President Obama announced a campaign to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State on September 10 and has since been adamant he would not order American boots on the ground to achieve that end.
With the Islamic State looming on the outskirts of Baghdad, it is worth revisiting how this strategy "collides with reality," as Commentary‘s Peter Wehner laid out here. First, leading military experts met Obama's strategy with contempt and doubt.
"I don’t think the president’s plan has a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding," retired Marine Gen. James Conway said.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Obama effectively "traps himself" by repeating the mantra of no boots on the ground, saying that had to happen for there to be any chance of success.
"You just don’t take anything off the table up front, which it appears the administration has tried to do," retired Marine General James Mattis said. "Half-hearted or tentative efforts, or airstrikes alone, can backfire on us and actually strengthen our foes’ credibility. We may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American boots on the ground."
Since then, weeks of headlines repeat the grim truth: Air strikes are not effective enough to stop the march of the Islamic State. In September, the New York Times reported:
After six weeks of American airstrikes, the Iraqi government’s forces have scarcely budged the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State from their hold on more than a quarter of the country, in part because many critical Sunni tribes remain on the sidelines.
An eastern Syria activist battling the Assad regime called the air strikes "useless" on October 5, saying the training camps and bases were empty when struck by the coalition forces. Even Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the group is difficult to target from the air in a CBS interview, and Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that air strikes "alone" would not constitute a "tipping point" in the campaign.
The Syrian city of Kobani is now the site of fierce battles and the terrorist group has made startling gains in the Anbar province, the location of some of the bloodiest fighting during the Iraq War.
The Washington Post reported the Islamic State is "closing in on the Anbar town of Amriyat al-Fallujah, one of the last in the province still controlled by the government," and went on to describe tensions at the prospect of the capital's fall.