Obama v ISIL

In a few hours, President Obama will hold a press conference laying out his strategy to handle ISIL. It comes after weeks of speculation and calls for action on daily talk shows and the internet, as well as a month long campaign to bomb ISIL targets in Iraq.

It’s high time somebody steps up to the plate and establishes an agenda to stem ISIL’s progress. Certainly the American trained Iraqi military failed in their initial attempts—if you can even call it that.

Obama’s strategy has already been hamstrung, however, by his own self-imposed redline—there we go with that word again—of not putting boots on the ground. But most Americans agree.

For any strategy—sans US Forces on the ground–to work Obama has to do several things:

  1. Build a coalition among allies in the region—including Iran, as unpopular as that is. ISIL is a threat to every stable—however fragile—country in the region. Everyone has a stake in the game, whether they like it or not.
  2. Include not only military support, but also two very important pieces. First, he has to coordinate with allies—regional and global—to help stymie the flow of foreign fighters ISIL uses to swell its ranks. Second, ISIL’s funding sources have to be eliminated. While countries in the region aren’t sending them money, they’ve either turned a blind eye to fundraising efforts or have been woefully ignorant to what’s going on. Regardless, the flow of cash, arms, and fighters needs to be stopped.
  3. Obama has to be crystal clear that this isn’t an overnight operation. American’s typically expect quick results and if this operation takes longer than they’re willing to accept, they’re likely to get increasingly restless. Most importantly, no premature press conferences with a Mission Accomplished banner in the background.
  4. The President has to incorporate a plan for a more inclusive government in Iraq. Part of ISIL’s rise can be attributed to form President Nuri al-Maliki’s marginalization of Sunni tribes in Anbar province and of former Baathists throughout Iraq—both groups are contributing to ISIL’s strategy in Iraq.
  5. Last, it is imperative that Obama begins a strategy that can precipitate an end to the conflict in Syria. Possibly arming and training “moderate” rebels to combat both ISIL and other extremist groups as well as fighting off Assad’s army. But there also has to be a clear picture as to what the end will look like—or at a minimum what we want it to look like. Without an end to the conflict there ISIL will continue to be a threat in the years to come, even after being degraded—or destroyed—by a US-led coalition.

These are the five points I’ll be looking for today as Obama lays out his strategy for combating ISIL. Without these components any operation is likely to fail. The President has to create a policy that will minimize ISIL’s threat, increase the chances of a sustainable path towards democracy in Syria, create a more inclusive government in Iraq, while also placating the American public’s desire to avoid another Middle East conflict with American boots on the ground.

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