Warning that the ISIS threat is the same “if not worse” than the threat faced by America from al-Qaeda on Sept. 10, 2001, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) argued this morning that the “minimalist approach” outlined by President Obama would not work.
McKeon traveled last week through the Middle East, meeting with ministers and heads of state.
“I listened, and I asked questions. They gave me blunt answers and some hard truths,” he said. “Our allies are on the front lines of terrorism.There is a genuine sense among the leaders I talked with that America is disengaging from the region and concerns about American credibility, at a time when credibility counts.”
“Our relationships with these allies in the region are at a tipping point. What is also notable is that these allies are ready to bear the burden of the fight. They know their very existence, and stability in the region, depends on defeating ISIL.”
The chairman said the strategy needs to be “one that pins ISIL down and knocks them out.”
“The president has said the threat is not imminent to the homeland. Well, exactly when does the threat become imminent? Why wait until it does?” McKeon said. “We must have a comprehensive strategy that stops any plot against US citizens or our interests now.”
A “go-slow strategy” just gives ISIS ”space to thrive and grow and blend with the population” as 500 foreign fighters a month come to join their ranks and the terror group rakes in $85 million a month from oil revenue alone.
“Soon all that will be left is a cowering population unable to resist the caliphate,” McKeon said. “…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.”
He added that the strategy can’t focus on Iraq first and must encircle the caliphate. “Any strategy that allows ISIL to squirt out into Jordan, Lebanon, or Turkey will only make the fight more difficult,” he said. “A coalition force, empowered by the Americans, could do just that. And once they are encircled and eliminated, we need that territory held by those friendlies. This is the only way to get this done and done right.”
Obama has “finally started” building that coalition, McKeon said.
“The Kurds, the Iraqis, the Turks, the Emeratis, and the Jordanians all have military capability. They all want to knock ISIL on its back. They need our help, they want our help, and we owe them our help,” he said. “Ignoring their pleas is a quick way to end up friendless with little, if any, U.S. influence left in the region. Let’s not forget that our allies around the world are watching and wondering if they can ever trust the U.S. again.”
“The president needs an A-team of diplomats and soldiers on the ground, ushering every player towards the same purpose – not just this week, but on a sustained basis…. We’re holding the starter pistol; the time to pull the trigger was yesterday.”
McKeon called it a “red herring” to assume that “boots on the ground” means a large occupying force. “In fact the best way to ensure that we never have to drop an entire maneuver Corps into Iraq is to be smart about using the right boots on the ground today,” he continued. “The president may not admit it, but he has already made this distinction. He has inserted Special Forces, trainers, advisors, and security forces. This is the right decision. But more can be done.”
“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.”
The chairman cautioned that “wars are not won by counterterrorism alone – the 1990s proved as much.”
“The president wants to use a light footprint now in hopes that he doesn’t need a heavy footprint later. This approach was not terribly successful in Libya, which has fallen into chaos. It has short-term benefits, though. It will be cheaper in blood and treasure –for now,” he said. “I want our coalition to go all-in now, so that we do not risk having to use enormously more blood and treasure later. I would much rather fight ISIL in Iraq and Syria today than fight them in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Kurdistan tomorrow. Fortune favors the bold.”