Synopsis on President Obama’s Strategy to Degrade and Destroy ISIS

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On the evening before the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, President Barack Obama outlined his strategy “to degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. He started his speech by noting that while terrorism can be mitigated, it cannot be totally eliminated. Transitioning to ISIS, he described the organization as not being “Islamic” and not being a state. The President then noted what makes ISIS so unique – its sheer brutality, its ability to hold territory, and its attraction for foreign fighters. Then, he described current American foreign policy actions against ISIS, including airstrikes against the terrorist group in Iraq and building coalitions with partners in the Middle East. Thus, the Commander-and-Chief described the previous actions of the U.S. against ISIS in Iraq.

The President then pushed a new initiative, “a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy,” in the Middle East. He subdivided this strategy into four parts. The first part of the plan is to “conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes” against ISIS in Iraq and now Syria. The next part is to increase military support for the Syrian opposition. He also authorized the deployment of 475 more troops to Iraq to build up their forces, raising the total number of American military personnel there to 1,600 troops. The third part of the strategy is to employ threat mitigation techniques to detect and to deter ISIS attacks on the U.S. Homeland. The final part of the plan is to provide humanitarian aid to displaced persons in Iraq and Syria. President Obama emphasized that this plan had international support as well as bipartisan support in Congress. Thus, the strategy President Obama outlined had four parts – airstrikes against ISIS, military support for the Syrian opposition, counterterrorism to protect the U.S. Homeland, and providing humanitarian aid for civilians.

President Obama concluded his speech by attempting to strengthen the U.S.’s morale for as sustained counterterrorism campaign. The Commander-and-Chief then vowed any action in Syria or Iraq would “not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”  He then noted his multilateral approach stating, “Use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges.” He then noted the history of 9/11 and the Great Recession, but then noted America is still a leader on the global stage – including that America “rallied the World against Russian aggression,” led the struggle in containing Ebola, and removed Syrian WMDs. He concluded the speech with the motivating words, “Our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden. But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead.” President Obama sought to rally the crowd by portraying ISIS as an expanding evil while stressing America’s role in the international community.

The speech was commendable in seeks to degrade and destroy ISIS; however, several key actors and factors were ignored. President Obama did not mention the Kurds or the peshmerga at all, and they are responsible shareholders in a multiethnic Iraq’s future. Furthermore, 20,000 foreign fighters have or are currently fighting in Syria. Of these 20,000, 100 fighters are American passport holders. Of these 100, at least a dozen are fighting for ISIS. These foreign fighters can easily become terrorists, and need to be monitored and tracked. Additionally, ISIS has executed Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff, causing me to question whether the American government has reviewed its policy of hostage negotiations with terrorists. Another point of concern is over whether the U.S. – specifically the CDC – has the resources to deal with an ISIS biological attack in the form of the bubonic plague – as files were retrieved from an ISIS computer suggesting a cell was looking into using this technique. While the change of strategy in Syria and Iraq will be more proactive in countering ISIS, it is not enough to guarantee the safety of the American Homeland.

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