THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE ISLAMIC STATE: KEY ISSUES AND DEMANDS FOR ACTION FROM THE ADMINISTRATION AND CONGRESS
By Anthony H. Cordesman
16 Sep 14. If there is any one lesson of the Afghan and Iraq Wars, it is that it is far easier to begin a conflict than to manage it well and achieve a meaningful form of victory. The President’s announcement of a strategy for seeking to degrade and destroy the Islamic State — and de facto Congressional acceptance of the need to fight a new conflict — has now committed the United States to a high risk, low-level war of indefinite duration.
Winning that war will require persistence, resources, effective planning and management, and sustained domestic and international political support. The Obama Administration now needs to show that it will both commit the necessary resources, and manage them effectively. It needs to show that it is doing its best to address the key risks it has accepted in going to war. It needs to provide an honest picture of the course of the fighting and its impact on the stability and security of the region.
This means that the Administration must show that it recognizes the problems in dealing with the threat, in dealing with an extremely uncertain “host country” partner like Iraq, and in coping with lasting instability in Syria. It must show that it has a coherent policy for dealing with Iran, and that it has done its best to create an effective alliance with other regional powers. It also needs to show that it has recognized some of the key failings in the way the United States conducted the Afghan and Iraq Wars, and minimize the extent to which the United States is a threat to itself.
The U.S. Congress, too, needs to be far more competent and responsible than it has been in dealing with the Afghan and Iraq Wars. It needs to do far more than provide some form of formal support and funding for the President’s strategy in dealing with the Islamic State. It needs to regularly address whether that strategy is effectively resourced and assess its level of success. Congress needs to examine the quality and effectiveness of civil-military plans and programs, and how the Administration adapts to risks and problems it confronts. It needs to ensure that the Administration provides an effective accounting of the cost of the war.
To do this, the Congress must demand both full transparency in the Executive Branch’s reporting to Congress and as much transparency as possible on reporting on progress in the war, to the media and to the American people.
The Need for Transparency, Accountability, and Integrity
One of the grim lessons of Vietnam, the Afghan War, and the previous conflict in Iraq is the extent to which various elements of the U.S. government can lose sight of the realities of war, and “spin” the real course of the war. It is a warning of the extent to which very different Administrations could omit key data and trends from reporting to Congress and the public, create false images of host nation allied cooperation, disguise a critical lack of effective resources, and disguise an equally critical lack of coordination between civil and military efforts and key elements of U.S. intelligence.
There is a need for operational security and to avoid public disclosures that threaten success and U.S. and allied forces. There is a need for diplomatic secrecy in dealing with host countries and other states. These needs, however, must be fully justified and this time, the Congress should insist that we keep over-classification, puff and spin, and lies by omission to a minimum.
Our wars from Vietnam on have shown that security and over-classification have been systematically used to disguise, in both military and civil efforts, a lack of coordination with the U.S. effort and with allies, problems, overspending and waste, a lack of effective plans, and a lack of meaningful measures of effectiveness.
These abuses of security and over-classification are all too