Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

The Islamic State is Training Fighters Faster Than We Are

| March 24, 2016

The whole premise of terrorism is to try to disrupt people’s ordinary lives.” With that thought in mind, President Obama responded to the latest bloodbath in Europe by attending a baseball game in still-communist Cuba. It may well be that those of us with ordinary lives should not interrupt them in response to terrorism, but President Obama leads no ordinary life.

No one begrudges the president taking in a ballgame, but it is not a substitute for an effective strategy to defeat our enemies. The president has repeatedly ridiculed critics who urged him to take earlier and more effective action against the Islamic State. He torched straw man arguments by ignoring any alternatives between a massive deployment of U.S. ground forces and feckless passivity, and then claimed credit for belatedly taking some of the actions he had earlier mocked.

Last October, the administration abandoned its efforts to train fighters to combat the Islamic State inside Syria. Originally, the White House envisioned a $500 million program to drill more than 5,000 fighters last year and 15,000 over the next three years. However, in September 2015, CENTCOM Commander General Lloyd Austin left the Senate Armed Services Committee slack-jawed, admitting that “[w]e’re talking four or five” fighters who had been successfully trained and entered Syria — at a cost of about $10 million per man. Of course, they were quickly slaughtered by their more powerful foes. Incredibly, the Pentagon’s number three civilian, Christine Wormuth, defended the debacle: “I don’t think at all this was a case of poor execution.”

Now, the AP reports that the Islamic State, “has trained at least 400 fighters to target Europe in deadly waves of attacks, deploying interlocking terror cells like the ones that struck Brussels and Paris with orders to choose the time, place, and method for maximum chaos.” This means that the Islamic State is training terrorists to attack Europe faster than the United States is training fighters to unseat the butchers of al-Raqqah.

In early 2014, after Islamic State fighters captured the Iraqi city of Fallujah, twice liberated with great bravery and sacrifice by U.S. forces in earlier battles, President Obama shrugged off the defeat, telling David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, “[t]he analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.”

Astoundingly, a year and a half later, President Obama admitted that, “We don’t have, yet, a complete strategy,” to respond to the Islamic State.

CNN calculates that the Islamic State has launched or inspired 75 attacks in 20 countries, killing 1,280 people. Those attacks will continue until the Islamic Sate is defeated. It is far past time to put aside basketball and baseball, and realize that we are not in a game. We are not facing “a jayvee team.” We are at war — at war with a ruthless, bloodthirsty, and capable enemy bent on inflicting as much carnage as possible on the United States and its allies. The president did not choose this war, but he must no longer shirk from it.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Tobey, William H..“The Islamic State is Training Fighters Faster Than We Are.” Foreign Policy, March 24, 2016.

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