If Hillary Clinton is the next US president, prepare for a deeper American military involvement in Syria’s civil war — one that won’t seek to maintain a status quo but to crush ISIS where it’s strongest, perhaps with American boots on the ground.
That, after all, is the only way we’ll weaken the Islamic State enough to prevent the terror group from committing and inspiring attacks on our soil – like Omar Mateen’s Orlando massacre.
In an interview with the Website Defense One, former top Pentagon official Michele Flournoy indicated that she’d advise the next president to “direct US troops to push President Bashar al-Assad’s forces out of southern Syria and . . . send more American boots to fight the Islamic State in the region.”
Flournoy, widely presumed to be Clinton’s top candidate for secretary of defense, later clarified that she’s calling for “doing more to support our partners on the ground to make them more effective” in Syria, but denied that she’s advocated “putting US combat troops on the ground to take territory from Assad’s forces or remove Assad from power.”
That hedge – that she’s not calling for troops to be used against Assad – is revealing.
And hers is but one voice in a growing Washington chorus of veteran Obama officials who seem to nudge Clinton (or Donald Trump for that matter) away from our current approach to Syria and the rest of the region.
Why? As we speak, ISIS metastasizes around the globe like malignant cancer in the body of a lifelong smoker.
Groups in Libya, Egypt’s Sinai, Nigeria, Indonesia and countless other Muslim countries have pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and ISIS. His admirers in Europe are increasingly deadly and, as Mateen indicates, America isn’t immune either.
What’s behind the growing allure of al-Baghdadi and ISIS to Muslims around the world? It’s the aura of invincibility. ISIS is like Charlie Sheen endlessly declaring “winning.” Reversing that false impression must start in Raqqa, Syria, where al-Baghdadi has his headquarters, and in Iraq, where ISIS initially scored its most impressive victories.
No one believes Obama’s policies have helped all that much in addressing the horrors of the 21st century’s deadliest war, with half a million dead and half of the country displaced, threatening to change Europe forever. ISIS and its ilk thrive when states collapse and warring factions jockey for territory.
So last week, 51 State Department officials reactivated a rarely used dissent channel to express their dissatisfaction with the White House’s Syria policies. “Achieving our objectives will continue to elude us if we do not include the use of military force” there, they wrote.
According to Obama’s former top Syria adviser Fred Hof, that letter “killed the White House pretense that critics of the administration’s Syria policy are partisan politicians, war-mongering neoconservatives, and clueless think tankers.”
Robert Ford, Obama’s former ambassador to Syria, added, “The dissent memo should wake us up that the current approach ensures we will not secure our national interest in Syria, that broader US interests will suffer as a consequence, and we need to reconsider our approach.”
To be fair to Obama, he’s not totally ignoring the war on ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But as Josh Rogin reported Wednesday in The Washington Post, the US generals on the ground believe they need hundreds more troops to win, yet are afraid to ask for them because they know the White House won’t approve the request.
Waging a war halfheartedly is a sure way to lose it. Yet that’s been Obama’s approach to global conflicts. Even when dragged kicking and screaming to use some semblance of military force to enhance American interests, he tends to tie the military’s hands by putting expiration dates on missions and by insisting we don’t and won’t have boots on the ground.
Which brings us back to the next president, and what to do about the endless Syria bleed. She (or he) must first “put forward a vision of what the end game should be,” says Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Federation to Defend Democracies.
Breaking up Syria and Iraq and creating statelets according to sectarian affiliation, perhaps with a weak federal government in Baghdad, Damascus or both, is one option for that end game. Other plans exist as well, but none will work unless America commits more military assets to show we have serious skin in the game.
Clinton indicates her policies will be more muscular than Obama’s, while Trump’s harder to predict but seems to lean in that direction as well.
Which means there’s a new consensus in Washington: America can’t just continue to essentially sit out the most consequential war of our time. Voices who’ve long warned that that war would sooner or later come back here to harm us have been ignored for too long.
Source: New York Post