Bo Statham: U.S. needs to avoid war with ISIS

President Barack Obama’s newly announced policy on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is not the only option to deal with that terrorist threat.

For clarity, ISIS refers to the same entity the Obama administration calls ISIL, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. “Levant” generally covers Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and southeastern Turkey.

The entity, a radical Sunni faction, now claims the name Islamic State. “ISIS” is used herein.

Mr. Obama’s policy calls for United States and coalition air support of local ground forces in Syria and Iraq, training and equipping those troops, and providing humanitarian aid to victims of ISIS’s actions. He has assured the American people there will be no U. S. combat troops in this engagement.

The CIA estimates ISIS has up to 31,000 troops, according to CNN. It now controls large parts of Syria and Iraq, and its stated purpose is to establish a caliphate, or Muslim state, in the broader Levant territory. It’s guilty of terrorist acts, as exemplified recently by the heinous beheading of two American journalists and a British aid worker.

Surely, concerted and effective actions are required to prevent the establishment by ISIS of an autonomous terrorist state in the Middle East.

Military advisers strongly agree ground forces are essential to destroying ISIS. Without U. S. troops, however, is there any reason, to think the Iraqi army and the Free Syrian Army, the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and ISIS, are effective military forces? We spent an estimated trillion dollars and eight years training and equipping the Iraqi army, which has now virtually collapsed. The principal goal of the Free Syrian Army is overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad, which it has failed to do, and it has been unable for two years to defeat ISIS. These realities suggest failure of Mr. Obama’s plan is highly likely.

Other serious issues are raised by Mr. Obama’s plan. What happens if it fails? What is the end game, the measurement of when ISIS is destroyed? Would not Mr. Assad be strengthened by the destruction of ISIS, his enemy? While Syria has assented to American bombing of ISIS inside its country, what happens when, not if, there is collateral civilian damage or an errant missile strikes a Syrian asset? If Syria closes its airspace or fires on our aircraft, do we then attack Syrian forces?

Mr. Obama says ISIS does not pose a direct threat to the American homeland at this time but could in the future. Are there not, then, better options than another ill begotten war with its almost certain unintended consequences?

Numerous alternative actions have been proposed, including: enhanced counter-terrorism against ISIS; mobilization of moderate Sunni militias against ISIS, as was so successful against al Qaeda in Iraq; cutting off ISIS’s funding, which is now coming largely from Saudi and other Middle East sources and the black market sale through Turkey of ISIS controlled oil production; and, blocking the flow of recruits to ISIS from allied countries.

A bit of hysteria has emerged over the threat raised by ISIS, fueled mainly by the recent beheadings. But no matter how brutal, barbaric and evil, those acts should not push us into yet another war.

Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aide and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at


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