Short on firepower

From an editorial Tuesday in The Washington Post:

In launching two previous wars in Iraq, the United States assembled formidable coalitions of dozens of countries.

By those standards, the results thus far of the Obama administration’s efforts to marshal an alliance to fight the self-described Islamic State look meager. In Paris on Monday, two dozen governments pledged to help fight the extremists, but only a handful – not yet including Britain – have so far agreed to participate in air combat missions in Iraq, and none has yet signed on to support prospective U.S. air strikes in Syria. Nor is any sending combat troops.

The attenuated support reflects in part the complicated politics of the fight against the Islamic State, which controls a New England-size swath of territory across Iraq and Syria and commands tens of thousands of militants.

In large part, however, the restraint has been fostered by President Obama himself. Mr. Obama rejected the recommendation of his top military commanders that U.S. Special Operations forces be deployed to assist Iraqi army units in fighting the rebels, and Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the administration has turned aside troop offers by other nations.

Mr. Obama is right to seek the empowerment of the Iraqi and Syrian forces and to fashion a broad agenda for a regional alliance. But in the end the Islamic State will have to be defeated on the battlefield. In that respect, the alliance the administration is constructing looks underpowered.