Here Is the Problem With Washington’s ISIL Strategy?

Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images

Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images

The Obama Administration announced the decision last week to deploy 1,500 additional military personnel to Iraq in order to train and help strategize with Iraqi Security Forces against the group calling itself the Islamic State, known as either ISIS or ISIL. The Office of the Press Secretary emphasized that the role being played would be non-combat related, but the issue of how many feet have been placed on the ground remains controversial, with some arguing that the increase is counter to what the president had promised Americans they could expect in terms of ground force escalation, concerned that the increase might continue and is the sign of a more imbedded and militant strategy in the region.

The President took these decisions at the request of the Iraqi Government and upon the recommendation of Secretary (Chuck) Hagel and his military commanders based upon the assessed needs of the Iraqi Security Forces,” stated a release from the Office of the Press Secretary. And current concerns about increased military presence from American soldiers growing out of hand are unfounded, based on recommendations from U.S. General Martin Dempsey, the highest ranking general.

A low risk option to the campaign would probably include the introduction of us ground forces to take control of the fight. Neither Gen. (Lloyd) Austin nor I — and certainly the Sec. of Defense — believe that’s the right thing to do right now,” said Gen. Dempsey on C-Span, at a hearing on U.S. action against ISIL. He later discussed the efforts of America and Iraq as being different in that America is contributing a “counter-terrorism” offense whereas the Iraqi government is mounting a “counter-insurgency” effort. Dempsey emphasized the importance of diplomatic efforts as well, saying that at some point if the Iraqi government did not make significant enough strides toward a unified and equal government without preference to Shia or Sunni interests.

This is in line with the president’s rhetoric, but it’s not the only outlook. There are some in Congress who feel a more aggressive policy is needed with more boots on the ground and more military efforts as opposed to diplomacy, at least judging based on comments made during the hearing.

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) and Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon would be two such examples. Kline for his part argued that the publish and Washington itself needs to keep in mind what the policy agenda is, something he’d define as “to defeat ISIS, our enemy,” but nothing more. “Whatever we do with Iraq is a tool in achieving that policy, our ultimate goal here isn’t to protect Iraq and build a stable Iraq we just need that tool to affect our policy of defeating ISIS, and sometimes I think we forget, we start talking about how many wars we’re in or start talking, can the Iraqis defend their own country? And so forth,” said Kline.

This conflicts quite a bit with the argument that a successful outcome in Iraq would be one where cutting ties would not deteriorate into further conflict and violence; i.e., a diplomatic effort toward a “stable” Iraq would be necessary, contrary to his comments. McKeon for his part argued that “air strikes are getting harder as ISIL changes tactics,” and suggesting that a failure to put manpower behind efforts makes for bad strategy. “How can you successfully execute the mission you’ve been given to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL when your best options are taken off the table?” he asked. He said he doesn’t believe Obama’s “minimalist strategy was sufficient to achieve his objectives” against ISIL.

It’s unsurprising that Washington politicians and political analysts are in disagreement about the best role the U.S. can take in combating the threat posed by ISIL to national security — not to mention the American public’s diverse set of reactions, from fear to disgust to anger. On the one hand, the degree of threat isn’t necessarily agreed upon, ranging from Republican’s concern about terrorist attacks coming up through Mexico or down from Canada to those who believe a policy of involvement is the only way to move forward.

There’s also the unfortunate truth, repeated by representatives on all sides of the issue in the recent hearing, that the situation with ISIL and the regions involved is complicated and “messy.” This means that any “solution” to the conflict won’t be a clean-cut success, and it’s unlikely to have a fully positive outcome no matter the methods used. With Iran’s November 24 nuclear weapons program deadline approaching, ISIL and military strategy are hardly the only concerns politicians will have in the Middle East.

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