A.B. Stoddard: Our failure on ISIS

A.B. Stoddard: Our failure on ISIS
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The administration’s mishandling of its fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is no longer simply fodder for Republicans confined to the narrow realm of Beltway chatter. Not when Cher is tweeting about it, anyway.

The singer and actress has shared her concerns over ISIS several times, most recently writing “Ash Carter Says‘IRAQI ARMY LACKS WILL 2FIGHT’YA THINK Spend REALLY Arming The Kurds.We BLEW Off Sunni Tribesman,4 Shiite Gov &Now We'll Pay.” To help express her exasperation, she threw in two emojis.

Cher joins the teeming masses who have realized the Iraqi security forces are not capable on their own, and blaming them — as Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter did bluntly on Sunday — is merely a distraction from the frightening reality that the U.S. government does not have a plan to defeat ISIS.


In the nearly nine months since President Obama pledged to “degrade and destroy” ISIS it has only grown, at an impressive rate, conquering a staggering amount of territory in Iraq and Syria. Neither the Obama administration nor Congress has devised a strategy to stop it from reaching its ultimate goal of an Islamic caliphate. With an ISIS presence in all 50 states in America, according to the FBI, all U.S. law enforcement headquarters, government buildings and military facilities are under current threat of attack.

Still, this government is in “the degrade portion of this operation” and is not changing its strategy, said White House press secretary John Earnest. Congress, presented with a draft plan for an authorization for use of military force against ISIS from the president, has decided to relinquish its responsibility as a co-equal branch and allowed the debate to die, which means Obama will proceed as he chooses. And while those running for the job of commander in chief, who will be primarily responsible for leading the world against ISIS for possibly decades to come, have been good at criticizing the current strategy, most of them have said little about how to vanquish the terrorist group. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio quotes movie lines, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz talks about bombing them back to the Stone Age, and Donald Trump has a “foolproof” strategy to eliminate ISIS but says he doesn’t want them to know what it is so he can’t talk about it.

And hello, Hillary? Clinton served as secretary of State for four years — sure, she doesn’t want to criticize Obama, but all she has said of the recent routs in Iraq is that the Iraqis will have to stick up for themselves.

Only Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, have dared to outline specifics in a fight against ISIS from the campaign trail — specifics that may be unpopular. 

Unfortunately our tough-love plan with the Iraqis has sent them running into the arms of Iranian-backed militias, which are only too happy to help. Count on that increasing. 


Debates can rage about boots on the ground, deploying more special operations personnel, placing spotters on the ground, training the Iraqi military to provide better intelligence for airstrikes from the ground — but eventually a new plan will be required. How long can the United States wait for the Iraqis to become strong enough to eliminate ISIS when they are already dependent on Iran? How can ISIS be stopped before it attacks us here?

It’s no wonder the two parties in Congress have walked away from agreeing to a plan to confront ISIS. But Obama cannot spend the next 18 months on pause, waiting for his successor to strike a blow at ISIS. And this country cannot take seriously any presidential candidate who is not articulating the threats coming from the Middle East and a new plan to confront them.


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.