Dâ'ish is being defeated
Obama's approach -- limiting the Western role in the war to support and airstrikes while Kurdish and Arab forces do most of the actual ground fighting -- has been producing results. It's just that many Americans are unaware of this because the American media tend to under-report war stories which do not feature Americans in a leading role.
When Dâ'ish attacked the Kurdish city of Sinjar in northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, most of its population (adherents of the Yazidi religion, which Sunni extremists such as Dâ'ish view as Satanic) fled to the nearby mountains, but ended up still trapped by enemy forces intent on massacring or enslaving them (as we know from what they did to those Yazidis they did capture). After Obama ordered American airstrikes on Dâ'ish troops in the area, Kurdish forces were able to fight their way through to the besieged civilians and rescue them. Thousands of lives were saved, without American casualties.
From September 2014 to January 2015 the Kurds successfully held off Dâ'ish forces besieging the Kurdish town of Kobani in northern Syria, inflicting substantial casualties on Dâ'ish in the process. The Western role was limited to air support and pressuring Turkey to allow Kurdish fighters from northern Iraq to cross Turkish territory to get to Kobani. The Kurds have held Kobani since the siege despite further attacks.
These were essentially defensive victories, but they invigorated our allies' morale -- the evacuation of Sinjar may someday be seen as Kurdistan's Dunkirk. More recently they've gone on the offensive. Last month the Kurds liberated Sinjar, a victory of strategic as well as symbolic importance, since it cuts the main highway connecting the Dâ'ish capital Raqqah with Mosul, the largest city under Dâ'ish control. Again, the Western role was limited to support and air cover. Right now the Iraqi army is in the process of recapturing Ramadi -- the capital of Anbar, Iraq's largest province -- from Dâ'ish.
In Ramadi, much of the Western support is being provided by Australia, which highlights another way in which the war is changing. The recent wave of terrorist attacks by Dâ'ish outside its own territory -- the suicide bombings in Lebanon, the destruction of the Russian airliner over Sinai, the Paris killings, and the San Bernardino shooting -- represent the frustrated lashing out of an enemy which is losing the real war on every front and is desperate to show it still has claws. Their main effect, however, has been to draw more and more countries into a bigger role in the struggle. Russia in particular has begun striking Dâ'ish much harder, and US diplomacy has sought to narrow the gap between US and Russian goals in the region, to allow for better cooperation against the main enemy. The US has escalated its own role, recently killing several more Dâ'ish leaders.
In view of all this, Republican politicians' premise that the US is doing virtually nothing against Dâ'ish and that the enemy is rampaging unchecked seems astonishing, until you realize that their lies and distortions are aimed at a party voting base made up mostly of the least-educated elements in the US, people who have no clue where Sinjar or Ramadi are even located, never mind about the complex relationships among the various ethnic and religious groups in Iraq and Syria or the roles of nearby state actors such as Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Anything above the level of clichés like "boots on the ground" or "bomb the shit out of" something or other, would be about as effective with this audience as efforts to explain climate science, and for similar reasons.
Republicans seem to want large-scale involvement of American ground forces and/or much more massive, indiscriminate bombing without regard to civilian casualties. The former option would risk heavy American losses in a fight which is fundamentally not ours, while putting the whole effort at the mercy of unpredictable fluctuations in US public opinion, especially if Dâ'ish started posting videos of American prisoners being murdered in some horrific fashion, as would almost certainly happen. The indiscriminate-bombing option would kill huge numbers of innocent people who are anything but Dâ'ish supporters, provoking an anti-American backlash all over the Middle East -- which is what Dâ'ish itself has been trying to do with its recent terrorist attacks and the anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence that followed.
Putting out a fire by spraying it with water may be a frustratingly slow process, but dousing it with gasoline instead, however temporarily satisfying, is not the answer. Limiting our role to supporting Middle Eastern forces, who have by far the most at stake and who understand their region better than we do, is the correct approach. By pandering to those who hunger for sound and fury but understand nothing, the Republicans show once again that they are not fit to lead a superpower.
[Image at top: Liberated territory, probably Sinjar -- Kurdish woman soldier with Dâ'ish billboard dictating female dress code]