Foreign Affairs offers insight on the Obama administration’s ISIS strategy from a recent war game hosted in conjunction with the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security:
When the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham broke into the headlines in early 2014 after conquering Fallujah, the group was not taken very seriously. Responding to a question about the recent successes of groups flying al Qaeda’s flag, U.S. President Barack Obama said that “if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” By midsummer, after ISIS seized control of large sections of Syria and Iraq and declared a new caliphate, the snark started turning into panic. And by early 2015, ISIS had displaced al Qaeda as the hottest brand in global jihad.
Shocked into mounting some sort of response to these developments, the Obama administration pressed for a new Iraqi government, sent aid to Baghdad and the Kurds up north, launched air attacks against ISIS targets, and tried to put together an anti-ISIS coalition. These measures helped stem the group’s advances, and in recent months it has begun losing some of the ground it had gained. But with affiliates popping up across the Middle East and foreign fighters continuing to flood in, the group is still very much a problem. And with the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign heating up, attacks on the Obama administration’s ISIS policy are becoming a staple of American political discussion.