Nearly four months—and over 1,000 bombings—into the U.S.-led military operations in Iraq and Syria, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has vowed to wage war on ISIS “as long as it takes to prevail.”
But as the White House continues to side-step meaningful debate in Congress, while expanding air strikes and boots-on-the-ground indefinitely, analysts warn that the war “is already lost.”
“Secretary Kerry should keep in mind the words, even if not the deeds, of his president: there is no military solution to the problems caused by ISIS,” said Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, in an interview with Common Dreams. “Going to war for one year more, one decade more, or one century more will not change that.”
Kicking off a Brussels ministerial summit of over 60 countries participating in a military coalition against ISIS, Kerry declared on Wednesday, “One outcome of this meeting will be a statement that encompasses our message that we are united in moving ahead on all fronts and that we will engage in this campaign for as long as it takes to prevail.”
“Our commitment will be measured most likely in years,” stated the secretary, adding to the previous prediction by President Obama that “this is going to be a long-term campaign.”
“The roughly 1,000 coalition air missions we have flown have reduced Daesh’s [ISIS] leadership and inflicted damage on its logistical and operational capabilities,” Kerry claimed, citing alleged gains in Iraq, including near Tikrit, the Baiji oil refinery, and the Mosul and Haditha dams. In Syria, it is “much harder now than when we started for Daesh to assemble forces in strength, to travel in convoys, and to launch concerted attacks,” the secretary asserted.
Kerry’s public statements included no mention of the civilian death tolls of these attacks, despite numerous reports of such killings in both Iraq and Syria. In keeping with the White House and Pentagon, he remained tight-lipped about the nature of the U.S.-led strikes, as well as the role of drone bombers and the 3,000 U.S. troops ordered to deploy to Iraq.
The secretary nodded towards an imminent escalation of war in Iraq: “In coming weeks, the coalition’s train, advise, and assist missions for Iraqi Security Forces will expand. Air strikes will continue as necessary.”
Analysts immediately blasted Kerry for painting a misleading picture.
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“Talking about temporary gains in one place or another is ridiculous,” said Bennis. “Kerry, of all people in the Obama administration, should remember what happened in Vietnam. The U.S. won almost every battle and yet it lost the war. The war against ISIS is already lost. Continuing to fight that war only means more people on all sides will die.”
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Stephen Miles, advocacy director for Win Without War, told Common Dreams, “The measure of our policy is not whether or not we are blowing things up. The U.S. has the most powerful military on the planet. It is no surprise we are winning tactical advantages. The question is whether the underlying dynamics of the conflict are changing. The answer is they are not.”
“The fact that we are bombing today pretty much the same places we were bombing at the start of the conflict tells a lot about where we are and the realities of underlying conflict,” Miles added. “ISIS has more fighters in their ranks today than before we started bombing, and they control roughly the same territory.”
Raed Jarrar, expert on Middle East politics and Policy Impact Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, stated concerns over what many have referred to as “mission creep”: the steady and boundless expansion of the war beyond its stated aims. “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday that it will take years to defeat ISIS. This is a huge shift from the Obama Administration’s initial narrative that claimed an immediate and short-term US military action was a much needed humanitarian intervention,” Jarrar told Common Dreams.
Meanwhile, the White House continues to maintain that the ongoing war in Iraq and Syria does not require new authorization, as it is already approved by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed in the wake of the September 11th attacks.
This position was reiterated on Wednesday by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: “Back in 2001, Congress did pass an authorization to use military force that did authorize the administration—any administration—to pursue al Qaeda and others who were responsible for attacking the United States on September 11th, 2001… We’ve also talked about the fact that ISIL [ISIS] shares the same goals that were frequently articulated by al Qaeda. So there is clear legal authority for the President to take the actions that he’s already taken.”
Numerous legal experts, as well as members of Congress, have cast doubt on the Obama administration’s claim, and even the president has previously vocalized his opposition to the expansive interpretation of this AUMF.
“I don’t know any serious expert who believes that an authorization passed three days after 9/11 gives authority for a war in 2014 against ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” said Miles. “The claim the administration is making is one of expediency and convenience rather than having to do with facts on the ground.”
Some in Congress have pressed for formal debate over war authorization, including critics of the war, as well as those who wish to green-light it to continue in some form, including expansion. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Wednesday introduced a measure for Congress to formally declare war on ISIS, while placing some limits on presidential authority to deploy ground troops. “Right now, this war is illegal until Congress acts,” he charged.
However, Miles said he is not holding out hope that the war will be debated before the end of the year. “The reality is that the exact reason the administration doesn’t want to have debate is it could be messy,” he said.
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