What do you do when even members of your own party are criticizing you for your anemic approach to ISIS? If you’re President Obama, you authorize a troop surge into Iraq…of 450 individuals. Facing a war that categorically cannot be won with air strikes alone and trapped by your own promise that there will be no boots on the ground, you toss a glass of water on the forest fire and call it a day.
Leadership, ladies and gentlemen.
Yes, it’s true. According to the White House, 450 additional troops are headed for Iraq in the hopes that we will now be able to train Sunni tribes to take on the Islamic State. After telling the world this week that he had “no strategy” for this training, Obama found one in a hurry. The question is whether it will make any difference. At present, there are some 3,000 American troops in the region. Even the fiercest Obama supporter has to wonder how adding another 450 changes anything significantly about the situation in Iraq.
The troops are headed for Taqaddum military base in the Anbar province, and they will be accompanied by a shipment of weapons to the Sunni tribes in the region. “This is designed to focus on training the Sunnis,” said one Obama administration official. The hope, according to those inside the Obama circle, is that they can trigger a Sunni uprising inspired to take on the Islamic State.
“These new advisers will work to build capacity of Iraqi forces, including local tribal fighters, to improve their ability to plan, lead, and conduct operations against ISIL in eastern Anbar under the command of the prime minister,” explained White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.
To be sure, there is an element of wisdom to the strategy. The Obama administration desperately needs to get Sunnis on board; many have shown a willingness to join up with the Sunni-led ISIS instead of aligning themselves with the Shiite Iraqi army. If the U.S. wants to mobilize Iraqi citizens against ISIS, they have to address the sectarian divisions threatening to tear the country apart.
At the same time, this feels political. President Obama found himself in a maelstrom of criticism after his comments at G7. He’s now desperate to prove that he isn’t just going to kick the ISIS problem to the next president. Another 450 troops probably aren’t going to change much about the situation on the ground, but at least Obama can pretend that he’s doing something about the problem.
Unfortunately, nothing short of a revamped strategy is going to make a difference. Until the defeat of ISIS is made a priority, America is going to watch this terrorist group grow to new proportions every month. Pilots even now are finding it hard to get clearance to drop bombs on known ISIS strongholds because Obama is more concerned about limiting civilian casualties than he is about defeating the enemy. Until we decide that we are ready to put an end to this evil militia, we’re throwing good money after bad.