Nine days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress. Referring to thousands of terrorists active in more than 60 countries, the president committed the United States to “the destruction and to the defeat of the global terror network.” There is, he said, only one way to remove the terrorist threat to America: “to stop it, eliminate it and destroy it where it grows.” Thirteen years later, after wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, hundreds of drone strikes and thousands of arrests, after the Bin Laden raid and innumerable other efforts, al-Qaeda is damaged and diminished – but neither defeated nor destroyed.
Now President Barack Obama has committed his country to a remarkably similar effort. As Islamic State fighters rampaged through Iraq and Syria, the president addressed the nation. The United States, he said, will “degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIS through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.” In the effort to “eradicate a cancer” like this, however, the American approach will this time involve not combat troops but air power and support for partner forces on the ground.