Not in combat, Defense Secretary Ash Carter tells CNBC from Davos, but the US has to put more boots on the ground for support and advice if the anti-ISIS coalition ever expects to liberate Mosul. Carter vented frustration at American allies who fight ISIS “on paper,” promising to use an upcoming meeting of defense ministers to press for more action and less talk:
In two weeks, Carter will meet with a broad group of defense ministers where he said he will press those who are in the fight “on paper” but are not doing enough.
“We’re prepared to do a great deal because we have the finest fighting force the world has ever seen. We can do a lot ourselves,” Carter said. “The United States does not ask people for favors, but we don’t grant favors either, and so we’re looking for other people to play their part.”
To get those players on board, Carter said he would share U.S. operations plans with defense ministers.
The US will up the ante on its commitments, Carter says, in what appears to be another shift by the Obama administration on ISIS:
“We’re looking for opportunities to do more, and there will be boots on the ground — I want to be clear about that — but it’s a strategic question, whether you are enabling local forces to take and hold, rather than trying to substitute for them.”
Until now, the Obama administration has insisted that the fight against ISIS does not require American boots on the ground, or at least in greater numbers than what we have now. Barack Obama himself keeps arguing that ISIS is in retreat, and that the coalition has been effective in shrinking ISIS’ footprint. Carter does not sound like a man who believes either declaration. His statement here that Americans will have to be on the front lines of the battle to retake Mosul should have some eyes popping at the White House, regardless of Carter’s attempted limitation of that to logistics and support. Those efforts will require a more substantial presence, and a bigger commitment of resources.
Carter’s frustration over the coalition’s commitment to the anti-ISIS fight is justified, according to a new report from the American Enterprise Institute. The report calls the grand coalition mostly a “myth,” and recommend that the US wake up to the fact that the major players within it have other agendas — like pushing the US out of the region entirely:
The superficial convergence of Iranian, Russian, Turkish, and Saudi strategic objectives with those of the U.S. on ISIS as a threat masks significant divergences that will undermine U.S. security requirements. Iran and Russia both seek to reduce and eliminate U.S. influence in the Middle East and are not pursuing strategies that will ultimately defeat al Qaeda and ISIS in Syria or Iraq. Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, some linked to al Qaeda, stem from the ruling party’s intent to reestablish itself as an independent, Muslim, regional power. Finally, Saudi Arabia’s objectives remain shaped by perceived existential threats from Iran and a growing succession crisis, causing key divergences, especially over support to Salafi-jihadi groups. The U.S. must lead efforts to resolve the crisis in Syria and cannot outsource them to partners.
It sounds as though Carter, at least, recognizes this. Does Obama?