We Need Clarity about ISIS, and the Democratic Candidates Didn’t Provide It

{AP Photo/Jacques Brinon} Rescue workers gather at victims in the 10th district of Paris, Friday, November 13, 2015.


Paul Starr | American Prospect | November 15, 2015

Many Democrats—including the candidates for president at Saturday night’s debate in Iowa—are not registering the full import of the attacks in Paris. When French President Francois Hollande declared the massacre “an act of war” and ISIS claimed responsibility and announced that the attacks were the “first of a storm,” the conflict with ISIS entered a new stage.

In responding to the advance of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the Obama administration has tried to rely on local proxies—Syrian moderates, Kurds, the Iraqi army—to do the fighting on the ground, while the United States has supplied air power, intelligence, equipment, and other resources. Obama’s reluctance to commit ground troops is understandable. But with clear evidence his strategy was insufficient, the president announced on October 30 that several dozen special operations forces would go into Syria.

Although the Kurds have recently had some success in breaking ISIS’s supply lines in western Iraq, the basic assumptions behind Obama’s original strategy have now been shattered in two ways. First, the local ground forces are too weak to defeat ISIS on anything like a reasonable timetable. And second, as the downing of the Russian airliner and the attacks in Beirut and Paris show, we can no longer assume that ISIS is focused entirely on seizing and defending territory. It is a much more direct threat to us. No one should think that because ISIS murdered Russians and Parisians first, it won’t murder Americans next on a large scale.

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