It’s essential to have the big picture on this. The war in Syria is turning into something bigger, with substantially bigger implications than what happens to ISIS.
But ISIS remains the handy pretext for Russia’s and Iran’s growing intervention in both Syria and Iraq. That intervention is changing their posture, and the correlation of both military and political forces across the region, almost by the day. They are not there for ISIS, and they’re not there for Assad. They’re there – putting down stakes from the Caspian and the Caucasus to the Horn of Africa – because they intend to be in charge of carving up the rapidly fragmenting ruins of the post-World War I Middle East.
ISIS will get something of a vote in this conflict. But America won’t. The reason for these two realities is that Obama has limited the use of U.S. force – limited it to such an extent that ISIS is still a very viable entity. Obama’s “restraint” is also the reason Russia and Iran keep having ISIS as a handy, open-ended pretext for arranging to occupy Iraq and Syria. Which is what they’re actually doing.
Obama has in fact restrained the use of U.S. force to an unnatural degree. We’ve known for a while now that 75% of the strike sorties flown against ISIS by our aircraft return to base without bombing anything. U.S. Central Command reported that in operational statistics months ago, and it was picked up by stateside media as early as May 2015.
But there was a focus in May on the lack of immediate tactical intelligence on potential targets: without boots on the ground to direct airborne strikes, the implication was that we couldn’t use air power effectively.
The disclosures discussed this week, from U.S. pilots as summarized by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are of a different order. The issue is not so much the lack of tactical intelligence, as the paralyzing fear, in the White House, of collateral damage from dropping bombs under any circumstances.