Fight Against Islamic State More Notable for What It Isn’t Than for What It Is

The heavy-handed approach we used to fight Al Qaeda turned out to be a recruiting drive for the Islamic State. (Photo: Flickr)

The heavy-handed approach we used to fight Al Qaeda turned out to be a recruiting drive for the Islamic State. (Photo: Flickr)

In the New York Times, Eric Schmitt, Michael Gordon and Helene Cooper report:

The Obama administration is preparing to carry out a campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that may take three years to complete, requiring a sustained effort that could last until after President Obama has left office, according to senior administration officials.

The first phase, an air campaign with nearly 145 airstrikes in the past month, is already underway to protect ethnic and religious minorities and American diplomatic, intelligence and military personnel, and their facilities, as well as to begin rolling back ISIS gains in northern and western Iraq.

The next phase, which would begin sometime after Iraq forms a more inclusive government, scheduled this week, is expected to involve an intensified effort to train, advise or equip the Iraqi military, Kurdish fighters and possibly members of Sunni tribes.

But what’s interesting about it is that:

The military campaign Mr. Obama is preparing has no obvious precedent. Unlike American counterterrorism operations in Yemen and Pakistan, it is not expected to be limited to drone strikes against militant leaders. Unlike the war in Afghanistan, it will not include the use of ground troops, which Mr. Obama has ruled out.

Unlike the Kosovo war that President Bill Clinton and NATO nations waged in 1999, it will not be compressed into an intensive 78-day tactical and strategic air campaign. And unlike during the air campaign that toppled the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, in 2011, the Obama administration is no longer “leading from behind,” but plans to play the central role in building a coalition to counter ISIS.

Equally notable, what it isn’t is a police action, which, if we’d used that approach against Al Qaeda, might not killed and alienated civilians, driving many of them in to the arms of the Islamic State. With the Islamic State, we’ve finally got the war that wasn’t justified against terrorism.