ISIS Crisis After Brussels: Obama's Approach May Yet Help Trump and Hurt Hillary

Well, wasn't that just perfect? Sunday's Brussels "March Against Fear" cancelled. For fear of terrorist attack.

More than four months after the stunning Isis terror attacks on Paris, our European allies clearly remain thoroughly disorganized. And the US, the leader of NATO, not incidentally, while fortunate not to have such a large and until recently growing group of potential recruits within as does Europe, is hardly doing better. President Barack Obama, who infamously spent more time tangoing in Argentina than he did publicly addressing the stunning terrorist strike on the capital of the European Union, hasn't done much more to get after Isis than he had done before and after Paris. Not to mention San Bernardino.

As a result, crude though Donald Trump and the other still marginally potential Republican presidential nominee Ted Cruz most assuredly are, Obama is doing his preferred successor Hillary Clinton no real favors here. Nor, more alarmingly, is he offering much in the way of a creative and tough profile in leadership on Isis, which he has repeatedly -- if ever so belatedly -- declared a huge threat.

As a result, that consummate creature of the media culture Donald Trump has a very big opportunity.

Obama tangos in Argentina in the aftermath of the Brussels terrorist attacks. The tune is the same one Arnold Schwarzenegger dances to in True Lies.

Over four months ago, just after the Paris horror show, I discussed a number of things that any serious ongoing student of national security affairs would identify as priorities for Obama and his rather vast National Security Council apparat as it takes on Isis. Though the Obama administration has labored mightily in the media, especially since Obama drew major flack for tangoing away in Argentina with next to nothing to say about Brussels, to show anti-Isis progress -- these recent reports of top Isis leaders killed in the otherwise top secret drone wars are unfortunately reminiscent of similar Bush/Cheney reports about Al Qaeda leaders as the Iraq occupation was going up in flames -- the reality is that the most impactful anti-Isis news of the week is something carried out by folks that Washington likes to diss.

In Syria, Assad regime forces, facilitated by major Russian air strikes, just took Palmyra back from Isis. The fact is that Vladimir Putin's Syrian venture has been far more successful than Obama's. Which is a pretty good talking point for Trump, that great admirer of Putin.

Better still, for the billionaire bully boy, that is, is what Obama might have done but did not.

The key to defeating Isis was, and, sadly, still is, to destroy its lines of communication, both in the usual sense of the word and its military connotation.

A new anti-Isis alliance, which was unfortunately derailed when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter-bomber which strayed over its territory for a few seconds and has yet to re-emerge as a serious potential, should immediately move to shut down the ability of Isis and its supporters to communicate and propagandize across social media and the Internet as a whole. All their sites should be wiped out, their nodes of operation destroyed or denied to them. Isis has declared war on the West, so its online presence should be deleted.

More than four months after Paris, this has not happened.

Turning to the more military sense of lines of communication, the ability of Isis to fund itself, both through business revenues and fundraising from other extreme religious ideologues, should be eliminated.

That means going after Islamic State commerce, especially the transport of oil, as the US has done rather fitfully and as Russia did more consistently before achieving its most important mission of saving the Assad regime and extending its basing in Syria.

More than four months after Paris, this has not happened.

Air strikes are of limited utility in cities but they are especially effective against targets moving out in the open, where they are vulnerable and more separated from non-combatants.

The US Navy has an especially big role to play with oil that makes its way outside Islamic State territory. It should be seized or destroyed as contraband of war wherever it is discovered. And anyone who is in possession of this oil or who facilitates its movement should be forcibly detained as co-conspirators, their vessels or other conveyances sunk or otherwise destroyed. It appears Isis is getting some sophisticated help. There should be no Switzerlands in this conflict.

In addition to Isis commerce, Isis fundraising needs to be shut down.

More than four months after Paris, this has not happened.

Our dear friends in Saudi Arabia and some of the other oil-rich Gulf Arab states have, despite their pledges, mostly pulled a disappearing act in the anti-Isis war. Rather than confronting the psychotically extreme Sunnis of Isis, they are much more interested in countering Shiite Iran and pursuing their still sputtering war in Yemen against Iranian sympathizers and tribes that dislike the House of Saud.

While they've helped little in the actual fighting against Isis, they can play a much more important role. We need them to shut down the flow of funds from extremist religious sympathizers in their countries to Isis. And to make sure that they are in no way facilitating the flow of commerce for Islamic State.

