iraq or to prevent ISIS’s recent success in Anbar Province described above.
Former Secretaries of Defense Leon Panetta and Robert Gates both insist that it will take U.S. “boots on the ground” to galvanize and train the potential anti-ISIS forces. As long as President Obama refuses to permit such participation, the bombing campaign probably will remain something of a sideshow.