Obama’s Islamic State Strategy Avoids Failure—but Also Success

Obama’s Islamic State Strategy Avoids Failure—but Also Success
Iraqi security forces and tribal fighters regain control of the northern neighborhoods, after overnight heavy clashes with Islamic State group militants, Ramadi, Iraq, April 23, 2015 (AP photo).

When U.S. President Barack Obama announced his strategy for countering the so-called Islamic State (IS) last September, it was met with an immediate volley of criticism, most of it asserting that the president’s approach was too timid. Incensed by IS’ horrors, the critics called for large-scale American military action. Sen. Ted Cruz, for instance, demanded that the Obama administration “destroy” IS within 90 days. When told by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that this was impossible, Cruz issued a press release saying the general was wrong.

Now that the 2016 presidential race has kicked off, the jabs at Obama’s strategy have intensified, growing more frequent and pointed. Last week, for instance, Rep. John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the house, said Obama was not “serious about fighting the fight” against IS. Much of this vitriol is fueled by partisanship rather than differences over U.S. national interests, and the task of defeating IS was never going to be easy. However, even when graded by its own objectives, the Obama strategy has had mixed results.

One of the most important of the administration’s goals was diminishing the Islamic State’s barbarity. On this count, the Obama strategy has failed. Despite Pentagon estimates that thousands of IS fighters have been killed by airstrikes or in ground battles, the group continues to murder, rape and enslave, ruling whatever territory it conquers by fear and violence. Relying on airstrikes and support to Iraqi security forces rather than a direct U.S. military presence, the Obama strategy does little to stem this humanitarian tragedy. At best, the strategy earns a “D” grade here.

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