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Last September, President Obama announced to the world that the United States would “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State. Though Congress never approved a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force as Obama requested, their relative inaction until now — coupled with the Administration’s belief that such an authorization is not actually required — has served as a de facto, if reluctant, endorsement.
That mission does not appear to be going well. Despite enduring a limited American air campaign, losing most of its infrastructure and industry, and goading most of the region into declaring war against it, the Islamic State seems hardly degraded let alone destroyed. And while it’s worth noting that Baghdad’s immanent collapse has been erroneously predicted before, it’s hard to spin the fall of Ramadi as anything other than very serious and very bad news.
The United States made a very public and very clear promise to destroy the Islamic State and protect Iraq. Whether or not this was a good decision — and who is to blame for the circumstances that precipitated it — is an important matter for another day. On the assumption that an air campaign is not up to the task, the question for today is whether the costs and risks of fulfilling this mission outweigh the costs in the loss of honor, trust, and fear in either continuing our half-hearted efforts, or just giving up and making a cut-and-run.
America’s martial history is far from perfect and our reputation has its share of blemishes, from which it’s mostly recovered. But given that our history with Iraq goes back 24 years — and involves three separate conflicts presided over by three separate presidents — its falling into the hands of some of the worst butchers in the world after we’d made promises of protection will be a hard one to recover from.
The world is watching: not only our enemies, but also our friends.
Image Credit: “IS insurgents, Anbar Province, Iraq” by Islamic State (IS) – http://securityobserver.org/the-islamic-states-road-to-becoming-a-caliphate/. Via Wikipedia.