President Obama's plan of partnering with our Arab allies on airstrikes while allowing Iraqi forces, Kurds and Syrian rebels to do the fighting on the ground is the right approach to dealing with ISIS. But those of us who have served in the military know the best-outlined plans can quickly be torn up by the realities of combat.
The question facing the Obama administration is what happens next if things don't go according to plan?
ISIS is undoubtedly a threat worthy of our efforts. But if our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown anything, it's that any attempts to control the Middle East often have the opposite affect.
In 2005, I spent seven months patrolling the area around the Haditha Dam in Western Iraq as a U.S. Marine. At the time, we were protecting the dam from Al Qaeda in Iraq. Today, ISIS (which is largely made up of former AQI fighters) poses such a threat to that area that the United States has launched a series of airstrikes near the dam to force ISIS away.
This is just one region, but the fact that we're fighting nearly the same force for control of the same area nine years apart is telling of the limits of U.S. power in the Middle East.
The president's current approach to dealing with ISIS is one the Bush administration wouldn't have had the diplomatic savvy or lack of hubris to pull off. We will need to be patient with our regional partners and willing to let them take credit for victories and be accountable for setbacks.
But what happens if Iraqi, Kurdish and Syrian troops on the ground struggle to contain ISIS and coalition air strikes are only slowing down their progress?
If that point comes, it will require an extraordinary level of discipline for President Obama to stay true to his promise of preventing mission creep. Congress also has be more diligent in playing its critical oversight role than during the early years of the Iraq War.
If both the president and Congress are willing to make tough and likely unpopular decisions, then the president's strategy will prove to be the right move. If, however, we get pulled back into an ill-defined ground war in Iraq, I fear there are few good outcomes for either Iraq or the United States.
As an incoming Congressman, I can think of few more important jobs than working to prevent the next generations of Marines and soldiers from refighting the war I fought in Iraq.