(Vox) During the State of the Union, President Obama made a big claim about the war against ISIS. "In Iraq and Syria," the President said, "American leadership — including our military power — is stopping [ISIS]'s advance."
The phrasing here is careful. Obama isn't claiming that the US has ISIS on the brink of defeat: indeed, the United States has made very little progress towards pushing ISIS out of its core strongholds in Iraq and Syria. Though Obama claims the American goal is "degrading and ultimately defeating [ISIS]," that's not happening anytime soon.
But Obama's more modest claim — that ISIS's advance in the two countries has been seriously slowed and America deserves (some) credit — is correct. The American strategy is far from perfect, and the gains it has produced aren't necessarily permanent, but Obama is right to say that it's helped beat ISIS back. Here's why. […]
"Airpower alone is insufficient to defeat ISIS or even degrade it seriously," Jason Lyall, a Yale University expert on counterinsurgency, wrote via email. "Instead, its role is to make ISIS work harder to control and extend its territory while buying time for the Iraqi Army."
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