This section features work authored by Frederick W. Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project, and Kimberly Kagan, president of the Institute for the Study of War, on the conflict in Iraq.
IN THIS SECTION
The establishment and expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (IS) represents a step-change in the threat to American homeland security and national security generally. This is the first time that an al Qaeda-affiliated group has made the leap from stateless terrorist organization to a quasi-state with a combat-effective army and the resources of a modern urban region at its disposal.
Now is not the time to re-litigate either the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 or the decision to withdraw from it in 2011. The crisis is urgent, and it would be useful to focus on a path ahead rather than indulge in recriminations. All paths are now fraught with difficulties, including the path we recommend. But the alternatives of permitting a victory for al Qaeda and/or strengthening Iran would be disastrous.
We face a simple choice: We can either rejoin our demoralized Iraqi partners in the fight against ISIS or we can watch as this al Qaeda franchise solidifies its control over several million Iraqis and Syrians, completes its plundering of military bases and continues to build up, train and equip an honest-to-goodness military.
Conventional warfare is in our future as much as it is in our past. The only question is: will we be ready?
The military commander in Afghanistan, General Joe Dunford, has said that he needs 10,000 US troops to accomplish the missions the president has said he wants to accomplish after this year. That number is probably half of what is actually required, by our estimates, but enough to keep options open for the next president.
Washington is full of leaks that the Obama administration is planning to end America's military presence in Afghanistan in 2016. And Congress has already slashed U.S. financial assistance to the fifth-poorest country in the world.
In Russian President Vladimir Putin’s New Year’s address, he promised to keep up the fight against terrorists in Russia’s North Caucasus until “their complete destruction.” With the Sochi Winter Olympics less than a month away, however, it is becoming increasingly evident that Putin has bitten off more than he can chew.
A strategic partnership with Afghanistan, underwritten with aid and with troops, along with continued engagement with Pakistan, is the only hope for securing American interests and the safety of Americans in this region.
A weak strike is more in line with U.S. interests than a refusal to strike or, worse, congressional action blocking any attack. Not just U.S. credibility but also the will of the Syrian opposition is at stake.
Reasonable people can disagree about the extent to which President Obama’s proposed “limited strike” will secure American interests, but not about whether the interests are real or vital.