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Rubio: Obama Needs to Dig In for a Fight in Iraq

President Obama’s decision to authorize humanitarian operations and targeted airstrikes in Iraq comes as fundamentalist Islam is on the rise throughout the Middle East.

Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups continue to threaten Israel. The United States and its allies have been forced to close their diplomatic missions in Libya because of fighting between secular militias and al Qaeda-affiliated groups. The Taliban is going on the offensive in Afghanistan as the United States and coalition partners continue to draw down.

And perhaps of most concern, in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has established a caliphate, a fundamentalist state, in the heart of the Middle East. Flush with weapons and money, ISIS’s forces are making significant advances as they expand their territory.

ISIS, an extreme Sunni militant group that emerged from al Qaeda, has been occupying and razing churches across Iraq, pulling down crosses, destroying religious documents and holy sites, and forcing Christians and other non-Sunni Iraqis to convert or face death. It is capturing young girls and the widows of men they have executed for their own unmarried fighters. It has seized bridges, dams and other infrastructure that Iraqi towns and communities rely on for subsistence.

The United States is right intervene in Iraq to provide humanitarian assistance to persecuted religious minorities—including the Yazidis currently surrounded by ISIS forces in northern Iraq and Iraqi Christians, who have been brutalized as ISIS has swept through their villages, massacring thousands and conducting forced conversions of those they do not kill.

But America’s security interests extend well beyond the fate of Iraq’s religious minorities. Because ISIS, with thousands of foreign fighters, many of them from the West, will not rest once it has taken Erbil or Baghdad. Its expansionist ideology will lead it to attack U.S. allies in the region and eventually Europe and the United States.

We have seen time and again in recent decades that terrorist groups, once established, use safe havens to launch attacks on the United States and our interests. We ignore this history at our own peril.

Instead of confronting this challenge head on, President Obama has until now avoided taking decisive action. He has let the civil war in Syria simmer for years, creating the space for this jihadist threat to grow and letting instability spread to Syria’s neighbors. Even after ISIS captured Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, in June, the President was hesitant in his response, sending several hundred military advisors but not confronting ISIS directly even as it made military gains. Now, we are rightfully providing food and water to people who face slaughter from extremists who have pledged to kill them.

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