Peter Brookes: Obama’s plan is still a work in progress

By Peter Brookes

Lots of folks — especially those increasingly alarmed by the rise of the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) — breathed a forceful sigh of relief when President Obama finally offered up a plan for dealing with this terrorist “army.”

Perhaps, he’d seen the light at last, they reasoned.

Unfortunately, what we’re finding out is that the administration is only now fleshing out the skeleton of the strategy that the president proposed in his national address, causing confusion and concern.

Being as kind as possible, the president’s “plan” is still a work in progress.

While I – and others – should have no worries about the ability of our brave armed forces to deal the Islamic State a deadly blow, some other key aspects of the plan are suspect.

Take the building of a coalition to fight the Islamic State. Press reports indicate that the secretaries of defense and state (and others) have been spanning the globe, feverishly working to assemble a nexus of nations to tackle this task.

At the moment, we’ve seen some 40 nations reportedly sign on with us to oppose the Islamic State, including 10 Arab states — a seemingly positive development.

There’s no question that developing a multinational coalition is a good idea; sharing the burden of battling the bad guys just seems fair, considering that some of these states are seemingly more threatened by ISIS than we are.

For our reluctant-warrior president, an international coalition provides diplomatic “cover” for undertaking military operations against ISIS. In other words, he can’t be accused of being a rogue “unilateralist.”

Unfortunately, it’s not clear what these coalition states will add to the “joint” effort. The concern is that their contributions will be limited to moral support rather than more substantive forms of backing, such as funding and/or committing combat troops.

In other words, “Let me hold your coat while you trade punches with the Islamic State.” That’s not exactly what you look for from a multinational team. Washington should push for some heavy lifting by our partners, too.

Then there are the 5,000 or so “moderate” Syrian opposition fighters the Obama administration says it’s going to vet, train and arm over the next year to battle ISIS in Syria — which the CIA now says may number 20,000 to 30,000 foot soldiers.

While Islamic State forces are spread across Syria and Iraq, looking purely at the numbers, it sounds a bit one-sided, doesn’t it?

Of course, besides engaging ISIS in its Syrian stomping grounds, we can’t expect the Syrian army (or its Iranian and Hezbollah allies) to put out the welcome mat for the U.S.-backed Syrian opposition forces.

The enemy of my enemy isn’t always my friend.

The Syrian opposition will be duking it out with Damascus — and a slew of other Islamist groups, including ISIS — in their common struggle to rule Syria. That’s quite a donnybrook.

The point here is that at least two of the administration’s weight-bearing policy pillars for taking it to the Islamic State are dubious. We need more than “encouragement” from others for this war and getting at ISIS in Syria isn’t a nice-to-have, but a must-do.

This column was first published in the Boston Herald.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow, a former deputy 
assistant secretary of defense and a Fort Valley resident. Follow him on Twitter @Brookes_Peter.

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