Editorials

Solidarity, but no change in strategy against Islamic State

President Barack Obama consulted Tuesday with French President Francois Hollande.
President Barack Obama consulted Tuesday with French President Francois Hollande. The Associated Press

With French President Francois Hollande at his side for the first time since the Paris attacks, President Barack Obama eloquently called on Americans to uphold our ideals and not succumb to fear in the fight against terrorism.

But he sorely disappointed those expecting an escalation or sweeping change in strategy against the Islamic State. In a joint news conference at the White House on Tuesday, Obama and Hollande vowed to continue airstrikes in Iraq and Syria but dismissed calls for sending large forces of U.S. or French ground troops.

They’re right: There is still no compelling case that a Western-led ground war would guarantee long-term success. Instead, the two leaders emphasized that rooting out the Islamic State in Syria is intertwined with ending the bloody civil war there – and that requires more intensive diplomacy toward a political settlement. It was already difficult because the international coalition is fractured: The U.S. and the West want to depose Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, but Russia and Iran are backing him.

It became even more contentious and complicated Tuesday when Turkey, a NATO ally of the U.S. and France, shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin reacted with his typical bluster, calling the incident a “stab in the back” by “accomplices of terrorists” and warning of “serious consequences.”

Obama and Hollande, who plans to meet Putin on Thursday, had the proper reaction. They called on Russia and Turkey not to escalate tensions and urged Russia to better coordinate air operations. Obama argued that the risk of such incidents would be lower if Russian jets targeted the Islamic State, not rebels opposing Assad.

The president has sent more U.S. special forces units into Syria to help direct airstrikes, but he acknowledged that airstrikes will not be enough. He should consider sending more weapons and other military aid to Kurds and Sunnis bearing the brunt of fighting the Islamic State.

Obama asserted that thousands of Islamic State fighters and a good number of commanders have been killed, but said his national security team is reviewing how to accelerate progress.

The president correctly pointed out, however, that defeating this vicious terrorist group goes far beyond the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.

Obama and Hollande had the proper reaction. They called on Russia and Turkey not to escalate tensions and urged Russia to better coordinate air operations.

It means renewing our solidarity with allies including France, which supported the American Revolution and was liberated from the Nazis with the blood of thousands of Americans. “We owe our freedom to each other,” Obama said.

America must stay true to our ideals, and that includes welcoming Syrian refugees who are fleeing the terror, not demonizing them. It requires keeping our way of life, even while staying vigilant. “Americans will not be terrorized,” Obama said.

Parisians have certainly shown resilience since the Nov. 13 attacks killed 130 civilians from some 20 nations. Both Obama and Hollande said that it will be a powerful rebuke to the Islamic State when 150 world leaders gather in Paris next week for crucial talks on climate change.

The terrorists and jihadis want to divide the world into true believers of their hideous ideology and nonbelievers. What better way to expose the lie behind their madness than for the global community to join together for the future of humanity.

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