Airstrikes, Sure; but What About a Strategy in Iraq?

Editor’s note: This article first appeared at The New York Times.

It has been a tragically spectacular year for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has taken control of numerous towns in Iraq and Syria, seized energy assets, targeted religious minorities, unleashed murderous rampages against those who do not subscribe to its tenets, and declared a caliphate.

So it is no surprise that the United States has accelerated its sales of military equipment to Iraq in the past eight months. During his speech at West Point on May 28, President Obama announced the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund to reflect a greater commitment to help the Iraqi government curb terrorism. The next month, the administration announced that several hundred U.S. service members would be sent to Iraq to advise security forces, secure U.S. personnel, and assess the intelligence, security needs, and performance of the Iraqi military.

Despite the administration’s repeated assurances that the U.S. would not return to Iraq in a military capacity, President Obama put the United States on the path to greater military involvement on Aug. 7. Many Americans will support the president’s humanitarian mission to save starving Yazidis being persecuted by ISIS. They may also support his decision to launch airstrikes if ISIS advances toward Irbil, regional capital of Kurdish Iraq, where U.S. military advisers are stationed. But will limited airstrikes be sufficient to decapitate ISIS? At a time when 60 percent of Americans think the U.S. should devote less attention to international crises and the president’s approval rating is at 40 percent, the administration may find it difficult to muster support for its current Iraq policy.

The White House may find widespread domestic support hard to come by if it extends its bombing campaign in the face of a resilient ISIS. As soon as U.S. fighter jets dropped laser-guided bombs outside of Irbil on Aug. 8, discussions were under way about additional targets. Such actions will be troubling because they are tactical moves devoid of a larger strategy.

The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review gives scant attention to the growing insurgency in Iraq and the potential for that country to be a battleground for which the U.S. must be engaged. The reality was not lost on the bipartisan response to the Defense Department’s strategic-guidance document: “The capabilities and capacities rightly called for in the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review … clearly exceed the budget resources made available” to the Defense Department.

Not having the proper budget and policy in place to combat an insurgency in Iraq and similar uprisings in the Middle East and Africa will have significant consequences on our military efforts. War without strategy and resources is fraught with danger.

About Kiron Skinner

Dr. Kiron Skinner, a Grove City College Trustee, is the founding director of Carnegie Mellon University's Center for International Relations and Politics as well as a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. She is a columnist for

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