President Obama has been careful to tell the American people that the fight against ISIS may last months or even years, but former Pentagon chief Leon Panetta says the battle may last much longer than Americans realize. Talking to USA Today for a story that ran on Monday, Panetta said he thinks “we’re looking at kind of a 30-year war.”
Predicting that the war against ISIS could easily spread to include Islamic threats in countries like Libya and Yemen, Panetta thinks the president’s poor decision-making has invited a quagmire of epic proportions. Included in his roundup of bad decisions is Obama’s early pull-out from Iraq, a move that Panetta believes set the stage for the rise of ISIS. He also thinks it was a mistake not to arm Syrian rebels in 2012.
The Role of Congress
Whether or not Panetta proves to be right about the challenges that this war will entail, it seems clear that it’s time to debate this battle in Congress. If Obama is setting the country up for a war that could last until well after his term in office is over, the American people deserve a fair and open public dialogue. As of now, Obama has not bothered to make a compelling case for military action. He’s insisted repeatedly that ground forces will not be used. He’s authorized airstrikes and attempted to form a coalition, but most signs indicate it won’t be enough. If we’re going to escalate, we need to be sold on the mission.
Like always, we’re largely in this fight alone. Yes, some neighboring Muslim countries have provided limited support, but their cooperation is tentative and mysterious. ISIS, as of Monday, is within rock-throwing distance of the Turkish border, yet Turkey is still waffling when it comes to the fight. Their troops are at the ready, but they aren’t going to cross into Syria. This week, VP Joe Biden was actually compelled to apologize to Turkey for simply thanking them for the financial support. This is how little the country wants to do with this battle.
We Need the Truth
We need to be honest about the state of the Middle East. It’s a hornet’s nest of terrorist groups, suicide bombers, and hateful ideologies. No matter how compelling the idea of free expression and democracy may seem to us, there’s no way we will ever emerge the heroes in that desert environment. We are seen as occupiers and murderers and enemies of Allah.
What’s the answer? Stand by and wait for terrorism to again come knocking at our doorstep? Of course not. We’ve tried that tactic before. But this can’t just be Obama’s unilateral decision. Even Bush took months to ply the American people for their support before going into Iraq. The same thing needs to happen here, and hopefully it can be done without the exaggerations and false evidence of 2002.
If we’re going to be in this for the long haul, Obama needs to bring Congress in on the debate. It’s time to lay the cards out on the table.