Can Hillary Clinton conceive of no conditions in which any number of American ground troops would go into Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS, or just no conditions for a massive deployment in the six-figure range? In the past, Hillary has left open the possibility of allowing commandos to carry out combat operations while eschewing a ground war in ISIS-held territory. CBS News reports today that Hillary sounds more as though she’s ruling out any American ground combat at all:
Hillary Clinton on Monday told CBS News that she could not imagine any circumstance in which the U.S. would deploy troops on the ground in the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“I agree with the president’s point that we’re not putting American combat troops back into Syria or Iraq. We are not going to do that,” the Democratic presidential frontrunner told CBS News’ Charlie Rose in a sit-down interview. …
Clinton explained that sending U.S. combat troops back to the region would “give ISIS a new recruitment tool.”
There was some confusion after her recent speech following the Paris terror attacks at the Council on Foreign Relations about her position on combat troops. Clinton seemed to leave the door open slightly, but also said she doesn’t believe there should be 100,000 American troops back in the Middle East again and said it would be a “mistake” to do so in the event of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Just two weeks ago, Hillary offered a different take:
Though ruling out deploying the tens of thousands of US troops seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, the former of secretary of state made clear she would take a notably more hawkish approach than the current administration if she is elected president.
“The United States has been conducting this fight for more than a year; it’s time to be begin a new phase and intensify and broaden our efforts,” Clinton told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
“We should have no illusions about how difficult the mission before us really is … but if we press forward on both sides of the border, in the air on the ground and as well as diplomatically, I do believe we can crush Isis’s enclave of terror,” she added.
The extensive but nuanced speech singled out coalition efforts against Isis in Iraq for particular implied criticism, urging that US troops be given “greater flexibility” to embed with Iraqi troops on the frontline and target airstrikes. She also said the US should arm Sunni tribes and Kurds in the country if the government in Baghdad refused to.
Most of what Hillary says here amounts to an endorsement of Barack Obama’s current policy on ISIS, which is not just failing but mostly incomprehensible. Hillary wants to fight ISIS from the air, and on the ground too — but no one except the Kurds have a force on the ground to fight them, and they’re limited in both capacity and materiel. We’ve been conducting an air war against ISIS for almost 15 months, and we haven’t reduced their footprint. If anything, they’re expanding, and talking about transferring their flag to Sirte, Libya. That opportunity exists because Hillary Clinton thought she and Obama could liberate Libya in an air war and turn it into a robust and stable democracy, and instead turned it into a failed state in large part because we had no ground troops to control the outcome after her coup d’etat of Qaddafi.
As for American ground troops being a “recruitment tool” for ISIS, that follows on Obama’s rhetoric. The pair have quite a list of what constitutes recruitment tools for ISIS, including global warming, Gitmo, and acknowledging the threat they pose in light of the Metrojet and Paris attacks that killed more than 350 people between them. What clearly boosts ISIS’ recruitment is a lack of effective Western response to their terrorism and their land grab, while we know what works to defeat them — the forward strategies employed in 2007-8 in the “surge” and Anbar Awakening. That doesn’t necessarily require US forces, but if our allies in the region don’t put a force on the ground, then someone will have to do it.
If not, we can expect to see the same attacks in the US that ISIS pulled off in Paris. Then the question of conceiving of conditions for a ground war against ISIS will become a lot more acute for Hillary, especially with post-Paris polling that shows Americans grasping the fact that the air show isn’t cutting it in Syria and Iraq.