With a land area the size of Jordan under its control, a judicial and social services network spanning 8 million subjects, and $2 billion worth of funds, ISIS has seemingly achieved its goal of creating a bona-fide state. The nascent caliphate announced that it will launch its own currency, the Islamic dinar -- the group clearly believes that the so-called "Islamic State" will become a fixture on the map of the Middle East. As the richest terror group in the world continues to seek territorial expansion, its appeal to wannabe-warriors across the Muslim world will only increase.
What is the Commander-in-Chief of the world's lone superpower doing to combat this inexorable threat? The president announced a few weeks ago that he would send another 1500 soldiers to Iraq, but only in a non-combat role. The soldiers will try again to train Iraqi forces, which have unfortunately proven totally ineffective against the jihadist threat. With each round of military advisors comes another guarantee from the Obama administration that there will be no boots on the ground.
Ironically, after a decade of war, the Middle East needs the aid of the United States more than ever. President Obama has thus far refused to allow the military to truly flex its muscles against the emerging jihadi nation; instead, the U.S. continues to play the dual roles of personal trainer and cheerleader to the Iraqi army, with precious little to show for its efforts.
Bad news continues to trickle in from Syria and Iraq. The self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released an audiotape calling for ISIS to unleash "volcanoes of jihad everywhere." After weeks of fierce fighting, Kobani remains under siege. Thousands fear persecution at the hands of ISIS fighters, as American air power fails to derail the Islamic State's momentum. IS exerts effective control over an immense area of 35,000 square miles, and recently set up a satellite province in the Libyan town of Derna (population 100,000) through the efforts of only 800 fighters. The FBI has warned American military members against posting on social media sites, due to fears ISIS might target army personnel through attacks on the homeland.
Several leading military and diplomatic officials have urged greater American military intervention to crush this pressing threat. Former CIA and NSA Director and retired four-star General Michael Hayden advocated using ground troops in a recent interview with Richard Engel. Though he believes air strikes have made a difference, he argued that "doing this through air power alone, without corresponding ground forces, is a next to impossible task." Hayden believes that a presence of roughly five thousand to 10,000 American troops would be sufficient to turn the tide of war against the Islamic State. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has called for an "all-out attack" on ISIS, while analyst Aaron David Miller suggests the U.S. ought to "intensify our attacks against IS in Syria and Iraq." Even the president's lead military advisor General Martin Dempsey has admitted American ground troops might be necessary to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul.
American leaders have long known to prioritize ends over means. Two centuries ago, George Washington mocked a Constitutional Convention delegate's plan to legally limit the American army to 5,000 men, famously joking that he would accept this clause "as long as a stipulation was added that no invading army could number more than 3,000 troops." The United States might not have brought World War II to a close if it had refused to countenance using its newfound nuclear capabilities, and the U.S. could not have launched the era of "Pax Americana" had decision-makers feared expanding the global American military presence. Given the frightening extent of the ISIS threat, no strategy can be taken off the table.
To combat the ISIS threat, President Obama must recognize a harsh and sobering reality: no amount of American advice will suffice to "degrade and destroy" an increasingly powerful terror state. President Obama must keep all options open, including ground troops, if such forces are necessary to end a devastating threat to global security and civilization. By taking greater action, President Obama can show the world he is a strong commander-in-chief -- and not just a glorified consultant.