Gradual Escalation

We’ve been taking potshots at ISIS targets, ostensibly to bring relief materials to the Yezidis trapped on mountaintop in northern Iraq. The potshots, though, are having a different effect.

Islamic militant forces in northern Iraq appear to be shifting tactics….

[U]ntil now [ISIS] was behaving like a well-organized army, moving with strategic intent and pursuing military objectives. Now, officials are seeing at least a partial shift to classic insurgency tactics, as militants begin to blend in among the population, making targeting more difficult.

“One of the things that we have seen…is that where [ISIS] have been in the open, they are now starting to dissipate and to hide amongst the people,” LtGen William Mayville Jr, Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. “The targeting in this is going to become more difficult.”

This, of course, is the result of having ignored the lessons of Viet Nam, specifically the failure of gradual escalation, which leaves the enemy room and time in which to adapt and respond. It also continues to underestimate ISIS: they’re maintaining their strategic intent and military objectives they’ve always had; they’re only changing tactics—just like in Vietnam.

These initial air “attacks” should have been massive and sustained, destroying the terrorists’ formations over a broad swath and while they were still in the open, still concentrated, and still easy targets. Moreover, such a heavy, sustained campaign would have made the Kurds’ Peshmerga’s task easier.

[M]ilitants can be hard to discern from civilians,” said Michael Rubin, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

“Are you going to risk having someone come on to a helicopter or into a crowd that’s actually a suicide bomber?”

This is the situation into which Obama’s…tactic…has placed the Peshmerga—and us.

[I]n order for the airstrikes to be effective at this stage, US ground forces would be needed to permanently push the group formerly known as ISIS back—something that has been ruled out by Obama administration officials.

This is not the case, and it’s a surprising misunderstanding by Jennifer Griffin, the author of the above linked article. Ground forces—the Peshmerga—already are in place; US ground forces aren’t needed, and the Kurds aren’t asking for them. All the Peshmerga need are those weapons and ammunition that have been “promised”—an Obama-style commitment—and that still are being withheld.

This business of gradual escalation—or of a too light response—is a lesson writ large from our gradual escalation failure in Vietnam. This is a lesson of which the present administration is fully aware and is studiously is ignoring, since to acknowledge the prior failure would be to acknowledge the failure of the present administration’s disdain for US military power in any place in the world.

There is no military solution? Tell that to tomorrow’s historians studying how the extermination of the Yezidis came about. Tell that to the daughters of the surviving Kurds, living—sort of—as ISIS sex slaves. That will be, after all, the outcome of the current decision to ignore that lesson and to allow, thereby, ISIS to continue its…advance.

Or we don’t escalate at all, we stay with the pin pricks, we don’t try to get ahead of the terrorists’ evolving tactics, and we meekly accept defeat.

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