President Obama’s recent “tough talk” on the ISIS/ISIL terrorist group now rampaging across Iraq is a far cry from his earlier dismissal of them as a “jayvee team.”
In a January interview with David Remnick of the New Yorker, Obama used a rather flip sports analogy to characterize what he repeatedly refers to as “ISIL,” thusly, “If a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.”
That incredible comment came after President Obama bragged about “killing Osama bin Laden,” and asserted that “Al Qaeda had been decimated.” When Remnick reminded him the “Al Qaeda flag is now flying in Falluja, in Iraq, and among various rebel factions in Syria, and has asserted a presence in parts of Africa, too,” Obama launched into his little sports analogy. Then he went on to say, “ I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.”
Given what the diplomatic, intelligence, and military community knew then about the emerging ISIS threat, President Obama had to know it too. After all, presidents routinely receive daily briefings. No wonder he is now distancing himself from the sports analogy, even claiming it was taken out of context, despite facts to the contrary.
Since President Obama is partial to spurious sports analogies to explain the inexplicable, I’ll just give him two “double-dribbles" -- one for his original dismissal of ISIS as a “jayvee” terrorist group, and another for his recent rationalizations regarding what he meant versus what he actually said.
So, how strong is ISIL? When it comes to military capabilities, I view them as fairly formidable. They have an ample supply of small arms and ammunition, anti-tank rockets, armored vehicles, artillery, and a few helicopters and small planes, much of it courtesy of the USA, obtained from Iraqi military bases they’ve overrun in recent months.
Military hardware is necessary, but not sufficient, for success in battle. The Iraqi security forces had a lot more equipment than their ISIS foes -- and many more soldiers, too. What they lacked was a cohesive, motivated, well-trained and well-led fighting force.
Meanwhile, ISIS has grown from a handful of fighters into a cohesive, highly motivated, well-led, well-trained and fanatical terrorist group, estimated to number up to 31,500 fighters. They have demonstrated their ability to plan, prepare, coordinate, and carry out effective and impressive combat operations. They’ve also shown they can take and hold territory.
That said, ISIS and their allies are far from unbeatable. However, it will take more than tough talk. It will require a unified campaign from an international coalition, including forces from the USA, the Middle East, and Europe. Most of all, it will require the will to win, including putting somebody’s “boots on the ground,” if necessary.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.