Taking America off a permanent war footing is proving harder than President Barack Obama may have suggested.
U.S. troops are back in Iraq, the endgame in Afghanistan is requiring more troops — and perhaps more risks — than once expected and Obama is saddled with a worsening, high-stakes conflict in Syria.
Last spring, Obama described to newly minted Army officers at West Point how “the landscape has changed” after a decade of war. He cited then-dwindling conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he said Osama bin Laden, whose plotting from an al-Qaida sanctuary in Afghanistan gave rise to what became America’s longest war, “is no more.”
“You are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan,” Obama declared to a burst of applause.
But once again the landscape has changed.
Once again the U.S. is engaged in combat in Iraq — not by soldiers on the ground but by pilots in the sky. And the Pentagon is putting “boots on the ground” to retrain and advise Iraqi soldiers how to fight a new menace: the Islamic State militants who emerged from the Iraq insurgency that U.S. troops fought from 2003-2011.
Once again there are worsening crises demanding U.S. military intervention, including in Syria. Four months after his speech at the U.S. Military Academy, Obama authorized American pilots, joined by Arab allies, to begin bombing Islamic State targets with the aim of undermining the group’s base and weakening its grip in Iraq.