Two top administration officials — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey — declare the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is a terrorist threat like we’ve never seen before, that it can’t be contained and that it “will eventually have to be defeated.” Unless they were speaking out of school — quite unlikely — that sure sounds like the White House is laying the groundwork for stronger military operations against ISIS.
That would be a bitter pill for President Barack Obama given that his presidency has been committed to the premise that “the tide of war is receding.” In talking about the various conflicts in the Middle East like the Syrian civil war, he also asserts there was no military solution to them, only a political solution.
The gruesome beheading of American journalist James Foley, the ISIS genocide against religious minorities and its declaration of a caliphate in a broad swath of Iraq and Syria have crystallized the reality that this new terrorist army poses a threat not open to a political resolution, one for which a military response is necessary. To be sure, Hagel and Dempsey said the United States cannot do it alone and that success would involve, in Dempsey’s words, “the application of all of the tools of national power — diplomatic, economic, information, military.”
They conceded the possibility of U.S. air strikes in Syria, involvement in a civil war that Obama has avoided for years. That would put us on the same side as Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad, whom Obama once said “must go,” and his chief sponsor, Iran, the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism according to the State Department.
It doesn’t get much uglier than that.
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