In a prime time speech to the nation on Wednesday night, President Obama outlined his administration’s plans to combat the Islamic State (IS), the fundamentalist Sunni jihadist group that has taken over vast swaths of territory in northeast Syria and northwest Iraq.
“So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat. Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”
The United States military has been conducting air strikes on IS, who they consider to be a terrorist organization, for over a month and already have over 1,000 military “advisers” in Iraq. Obama’s new plans will:
- Increase the number of American support troops in Iraq by 475.
- Expand bombing campaigns throughout Iraq and extend them into Syria.
- Increase military funding and humanitarian aid to Iraq, moderate Syrian rebels and the Kurdish region.
- Increase counter-terrorism efforts to stem flow of money and combatants into the region.
Obama acknowledges that IS currently poses no threat to the United States, but claims “if left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond the [Middle East], including the United States.”
“While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, [IS] leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence communities believe that thousands of foreigners, including Europeans and some Americans, have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.”
“I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”
The administration contends, as they did last year, that the President has the authority to act on his own, but they will seek congressional approval anyway. Calls for intervention in the region have largely received bipartisan support.
While Obama went out of his way to differentiate his plans for attacking IS from previous conflicts, some anti-war groups don’t see the difference.
In a statement of opposition released in anticipation of the speech, the ANSWER Coalition – one of the nation’s largest anti-war groups, contends that further American intervention “will not liberate the people of either country but will lead to more destruction.”
“The U.S. military defeat of the secular Iraqi and Libyan governments (in 2003 and 2011) and its policy of fueling armed civil war against the secular, nationalist government in Syria are the fundamental reasons the so-called Islamic State has grown and become strong.
This Administration and the previous three administrations have each waged war or conducted a bombing campaign in Iraq under a shifting set of public rationales. Each was carried out under the supposed imperative need to protect ‘U.S. interests’ and each was conducted using noble, humanitarian or anti-terrorist slogans.”
Obama, however, believes United States leadership against IS is essential:
“Abroad, American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world. It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, tolerance, and a more hopeful future.”
In contrast, Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, says, “The United States is a major part of the problem and cannot be the solution to the current crisis in Iraq,”
“The U.S. military cannot solve, but only exacerbate, the current crisis in Iraq and Syria. In fact, the U.S. government, the CIA and the Pentagon are responsible for the disintegration of Iraq and Syria and the consequent rise of the Islamic State and other equally reactionary, sectarian forces in Iraq’s central government and elsewhere in these countries.
The so-called Islamic State did not exist a decade ago. Its [very existense and strength] is a direct consequence of U.S. policies and actions in Iraq.”
Richard Engel of NBC News also criticized Obama’s plan as “wildly off-base.” From Mediaite:
“I think it’s an oversimplification of the problem.” He said unlike in Yemen or Somalia, ISIS controls “an area the size of Maryland” and it’s not comparable.
In addition, Engel said that there are Sunni villages that are just “afraid of the Iraqi army” and so the reality is, “that partner on the ground, in many ways, is a reason that people support ISIS in this country.”