The United States is leading a solid coalition in a war of air power against ISIS in the Middle East. Our nation, which is often slandered by people around the world, is nevertheless the one taking the lead there. China is absent, as is Russia. India also is nowhere to be seen. Brazil? Not present. Germany and Japan are restrained by post WW II constitutions which limit their overseas military activities. Other Western and, importantly, some Arab states are adding small contingents of jets and pilots but it is America which is doing the heavy lifting. Again. But as troublesome as air power can be, there will be no ultimate victory unless an effective ground force takes the battle into the teeth of ISIS.
Therein lies the rub. The Kurds, who field an effective and cohesive ground military force, have a limited scope. They are not going to extend their military reach far outside of traditional Kurdish lands. The Turks have given no indication that they intend to have anything to do with the chaos below their southern border; to the contrary, they have gone so far as to prevent Kurds from crossing that border into Syria to defend Kurdish territory in that fractured state. The Syrian government’s military forces have been inadequate to wrest control of territory away from ISIS and Iraq has no functioning military to speak of. No other Arab state seems at all willing to commit ground forces into the fray, and so ISIS will absorb the punishment delivered from the sky but will not be defeated.
The upshot of all of this is that the defeat of ISIS will require the insertion of ground forces from somewhere outside of Syria or Iraq and probably outside of anywhere else in the Middle East as well, and I see no likelihood that such a ground force could come from anywhere other than the United States of America. Cobbling together a ground force including countries other than only the U.S. would require the coalition-building capabilities of a George H. W. Bush, and it would be to the credit of President Obama if he could accomplish such a feat. Whether the President has the skill or the stomach for such a policy is not at all certain. ISIS will be calculating that he does not.
Over the years I have grown weary of the criticism that my country has endured over it’s various foreign policy initiatives. I accept that we are not perfect and that policy, tactical and strategic mistakes have occurred, but the thrust has always been to right a wrong, in my opinion. As a result of that constant criticism, from within this country as well as without, I have been tempted to say “To heck with it. Let’s return all American military personnel to American soil and let the world do what the world wants to do, and when the next earthquake or genocide or gobbling up of a weak state by a strong one comes along say “Go ask the Russians for help.”
But I can’t do that. Russia and China and India don’t care if Yazidi men are slaughtered and the women are made sexual slaves (the real war on women). No skin off of their nose. Maybe there is no skin off of my nose either, but I know that we have the ability to stop it, and if we do not use than ability then I believe that we are complicit in the wrong itself. That makes me a reluctant interventionist. What about you? Do you care about the victims of ISIS? Do you care enough to do anything about it? Am I wrong to care? We should have a conversation about this. We are talking not about abstractions but the lives of very real people. That should mean something to us.