What to do about airstrikes and the Islamic State

This country has gone from only 13 percent favoring airstrikes in Syria in September 2013 to 60 percent currently in favor.

The movement in public opinion is certainly understandable. The horrific beheadings of two innocent American journalists is surely enough to inflame the passions of any patriotic American. Speaking of religious groups being targeted in Iraq, even Pope Francis said those threatened and persecuted by the Islamic State have a right to defend themselves. On his flight home from his trip to Korea, Francis said: "In these cases where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor."

So why hasn't President Barack Obama gone into Syria with guns blazing and used every bit of our firepower to obliterate the Islamic State? We are hearing choruses of voices in Washington criticizing the president for not having gone far enough.

The president is being blasted for his statement about not having a strategy to address the problem. Many of these are the same people who advocated the war in Iraq, which has been instrumental in stirring up passions in the Middle East.

It is clear that absolutely nothing this president could do would ever be enough for this group of neoconservatives. Let us, however, take a look at what the president has actually done.

President Obama began airstrikes in northern Iraq a few weeks ago. Since then, the Yazidis who were trapped in the Sinjar mountains have been freed. The vital Mosul Dam has been recaptured. Both the Turkish and Iraqi armies are pushing back the Islamic advance and are beginning to recapture territories once in the hands of the Islamic State. That's quite a lot for a few weeks of airstrikes that are notoriously known for being unable to win a war on their own.

When the president speaks of an evolving strategy, he is talking about developing an international strategy and coalition to address this extreme Islamic force.

American and European citizens are going to Syria to join this force, which is clearly a worrying development. The president is working to get European governments actively on board with this effort as all have a stake in defeating the Islamic State. The coalition developed by the first George Bush was critical to the first Iraq war. Additionally, active support from area Arab states is needed. They too must develop a united front in attacking this cancer that threatens their own countries as well.

The problem is that while many are clamoring for a rapid response, the next step is neither clear nor without difficulties. In the case of Iraq, we were asked to intervene by the Iraqi government. Also, there were clear gains that could be and in fact were achieved by specific airstrikes. It is less clear what could be achieved by targeted airstrikes in Syria. Do we coordinate with the government of Bashar al-Assad, which we have said must go? Is it really clear what moderate forces are operating in Syria and whether they would be strong enough to succeed even with our support?

It is easy enough to rush forward in anger to seek retribution and justice. It is easy for those who sit in Congress to pontificate on what, how and when something should be done. The circumstances, however, are serious, and we need to be on the same side in promoting a unified and realistic response to the danger that exists. Surely it is time to stop the partisan politicking and work together at least against such evil as confronts us.

I for one am thankful that we have a president who is considering all options and gathering much-needed support before jumping into an ill-conceived venture, which we have seen too often in the past. When he moves, it will be with international support and a clear vision of what is and is not doable. Hopefully, it will also be with the clear support of the American people and both political parties.


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