Published on TheHill.com on September 23, 2014
Good for President Obama for bombing ISIS. And good that this is no token bombing but a real, full-scale air offensive. And good that he has enlisted other Arab countries in the effort; even if they don’t drop the bombs themselves, it could mean an end to their financing of terrorism.
But we should be bombing the oil fields the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) controls as well. ISIS fuels its war machine by pumping and selling between $1 million and $3 million a day from captured oil fields. We need to cut off the money. We need to bomb their oil fields.
Some say they worry about destroying Iraq’s oil industry. But Iraq pumps almost 3 million barrels each day. Losing 150,000 won’t cause much of a dent.
Others worry about leaving too large an American footprint in the region should we do something as dramatic as attacking the oil area. But how could we be more dramatic than we have been in the last two days?
The ecological damage from disabling ISIS’s oil production will certainly be far less than when Saddam Hussein set fire to Kuwait’s oil fields. Kuwait produces 2.5 million barrels per day, as opposed to an estimated maximum of 150,000 barrels from the ISIS fields.
When Hussein sabotaged the Kuwaiti oil fields during his invasion in the early 1990s, it increased global greenhouse emissions by less than 2 percent and caused a cloud cover over the Arabian Peninsula for only a few weeks. There was no lasting ecological damage despite fears of a nuclear winter.
Haven’t we had enough of fighting with one hand tied behind our backs? Why risk casualties by sending in our soldiers when we can cripple the finances that are at the core of ISIS?
There are those in ISIS who are religious fanatics who will go on fighting without funds. But the bulk of the terror group’s forces are paid soldiers, and their array of modern weapons don’t come cheap (beyond what they can steal from us).
By assembling a coalition of Arabian Peninsula emirates and kingdoms, led by Saudi Arabia, Obama has likely assured that national financing of ISIS from these sources will dry up. But intelligence reports suggest that ISIS has outgrown its dependence on aid from abroad and now gets its funding from exploiting the resources of the territory it has captured. This revenue comes from bank deposits in captured banks, kidnapping and ransom payments and, above all, oil.
With its principal source of revenue so vulnerable, we should immediately proceed to cut if off.
Efforts to stop purchasers from buying ISIS oil will likely prove unavailing. ISIS sells its oil at a steep discount off global prices — about two-thirds less — so the incentives for buying this fungible commodity will likely vitiate our diplomatic efforts to curb sales.
Bombing truck convoys or the roads leading out of the oil fields is a hit-or-miss proposition and unlikely to deal a lethal blow to this source of revenue. But bombing the oil fields themselves would kill the snake by cutting off its head.
Obama is to be commended for abstaining from half measures in his aerial attack. But air power alone won’t do it. We need either to cut off ISIS funding or send in our own ground troops. It’s best to strike them in their wallets without any loss of American life.
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