Whitt Flora: It's time to put U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq
BALTIMORE — President Barack Obama is now reaping the whirlwind for his feckless and sometimes politically motivated strategy of leading from behind in the Mideast, North Africa and Eastern Europe.
The good news is that his decision to use U.S. air power to protect the Yazidi people from death and torture by Islamic State fanatics has allowed Kurdish and Iraqi soldiers to recapture the critical Mosul Dam and sent the Islamist terrorists reeling backward.
Yet the president in a recent press conference reiterated his vow that airstrikes are part of a “limited action” and that no U.S. combat troops will be put on the ground.
Yet U.S. special forces — by anyone’s reckoning our crack combat troops — already are on the ground, advising the Kurds and coordinating the precision strikes by our F-16 and F-18 jets on the armored vehicles Islamic State fighters captured from Iraq forces fleeing Mosul in July.
The success of the airstrikes demonstrates that the Islamic State is not a cohesive fighting force but merely a rag-tag band of bullies capable of terrorizing ill-equipped resistance fighters and unarmed civilians.
It’s time for Obama to seize the moment and continue to use our warplanes to annihilate the Islamic State forces threatening Baghdad as well as their concentrations across a wide swath of Syria.
To finish this vitally important task, Obama will have to put American boots on the ground — about 20,000 crack troops equipped with 100 or so tanks — could handle the task easily with available air support.
The assessment by our leading defense intelligence experts that the Islamic State constitutes a far more dangerous threat to our homeland and the continent of Europe than al-Qaida ever did is correct.
Its ranks include many jihadists from America and Europe, who speak fluent English and can easily bypass tightened airport security and enter our country by crossing our “open border” with Mexico.
Once inside the U.S. their expertise at bomb-making and their willingness to sacrifice their lives in suicide missions allows them to perpetrate horrors that will make the events of 9/11 seem like mere child’s play.
Now is the time for Obama to seriously ponder the advice of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who steeled President George H.W. Bush’s resolve to roll back Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Shortly after Hussein’s move, Bush reviewed the situation with the Iron Lady, and Thatcher urged swift and resolute action, cautioning him “don’t go wobbly on me now George.”
That, Thatcher said later, is the lesson of the 20th century. “If an aggressor gets away with it, others will want to get away with it too, so he must be stopped and turned back. You cannot let him gain from his aggression.”
Obama’s premature removal of U.S. troops from Iraq three years ago was based on his perception that most Americans were “war weary” and wanted a quick and easy peace. But the U.S — like it or not — is still the world’s leader, the one indispensable nation in a rudderless world.
It’s time for the president to lead, not follow public opinion polls.
In wiping out the butchers and torturers of the Islamic State, he will restore America’s leadership in today’s mad, mad world. If Thatcher’s words don’t stiffen his resolve, Mr. Obama should look to the great Democratic presidents of the last century — Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy.
All stood up for global democracy against the tyrants of their day and all rank highly in any list of U.S. presidents. Obama can enhance his reputation before he leaves office by seizing the moment and obliterating one of the most dastardly terrorist groups in human history.
Whitt Flora, an independent journalist, is the former chief congressional correspondent for Aviation & Space Technology Magazine and former Washington correspondent for the Columbus Dispatch.
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