by Bob Wheeler


The recent terrorist attacks, first against a Russian airliner in the Sinai Peninsula and then in Paris last week underscores what a deadly threat the so-called “Islamic State” is to the rest of the world. It is a threat that can no longer be ignored.

French President Francois Hollande said that the international community, led by the United States and Russia, must overcome its divisions over policy in Syria and unite to destroy the Islamic State. “Syria has become the biggest factory of terrorism the world has ever known,” he said, “and the international community is still too divided and too incoherent.”

And yet President Obama is still reluctant to take action. He insists that his current strategy will yield results, but says that it will take time.

The problem is that we don’t have time. The Islamic State is attacking Western targets now. France is a NATO ally, and NATO members are supposed to regard an attack on one as an attack on all. Why, then, doesn’t NATO act?

In a way President Obama’s reluctance is understandable. Whether or not to wage war is one of the most important and yet difficult decisions that any president will ever make. And nowhere is the dilemma more perplexing than in the Middle East. Embroiled in perpetual sectarian conflict, with little hope for the successful establishment of anything resembling democracy, the risks are great and the potential benefits are small. And any president who commits American troops to combat knows that some of them will be coming back home in body bags.

And yet President Obama’s current strategy couldn’t be more misguided and ineffective. It essentially combines the worst of both possible options. On the one hand we are involved in the conflict just enough to antagonize the enemy and give them a pretext to attack us. And yet, on the other hand, we are not committed enough to win a decisive victory and remove the threat. We are, instead, relying on proxy forces in the region whose motives and tactics are sometimes questionable motives and tactics. And by taking a slow, gradual approach President Obama is simply giving ISIS more time in which to stage attacks.

Either we are at war or we are not at war. And it is apparent to nearly everyone besides President Obama that we are at war. We are bombing targets there and they have openly declared their intention to destroy us. And if we at war we must fight to win. As long as the enemy has a base from which to operate they will continue to attack us. The only way to eliminate the threat is to seize territory, and that will require a ground invasion. It is only when the “Islamic State” ceases to exist that it will cease to be a threat.

It is quite likely that the “Islamic State” is looking for just such an apocalyptic confrontation with the West. But the stark reality is that they are a threat to us now, and that threat will not go away until we win a decisive victory on the ground over them.

No doubt a ground invasion will be costly. We must be prepared for a long occupation. And it will not completely eliminate the threat of radical Islam. But ISIS has given us no choice: they are waging war against us now. It is foolish to pretend otherwise.

The sooner we act the better. The longer we wait the more innocent civilians will pay with their lives. Our best option at this point is to respond with massive force and win a decisive victory as quickly as possible. The time to act is now.