President Obama’s speech touched on all the right and necessary notes — as good a speech as he has given.
Obama clearly separated the terrorists behind ISIS from both the Muslim faith and the broader Muslim populations that it has attacked. He laid out the threat and provided a plausible and multi-pronged strategy to defeat it. Each prong of that strategy — Increased air attacks; a broad coalition with the local countries; starving ISIS of finances; and political solutions for Syria and Iraq — is sound and necessary.
But some things were definitely missing: Who is our coalition partner for fighting in Syria? Russia and Iran support Assad. Turkey is conflicted because of its Kurdish problem — the non-radical opposition in Syria has a large Kurdish component that Turkey is reluctant to build up; will anyone else send troops into Syria to support the Syrian Free Army? The SFA has shown it cannot compete with ISIS — giving it more weapons is just an indirect way of giving more weapons to ISIS (in the last week ISIS has been using US-built weapons that were earlier given to the SFA). I think it will take NATO special forces to reinforce the SFA to make them effective.
And will we rely on Assad’s restraint to allow us to fly missions against ISIS within Syria? Or will we degrade Assad’s air defenses? Assad has every reason to stop the US, because he has been using ISIS to displace the moderate opposition. Sooner or later we will have to deal with the Assad regime, and Obama’s mention of a “political solution” for Syria is distressingly vague.
One last thought; I sure hope we get a DIFFERENT campaign than we had in Yemen and Somalia. Those countries are still total wrecks, half-overrun by terrorists and rebels after years of air attacks. The attack against ISIS needs to be more successful than our campaigns against the Houthis or al-Shabab; otherwise we will be fighting an endless war with little progress. In those countries the problem is precisely that we have not had reliable allies on the ground (except when Ethiopia fought with us in Somalia, and that did bring a major success). So we need to find or create them in Iraq and Syria, and fast.
But the good news is that the US has committed itself to fight ISIS, and has the reasonable beginnings of a strategy to pursue. That is a lot for one night.