Leadership and Grand Strategy (Part 4)

By | September 11, 2014

[September 11, 2014] Last night the U.S. President gave a speech on his strategy for dealing with the security threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – the president calls them the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL). More later on the meaning of “ISIL,” which refers to a much broader land area than Iraq and Syria. I believe that the president can be given excellent marks for a well delivered speech. If one took a vote, I’m sure the results would reflect a partisan divide and there are some “good” and “needs improvement” areas. Regardless, the president did lay out his end-state; “the U.S. will do with our friends and allies degrade and ultimately destroy [emphasis mine] the terrorist group known as ISIL.”1

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Flag of Syria

Here is the essence of the strategy. The president said the U.S. is “meeting them [ISIS] with strength and resolve.” He went on to say that this is being done through the use of “precision airstrikes.” But he also stated, appropriately, that it is up to our “Arab partners in securing the region.” “American will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.” Actually, this is pretty good stuff for a strategy but it is certainly no grand strategy. More good news from the speech – the president said he will ask for Congresses approval for additional authorities and resources to train and equipment moderate anti-ISIS forces in Syria.

As expected, there was also a lot of criticism. The strongest argument is that the president has little credibility in the region. He has had to “walk back” a number of statements about ISIS and the region. For example, he called ISIS a JV team; meaning subpar and not up to the task. He also gave Syria a “red line” on chemical weapons. Other critics say that the methods for achieving the destruction of ISIS, through airstrikes and a coalition, is unworkable. Most students of military history know that if you want to truly destroy an army or nation, then you need to use all available resources of the nation-state. He spent a lot of time on explaining to us that ISIS is un-Islamic and that no religion condones the killing of innocents.

We know the enemy was listening. ISIS and other terrorist groups throughout the world heard what was said. Did anything said scare them or make them change their plans? I believe the answer would be … no. Nevertheless, overall, the U.S. President gets a pretty good grade for his strategy. And now that the easy part is over, the proof is in the walk down a dangerous lane.

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[1] Transcript of the U.S. President’s speech: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/09/10/statement-president-isil-1



Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.