Need straight talk on ISIS
There's no sugar-coating the words of warning about a new military threat in the Middle East.
While President Barack Obama has been circumspect in his comments about the danger posed by a new terror army, his military advisers are sounding an alarm that looks frightfully close to a call to war.
That being the case, it behooves the president, not his military advisers, to share his vision on this difficult issue with the public.
Last week's comments by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, must have come as a shock to those under the impression that President Obama's decision declaring an end to the war on terror as the last word. Not only does the war not appear to be over, if the comments by Hagel and Dempsey are on target, it's about to start over again.
Hagel and Dempsey were discussing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, popularly known as both ISIS and ISIL. This organization, which Obama dismissively described as the "JV" team just a few months ago, is carving out large swaths of both Syria and Iraq. Fanatical in outlook and both well-armed and well-trained, it poses a major military threat to both countries, threatening to further imbalance a vital area of the world that already is in turmoil.
ISIS is best known for carrying out the barbaric, videotaped beheading of James Foley, an American journalist the organization had captured and held for ransom until deciding to kill him instead.
Secretary Hagel described ISIS as "beyond anything we've seen" in terms of the threat it poses to the region and the world.
"So we must prepare for everything. And the only way you do that is that you take a cold, steel, hard look at it ... and get ready," he said.
Coming from Hagel, these words are especially sobering. He was brought into the Cabinet by President Obama with a reputation as a dove on military matters, a critic of U.S. policy in the Middle East and an advocate of significantly downsizing American military forces.
If Hagel's words were not enough, Gen. Dempsey followed with an even more chilling assessment that includes the option of introducing American troops back into Iraq and into Syria.
"This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated," said Dempsey, adding that destroying ISIS would require "all of the tools of national power — diplomatic, economic, information, military."
These comments foreshadow an emerging national debate that must necessarily involve President Obama and Congress. As much as the president and members of the House and Senate would prefer the problem go away, fanatical ISIS members won't let that happen. Indeed, they revel in their reputation as ruthless killers of apostates and have bragged they one day will raise their flag above the White House.
The wheels of the military already are in motion, President Obama having approved surveillance flights over Syria as a prelude to bombing of ISIS targets in that country. It's no secret that ISIS is trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a ruthless dictator whom President Obama has said he wants to oust from power.
So now, the U.S. military could soon be targeting ISIS in Syria, a move that can only strengthen the hands of the very leader Obama has insisted must be removed.
Equations like this demonstrate how difficult politics in the Middle East can be, how the enemy-of-my-enemey-is-my-friend logic applies. But if that's to be the case once again and if America's military might is to be deployed, President Obama needs to have a heart-to-heart conversation with a war-weary American public. If he doesn't persuasively explain what's at stake, people will not only be angry but confused about expending more lives and treasure in that part of the world.