In addition to waging cyber war, financial war, and aerial war, an enhanced ground component, inserted by air into Islamic State territory, may be effective. Not a conventional invasion per se for the purpose of seizing large swathes of territory but something non-linear; namely, the establishment of forward operating bases for elite special ops, airborne, light infantry, and marine forces from several nations to conduct devastating raids along the internal road system and against other targets of opportunity.

Technically, these bases, established by aerial incursion in empty stretches of Islamic State territory, could be easily surrounded. So much the better to lure Isis forces into the open where they can be destroyed by tactical air assets and tanks, mobile artillery, and rocket launchers.

More than four months after Paris, this has not happened.

France and Russia have plenty of elite troops to carry out this raiding function. If they want, the British, historically very good at this sort of thing, can join the party, too, along with other NATO members, since the Paris attacks fall under NATO's mutual security pact. Iranian forces may or may not be interested in joining in, but it's best to avoid running afoul of the Sunni-Shia divide.

The US ground role can remain very limited, with a focus on more spotting for air attacks and logistical operations. The principal US role can remain air-oriented, with US forces taking the lead in intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, air ops coordination, aerial refueling, and the resupply of ground elements inside Islamic State.

Quite ridiculously, more than four months after Paris, very little has been done. Isis-controlled territory is being rolled back, but only incrementally. And the same, more crucially, is the situation with regard to Isis commerce, especially the oil trade.

Despite our massive capability in surveillance, satellite and all forms of electronic, even the Obama administration claims that little more than a quarter of Isis commerce has been shut down since Paris.

Not surprisingly, the Russian media is crowing over the capture of the crucial Syrian city of Palmyra from Isis.

That's just lame for an administration which has so aggressively pursued a global surveillance apparat.

The sad reality is that Obama got Isis wrong from the beginning. As I wrote at the time, he wasted months on analysis/paralysis and diplomatic dithering while Isis swept across Syria and Iraq before he finally intervened with air strikes. Meanwhile, Isis had grown into something of unprecedented scope.

Obama is right to be extremely wary of military interventionism. Which has not stopped him from such a big mistake as the pointless and predictably failed escalation in Afghanistan.

The president wasted a lot of time on analysis/paralysis with Afghanistan, too.

The reality is that sometimes the trigger does need to be pulled. And pulled fast, too. With Isis, Obama has been consistently late and light.

With a couple more terrorist spectaculars, his preferred successor may well be in even more trouble than she is already.

Trump, as I may have mentioned on occasion with more than a little vituperation, is an international embarrassment who would help the jihadists more than hurt. And his aggressive know-nothingism remains an especially appalling and depressingly dominant presence in the media culture. But he is also crazy like a fox.

While his efforts over the last week to appear presidential provided more than enough new fodder for knowledgeable observers convinced he is a dangerous buffoon, he is also crazy like a fox. I don't believe he doesn't have more advisors than the paltry handful he named on geopolitics and national security. He's probably just not saying who the others are, in part to preserve their anonymity and part to extend his own would-be superhero mystique.

He's beginning to present a leadership profile that doesn't make sense from a conventional standpoint -- dissing NATO as a bunch of free riders on the American dime at a time when the transatlantic alliance needs strengthening -- but might prove appealing to a less than sophisticated mass audience.

Trump's talking, basically, a new version of "America First" which is nonetheless non-isolationist, one that would supposedly play to his Art of the Deal strengths. If he plays the role with bravura and sophistication, it just might fly.

Trump is unelectable, you say, with historic unfavorable ratings? Maybe. But Hillary isn't far behind on that high unfavorables front and the night is young. (Bernie Sanders, you say, with better ratings? Sure, at the moment, because nobody much has been attacking him or his honeymoon-in-the-Soviet Union past. I like him and he is a major force. He has also been stomped by Hillary in most primary elections -- trailing her in the actual Democratic popular vote by nearly 2.6 million -- relying instead on good showings in low-turnout/activist-oriented caucus states for his big but decidedly trailing haul of national convention delegates.)

Which is another way of saying that a couple more terrorist spectaculars while Obama tangos, with an economic downdraft thrown in for good measure, and there will be no Democratic laughter and champagne on the evening of November 8th.

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