Much of the American public has expressed dissatisfaction with Obama's approach to fighting ISIS
Several experts suggest further steps the Obama administration could take to combat the terror organization
President Barack Obama has faced criticism for not staking out new ideas to fight ISIS in the wake of a string of terror attacks, including one on American soil. That chorus intensified after his speech Sunday night aimed at reassuring the American public over the White House’s strategy.
Republicans have been particularly severe in their attacks, but much of the general public has also expressed dissatisfaction with Obama’s approach. A CNN/ORC poll released on Sunday found that 60% of Americans disapproved of Obama’s handling of terrorism and two thirds disapproved of his handling of ISIS.
Here are suggestions from several experts on further steps the Obama administration could take to combat ISIS, as well as some of the risks from such moves.
More U.S. boots on the ground
Former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, now a distinguished fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Jeffrey recommended that Obama dedicate more American troops to fighting ISIS on the ground, which he said is the biggest lack in the current strategy. “First of all, at a minimum the things he says he would be doing, using Special Forces, using more firepower – I would accelerate that. Just pound these people,” Jeffrey said.
And he said that it’s not enough to utilize local forces from Iraq and Syria, as Obama has emphasized, especially when there is no obvious ground force there fighting ISIS.
“I just don’t see effective ground forces without American contribution to it,” Jeffrey said.
He acknowledged the biggest drawback to sending troops would be American casualties. But, he argued, “We’re already in this fight. We’re doing air strikes, we’re trying to build local forces … It’s not working, so I’m adding this element.”
Former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, now a professor with Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
Kurtzer advocated a “textured and comprehensive approach” that includes drying up the “swamp of economic distress.”
“This will require a very long term commitment, decades not years, in order to provide time for complementary social, economic and educational actions among disaffected Arab and Muslim populations to dry up Daesh’s recruitment base,” Kurtzer wrote in a blog post published last week, using another name for ISIS.
“People whose lives are getting worse, who may not have any pathways to economic advancement,” Kurtzer told CNN, “are very ripe for recruitment … You have to deny the bad guys the easiest pool for recruitment.”
Kurtzer’s recommendations included the creation of jobs by setting up infrastructure projects in the Middle East.
Aid the Syrian opposition
Former Iran-Iraq military analyst for the CIA, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution
Pollack said that the United States is wrong to solely focus its efforts on fighting ISIS, also known as Daesh.
“Daesh is not the problem. Daesh is a symptom of the problem of the civil wars in Iraq and Syria. (The Obama administration) is trying to destroy Daesh without recognizing that that’s impossible to do without dealing with the civil wars in Iraq and Syria.”
According to Pollack, the U.S. needs to focus on ending these civil wars. He advocated building up a stronger Syrian opposition army to try to do so.
Pollack contended that furthering U.S. involvement in the region is a necessary risk. “We have to do something that (Obama) doesn’t want to do, which is get involved with Iraq and Syria. We tried to walk away from Iraq and Syria, but how’d that work out?”
Agency to counter ISIS ideology
Former undersecretary of defense for policy, now director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for National Security Strategies
Feith said that the Obama administration has been too slow to fight ISIS on an ideological level, though Obama did address the issue in his speech Sunday.
“The Obama administration has tended to downplay, to belittle, the ideological importance of the problem,” Feith said. “You can’t explain away the terrorism problem as a matter of economic and political frustration.”
He especially pointed to the absence of a U.S. agency responsible for countering ideological support for terrorists. He said that the responsibility of such an agency would be two-fold: to amplify Muslim voices that have positive messages in the fight against ISIS and to counter voices in the Muslim world that are saying dangerous things.
“The risks, of course, are that if you do it badly then you can make a situation worse,” he said.
Stay the Course
Iraq and Afghanistan army veteran, now a Defense Council member of the Truman National Security Project
Cain said that Obama’s goal is right in working towards a diplomatic and political solution. He also agreed with Obama’s refusal to send in more American ground forces. “I do not think we need to send in large numbers of troops because it has quagmire written all over it,” Cain said. “I know our guys are attacking the heads of (ISIS) and getting the intelligence that we need.”
Cain, who spent six years in an elite Special Operations unit, said that the fight against ISIS wouldn’t be effective without a stable form of government in Syria. “Right now we can attack ISIS all day long, but if there’s not going to be a stable nation in the end, we’re just playing whack-a-mole,” Cain said. “That’s probably where some work needs to be done,” he added.
Former Senate Foreign Relations Committee senior staff member, now senior vice president of the American Enterprise Institute
Pletka said the U.S. military needs to be more involved in Syria and Iraq, “not in combat roles, but for air support and guidance.” In particular, she argued for the creation of a no-fly zone for Syrian refugees so that they can escape without fearing for their lives.
Pletka said that every strategy will have risks associated with it but that durable solutions are what’s important. “You do not consider it based on the risks; you consider it based on the long-term security and safety for the American people,” she said.
Work with Russia
Founding director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, now vice president for policy and research for the Middle East Institute
Salem said Obama should work with countries beyond allies in Europe and the Gulf to counter ISIS, particularly Russia. Salem acknowledged the disagreements that exist between Washington and Moscow but believes there are shared interests as well.
Salem suggested that the situation is comparable to World War II, in which the U.S. had to work with the Soviet Union to defeat Nazi Germany. While he said there is no key formula, he stressed the need for Obama to engage instead of sit back.
“I don’t think the regular rules should apply, and I think the President should be the first to recognize that,” he said.
Correction: The first name of Middle East Institute expert Paul Salem was incorrect in an earlier version.