House Armed Services chair: It will take ground troops to destroy ISIS

“As much as I want the president’s approach to work,” Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon told an American Enterprise Institute audience this morning, “I believe the minimalist strategy he outlined last night will not get us there.” The House Armed Services chair, who will retire at the end of this session of Congress, got “brutally honest” about the prospects of success for Barack Obama’s strategy — which he says are practically nil. McKeon says the US has to get serious about the fact that ISIS/ISIL is an actual threat to American security, and draft a strategy that defeats it “as the only option on the table”:


The video is lengthy, but AEI has the speech at the link. The key part of McKeon’s argument is that ISIS will not be defeated by air strikes alone. It will take boots on the ground, and since this terrorist army is a legitimate threat to the US — just by their own rhetoric — US troops are a legitimate response:

ISIL is a Sunni movement.  Getting the Sunnis to reject them is key.  While we wait to see what the newly formed government will do, we are missing the chance to get the Iraqi Sunni leaders on board, who can truly speak for their people. And the job will be harder this time.  The Sunnis must have reason to believe that we have their back if they stick their necks out with ISIL. They must believe they have a future politically in Iraq.

Any US-led coalition must engage with the Sunnis and make them understand that this is not a sectarian fight against them. And we have to get into those Sunni villages with Special Operations Forces to rebuild relationships. Because if the moderate Sunnis slip through our fingers, they’re gone – and with them, our chances for success. We have to reconnect the intelligence links and security forces’ capabilities that were lost when we left Iraq. …

This will take troops. It will not take divisions. But there’s no way around it; American boots will be standing on sand.  Americans will be shot at, and they will be shooting back. There’s simply no other way to do this.

This strategy isn’t without risk.  Neither is the president’s.  It would be wrong to sell it that way to the American people. This is a dangerous business. It is dangerous any time we have our sons and daughters take to the skies, the seas, or the shores to defeat an enemy.

The only thing more dangerous is waiting.


McKeon isn’t the only one who thinks so, either. The Washington Post reports this morning that the Pentagon’s best option to defeat ISIS was a task force of American troops to lead a ground-forces coalition that would encircle and then destroy the terrorist army:

Although Obama promised a “steady, relentless effort” in a nationally televised address Wednesday night, he also said that “it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL,” using a common acronym for the Islamic State.

Such a mission was not the U.S. military’s preferred option. Responding to a White House request for options to confront the Islamic State, Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, said that his best military advice was to send a modest contingent of American troops, principally Special Operations forces, to advise and assist Iraqi army units in fighting the militants, according to two U.S. military officials. The recommendation, conveyed to the White House by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was cast aside in favor of options that did not involve U.S. ground forces in a front-line role, a step adamantly opposed by the White House. Instead, Obama had decided to send an additional 475 U.S. troops to assist Iraqi and ethnic Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.

Recommitting ground combat forces to Iraq would have been highly controversial, and most likely would have been opposed by a substantial majority of Americans. But Austin’s predecessor, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, said the decision not to send ground troops poses serious risks to the mission.

“The American people will once again see us in a war that doesn’t seem to be making progress,” Mattis said. “You’re giving the enemy the initiative for a longer period.”


We’ve certainly done enough of that already, with Obama ignoring and then dismissing the threat as the “jayvees” over the last three years. On the other hand, it’s true that a move to send ground troops to deal with ISIS would create a large amount of political backlash, and would also call into question Obama’s endgame strategy in Afghanistan — even more so that ISIS has. If the American public won’t back a decision to put combat troops back into Iraq, then it would take a President willing to go it alone politically at home to give that order, and clearly that’s not the case with Obama. However, a lack of progress against ISIS will play badly for Obama too, and it will sap the resolve of Americans to see the job through to victory. We may end up looking weaker than we do now, especially if we can’t even get our traditional allies on board for just the 30,000-foot tactical decisions.

Finally, Concerned Veterans for America has a new video out today reminding Americans that protecting national security and freedom aren’t easy — and that the weakness projected by this administration is making the world a more dangerous place:


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