Washington Post Quotes FPI's David Adesnik on Defeating the Islamic State

In "Victory is possible against the Islamic State, post-Obama," Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin writes:

According to recent polling, a large majority of Americans think the Islamic State is winning its war. Certainly, recent events suggest that. Nevertheless, President Obama and Hillary Clinton insist it is this (ineffective) plan or a massive ground war. That false choice is increasingly hard to maintain with a straight face.

David Adesnik of the Foreign Policy Initiative cites the testimony and writing of a number of foreign policy professionals on both sides of the aisle and finds, “Three essential points of agreement for the White House to consider are how to improve the training of Iraqi forces, how to increase the effectiveness of American air strikes, and how to revise American policy toward the ISIS sanctuary in Syria.” Each is possible without a massive influx of U.S. ground troops.

For example, Michèle Flournoy, Obama’s first undersecretary of defense for policy, recommends embedding U.S. advisers down to the battalion level. Adesnik writes:

Shifting the focus of U.S. advisory efforts to front line units will also enhance the effectiveness of other tools, such as air power.  This is why Ms. Flournoy recommends, “Providing operational support on the battlefield. Enablers, air cover and so forth.”  Carter observes that advisers embedded at the battalion level could also “assist them by calling on U.S. airpower, intelligence, and other supporting assets.”

On the ground, American advisers could serve as forward air controllers, who help U.S. aircraft find their targets. Gen. Keane recently observed, “Seventy-five percent of the sorties that we’re currently running with our attack aircraft come back without dropping bombs, mostly because they cannot acquire the target or properly identify the target. Forward air controllers fix that problem.” This problem was foreseen by Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, who wrote in July 2014, “It remains very hard to find and destroy an enemy of any significant size from the air absent good intelligence gained largely on the ground.”

As for denying the enemy sanctuary in Syria, “While pledging to support non-extremist forces in Syria, the administration’s effort has been lackluster at best. According to Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress, who testified on the same panel as Gen. Keane, ‘The gap between the Obama administration’s stated goals and what we’re actually doing to shape the environment on the ground is alarming.'”

And finally, any successful strategy against the Islamic State or any other adversary requires a national security budget sufficient to support our interests (“opponents of the sequester include Secretary Gates, Undersecretary Flournoy and dozens of other national security experts, including [Fred] Kagan, who signed an open letter to Congress calling for the restoration of the defense budget to the level it was before five years of cutbacks”).

By playing into so-called war fatigue, placing his campaign promise to withdraw all troops from Iraq above real-world security needs and repeatedly disregarding the advice of military commanders, Obama has deepened our problems in the region. It will take more time, effort, money and manpower — at greater risk to Americans — to dig out from the hole in which we now find ourselves. Victory is not impossible; it is just impossible with this president or with those who deny the military the means and direction to win the war. A top priority of the next president should be to replace a useless strategy that is, in fact, bolstering the Islamic State with one that is calibrated to destroy it.

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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