At a Pentagon briefing last Friday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, spoke about the threat posed by ISIS in the clearest possible terms.
“It is possible to contain them,” Dempsey warned. “They can be contained, but not in perpetuity.”
“This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated,” he continued.
No ambiguity there. America’s present strategy designed to roll back ISIS in Iraq, while enjoying some near-terms successes, will face rapidly diminishing returns soon. Moreover, as Dempsey warned, the threat posed by this group is great enough to merit a more comprehensive strategy designed to not merely combat but to defeat ISIS forever.
Well, not so fast. With reports indicating that President Barack Obama’s administration has concluded that striking ISIS inside their Syrian stronghold is necessary and the only debate is over the scope of the operation, Dempsey warned on Monday that mounting airstrikes in Syria is a bad idea.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday that he would recommend against American airstrikes on ISIS in Syria because there is no evidence that ISIS is involved in “active plotting against the homeland” or Europe. In remarks to reporters aboard a U.S. military aircraft headed to Afghanistan, Dempsey said: “I can tell you with great clarity and certainty that if that threat existed inside Syria that it would certainly be my strong recommendation that we would deal with it.”
As he did last week, Dempsey emphasized that dismantling ISIS must be a multinational effort, with cooperation from Arab countries. Any assault on ISIS, he said, must come “from multiple directions in order to initially disrupt and eventually defeat them. It has to happen with them, much less with us.”
Dempsey’s statement that ISIS does not present a threat to the homeland seems in conflict with his assertion that the group must be defeated, presumably by American military might. Speaking to reporters without attribution, Western officials paint an entirely different picture of the threat ISIS poses to American and European interests.
Concerns about terrorism spilling over from Syria and Iraq hit home in June when French police arrested an “armed jihadi” who had just returned from Syria in connection with the May 24 killing of four people — including two Israeli tourists — at a Jewish Center in Brussels.
Since then, authorities in Europe have broken up terror cells linked to ISIL, including one in Kosovo where officials this week arrested 40 suspects who had returned from Iraq and Syria—including some who had fought with ISIL — and seized weapons and explosives in dozens of locations.
ISIL and its followers have also proven adept at using social media, making a steady barrage of threats against the West, including the United States.
On a day when the administration is floating trial balloons about opening up a second front against ISIS in Syria, it seems odd for Dempsey to come out publicly against such a strategy.