The American Interest

Another Unwinnable War

Two months after the beginning of the U.S. bombing campaign against the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and one month after President Obama announced his strategy for fighting the group, the area under jihadist control continues to expand.  In the east, IS forces have advanced to the outskirts of Baghdad and may soon be able to shell the international airport.  The Iraqi army is no better at resisting IS now than it was when it lost Mosul and Tikrit last June.  In the west the jihadists took the strategic Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobani, near the Turkish border, after a three-week siege during which continual U.S. air strikes proved ineffective in denying IS a significant victory.  IS now controls a contiguous tract of land from the western suburbs of Baghdad to the outskirts of Aleppo, nearly 500 miles.

It is becoming clear that the extent and duration of America’s involvement will be much larger than the President says.  Obama predicts that it could take three years to win the war against the Islamic State.  His former CIA director and secretary of defense Leon Panetta, however, said on October 5 that “we’re looking at a 30-year war.”  There are four main reasons why America cannot win this war, regardless of its duration: Obama’s obstinate refusal to acknowledge the nature of the enemy, an absence of reliable ground troops, a lack of trustworthy regional allies, and...

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