Secretary of State John Kerry took to the op-ed pages to defend the U.S.-led war on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to a public "weary" of "US involvement" in the conflict.
Let's start by explaining what this fight is not. It is not a clash of civilizations. Muslim scholars are outraged about the Islamic State's brutality and perversion of Islam, calling its savagery deviant and heretical. Sunni and Shiite alike have joined forces against this outrage. The coalition represents a unified response, as evidenced by the remarkable and unprecedented participation of five Arab countries in the air strikes in Syria. And that's just the beginning. There is a role for every nation, from helping to dry up outside funding and stopping the flow of foreign fighters to taking direct military action and providing humanitarian assistance.
This is not the prelude to another US ground war in the Middle East. President Obama has said repeatedly that US ground troops will not engage in combat roles. He means it. I volunteered to serve and fought in a war I came to believe was a mistake. I take that lesson seriously. This will not be another one of those interventions.
President Obama may have said repeatedly that US ground troops won't engage in combat roles, but President Obama says a lot of things. He also repeatedly said he ended the war in Iraq until that was blamed for the growth of ISIS, at which point he said he had no idea where the idea he ended the war in Iraq came from.
More importantly, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the joint chiefs of staff chairman, has indicated U.S. combat troops would be necessary if coalition partners failed.
About that coalition: John Kerry claims "more than 60 countries" are part of the anti-ISIS coalition. He doesn't provide a list, and one has never been made easily available. I searched for some time for a list of the 40 countries who participated in the ISIS conference in Paris earlier this month but couldn't find one. Although the U.S. points to Arab participation in airstrikes in Syria, which countries participated wasn't initially disclosed by the U.S. but by an anonymous source to CNN.
The appeal to a broad coalition as justification for military intervention is just another rhetorical tool adopted by the Obama Administration from the Bush Administration, like the decision to stress that ISIS is evil. Back in 2004, when Kerry was running against President Bush, he ridiculed the president for appealing to his broad coalition as justification for the war in Iraq.