President Obama’s decision to carry out airstrikes against Islamic State terrorists in Iraq was made with deep reluctance. He resisted calls from the Iraqi government for such strikes for a year. And when he finally did authorize them, he made clear that the US campaign would be limited in scope – only to prevent the Islamic State from overrunning US diplomatic facilities in northern Iraq (for fear of another Benghazi), massacring Yazidis and controlling the Mosul Dam.
But according to The Wall Street Journal, the success of those initial strikes has created pressure on Obama to expand the American air campaign.
In an article titled “US Airstrike Success Spurs Push for More Iraq Attacks,” the Journal reports:
The US military’s recent success in weakening Islamic State extremists and pushing them away from a key dam in Iraq is creating momentum for a broader campaign that could take American air power to the militant group’s heartland northwest of Baghdad.
Military planners are considering new airstrikes to prevent militants with the Islamic State from taking control of another strategic site, the Haditha Dam, which lies in Iraq’s Sunni stronghold of Anbar Province, US officials said Tuesday….
The prospect of expanding America’s role has set off debate within the Obama administration and the military…. It isn’t clear how American airstrikes in Anbar would fit under Mr. Obama’s stated rationale for renewed military operations in Iraq. Earlier this month, the president said the US military was launching strikes to protect American military and civilian personnel working in Iraq and to prevent Islamic State forces from wiping out the Yazidis.
Obama’s natural instinct would be to resist this pressure to expand the US military role in Iraq, and even to curtail the current air campaign once the limited objectives he set out have been met.
But now, thanks to the beheading of American journalist James Foley, Obama cannot curtail US military action, without appearing to give in to terrorist demands.
In the video they released showing Foley’s brutal execution, they force him to read a statement blaming Obama’s airstrikes for his death. And they threaten to behead another American journalist, Steven Sotloff, depending on Obama’s “next decision” with regard to the air campaign.
This sinister threat makes it impossible for Obama to scale back US airstrikes. If he does, the terrorists will believe that their brutal execution tactics worked. The world will believe it as well, sending a signal of American weakness in the face of terrorist threats. And it will create incentives for the Islamic State to capture more Americans, whose lives they can threaten to deter US military action.
In other words, Obama really has no choice but to continue the American air campaign – whether he wants to or not.
Follow AEIdeas on Twitter at @AEIdeas.