It should come as no surprise that Turkey so far refuses to put boots on the ground to fight the ISIS takeover of Kobane, a beseiged Kurdish town across Turkey's border with Syria. While there is much to criticize about our erstwhile NATO ally's government, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has clearly made a calculation that he can't trust the United States — or more accurately, that he can't trust this administration. And why should he?
The level of confusion, incompetence and lack of will President Obama has demonstrated in dealing with the multiple crises that face us in the Middle East is mind numbing. He has ordered airstrikes against ISIS, too late and too few, but he has refused to allow the military to do its job well. Without Special Forces spotters on the ground, an air campaign cannot be entirely effective.
In a remarkable breach of protocol, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made it clear in congressional testimony in mid-September that we should not rule out the use of U.S. ground troops, despite the president's multiple declarations that no Americans would fight this war except from the air.
The administration is asking Turkish troops to fight ISIS alongside Kurds, their traditional foes, but is unwilling to commit our troops to stand with them? We have the best-trained, most experienced fighters in the world, but we won't allow them to battle a brutal army that not only is capturing wide swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, but also has announced its aims to bring jihad to American soil?
What Obama has shown is a willingness to draw red lines and then allow them to be crossed, as he did in Syria. He's shown himself quite adept at squandering the blood and treasure spent in Iraq by withdrawing American troops precipitously, which virtually guaranteed the collapse of the country we are now witnessing.
The president's fecklessness on this has come under increased scrutiny in recent days with the publication of a memoir by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who lays bare Obama's false claim that he withdrew troops because Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wouldn't agree to let them stay. The president chose to pull out all of our troops at once rather than personally pushing for a status of forces agreement that would have kept Iraq from coming apart at the seams.
Obama has put together a shaky coalition to fight ISIS, but without American leadership — which means our willingness to use all of the resources at our disposal — how can we possibly hope that others will do the job we are unwilling to do?
No one, at this point, is suggesting that the United States send in battalions of fighters, but it makes no sense that we tie the military's hands behind their backs by limiting ourselves to airstrikes without the proper U.S. intelligence on the ground to make them effective. Of course, there is always the danger that once we put Special Forces and military advisers on the ground, we'll end up needing to deploy more troops. But wars cannot be won by announcing to our enemies what we cannot or will not do — or the day on which we will withdraw, regardless of the conditions on the ground, which is what Obama has done in Afghanistan.
When asked by Bill O'Reilly this week in his much discussed interview whether our enemies fear us, Panetta said, "I think they're getting a mixed message as to whether the United States will stand by its word."
It is not only our enemies who are getting mixed messages — which is dangerous enough. It is also our allies. Under this president, America's word is becoming worth less and less. It is easy enough to point fingers at those who should take up the fight against Islamist extremism, not least those countries and governments that have helped foster it. But when the United States cannot be counted on to fully engage the struggle, no one else will fill the vacuum.