The United States must "destroy the Islamic State" (ISIS) in Iraq and must "prevent a new terrorist state from emerging in the Middle East," former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton said Thursday.
"It is simply not enough to block the group's threat to the Kurds or other vulnerable minorities in the region," Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said in an op-ed piece in National Review.
"The risks of even a relatively small 'state' … are chilling.
"Leaving the Islamic State in place and in control only of its current turf in Iraq and Syria … would make it viable economically and a fearsome refuge for terrorists of all sorts," he added. "Just as Afghanistan's Taliban gave al-Qaida a base of operations to launch terrorist attacks culminating in 9/11, a similar result could follow if the Islamic State successfully erased and then redrew existing boundaries."
Bolton's piece came amid increasing pressure
on President Barack Obama and within the Pentagon to increase airstrikes against ISIS in response to the beheading of American journalist James Foley.
Senior officers at Central Command, which controls military operations in the Middle East, have called on the Pentagon to expand the list of possible target sites in Iraq, several officials told The Military Times.
In his op-ed, Bolton slammed Obama's "belated, narrow authorization" for targeted airstrikes earlier this month — saying that they do not "constitute a coherent response, let alone a comprehensive one.
"The president seems curiously inactive, even as American influence in the region collapses and, not coincidentally, his political approval ratings suffer," Bolton added. "From the outset of the Islamic State's campaign, his policies have been haphazard and confused, especially the halting, timid decision to intervene militarily.
"And, based on his record as president, there is no reason to believe a strategic vision of the Middle East's future will ultimately emerge from his administration."
The former ambassador, who is considering a GOP run for the White House in 2016, said that Obama's decision to pull out of Baghdad in 2011 caused the rise of ISIS in the first place.
"By so doing, he eliminated a considerable element of U.S. leverage in Baghdad, one that had significantly limited Iran's ability to expand its influence inside Iraq," Bolton said.
"With substantial U.S. forces still present, Iraq's various ethnic and confessional groups were more likely to make progress knitting together a sustainable national government and to lessen their profound, longstanding mistrust, which existed well before the Islamic State erupted from Syria."
As such, the United States is faced with "some unpleasant choices" in Iraq — and these must include the broader "recognition of the obvious reality that many policy options are simply unavailable until Obama leaves office in 2017," Bolton said.
Turning to the immediate issue on ISIS, "U.S. forces are already involved, and will need to be involved more substantially until the Islamic State is defeated," he said, but the "primary actual ground combat can be handled by adequately armed and equipped Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Sunni tribal militias in Iraq" and those Sunni soldiers who oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"U.S. air power, supplies, and intelligence will be central, but we should seek all possible assistance, including financial support from our allies globally," Bolton said.
Once ISIS is wiped out, the United States must be realistic about forging peace in Iraq amid the strong sectarian differences there.
"Iraqi 'unity' increasingly seems like a mirage in the foreseeable future and perhaps forever," Bolton said. "Just as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia fragmented into their component parts two decades ago, that is likely what is now happening in Iraq.
"Unavoidably, therefore, we must identify what is doable in Iraq rather than what is desirable. We are long past the point of debating 'one Iraq' versus 'three Iraqs,' because fierce animosities have already split Iraq de facto into Kurdistan and the predominantly Arab remainder. The only outstanding issue is whether the Arab lands will themselves break into two, one largely Sunni, the other largely Shiite.
"Helping to create three Iraqs looks to be America's best option," Bolton concluded. "Our metric today, looking forward, is not whether the Platonic ideal of a unified, democratic Iraq might once have been achieved, or might yet be achieved unknowable years hence. Instead, we must proceed on the clear-eyed basis of what America's interests are now, choosing among less-than-ideal options."
But, most importantly, "we simply must stop blundering around in the vacuum of strategic thinking Obama has created during his presidency," Bolton said. "Real progress must obviously await Obama's 2017 departure from office, but we should plan now to replace his failed policies."
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