Available evidence suggests that President Obama believes an aerial war of questionable objectives and intensity will be enough to destroy or cripple a terrorist organization that already has occupied vast areas of Iraq and Syria, despite armed opposition by the governments of those countries. Officials should think again.
ISIS looks like an organized army, with veteran leadership from known terrorist groups, as well as from former officers of the Iraqi army of deposed President Saddam Hussein. ISIS is a serious organization with competent leadership whose goals include establishing an Islamic Caliphate in the Middle East, as well as the destruction of Israel, the U.S., and the conversion or liquidation of non-Muslims everywhere.
Random bombings launched from deployed aircraft carriers won't do much against this organization. Even a sustained air war wouldn't have any lasting effect. ISIS leaders know that the U.S. has no stomach for another long war, and they're more than willing to take their time and pick their targets for maximum political effect.
When U.S. military pressure increases, they disperse and go to ground. Military technology damages them but little. Would U.S. boots on the ground be any more effective? Maybe, but only if the U.S. is willing to commit to the region for years or decades, and the all-but-abandoned wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate that U.S. leaders are willing to make no such commitment.
There's something that worries me about an air war. All it would take is one U.S. warplane to be shot down or disabled, its pilot captured by ISIS, and a staged-for-TV Islamic trial and beheading to ensue. Think not only of the political damage such an event would have for the Obama Administration, but also its emotional effect on the American people.
Certainly such horror could unite the United States in a Struggle against ISIS, but my bet is it would be the last straw that finally breaks American resolve to fight ISIS on its own ground. After that, Americans will have had enough of half-hearted war in the Middle East that produces no tangible results.
With an exhausted American resolve to fight ISIS in the Middle East, where would we go from there? With a porous U.S. southern border with Mexico, I think there's little doubt that ISIS terrorists already have entered the U.S., are in place, and waiting for orders to unleash attacks on U.S. soft targets like sporting events, big-city transit systems, and a vulnerable and over-stretched power grid.
I think it's clear that the U.S. eventually must fight ISIS to the finish. The only question is will this fight be in the Middle East, or on American soil?