Time to Send in US Troops?
Posted on: December/07/2015 9:29 am by: Max Primorac

It is time to end the political mantra of "no ground troops" and define what is needed to destroy ISIL. President Obama's containment strategy of Middle Eastern terrorism via drones, air bombing and reliance on local forces has failed. Islamic terrorist groups are expanding their geographic reach and routinely hitting civilian targets with mass casualty attacks.

Undergirding the President's war strategy against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is a realpolitik fiction that no matter how tragic the humanitarian disaster the threat posed by ISIL is not a direct threat to the homeland. The mass attack in Los Angeles joins other recent successive attacks against France, Turkey, Lebanon, Russia, France, Mali and Tunisia to prove that theory grossly unrealistic.

ISIL is a strategic threat. Beyond the rising body count, the negative political impact and fear generated in Europe and the US after the Paris attack – Europe's 9/11 moment -- demonstrate the political upheaval this strategy has foisted. In Germany, a soccer match between national teams is canceled just before kickoff. Brussels, NATO's home base, came under police lockdown. In France, Parliament unanimously approves giving the state broad police powers, suspending many civil rights. Soldiers now patrol Europe's cities. Anti-liberal, anti-immigrant political parties are gaining strength. Another attack on Europe's soil would solidify a pervasive sense of collective panic. Europe's liberal political order is fraying.

And how far behind can we be in the United States? Illiberalism has crossed the Atlantic where traditional US receptivity to refugees fleeing war flips to hard opposition. Calls grow to monitor mosques. The FBI admits it has over 900 ISIL-related investigations as we enter our busiest shopping season. One terrorist strike at a crowded shopping mall will cause enormous domestic upheaval and generate calls for heightened police powers. Is this the kind of life we want? These illiberal trend lines must stop. It is time to send in the troops and physically destroy the source of ISIL's strength - the Caliphate.

How many soldiers will it take? Not the "hundreds and thousands" the White House peddles to stifle political debate. Former US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey calls for a strike force of 8,000 to seize ISIL's capital of Raqqa. Brookings scholar Robert Kagan cites 30,000 US soldiers to set up safe zones. Former Vice-Chief of Staff of the Army General Jack Keane says 40,000 US troops would suffice.

Whatever the number, we have done this before with demonstrated success. The surges in Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2010 overwhelmed the terrorists, quickened the pace of political transition, and minimized the time and costs required to station large numbers of US forces. NATO allies played key support roles in the initial combat phase and made critical contributions to follow-on peacekeeping operations that allowed stable drawdowns of US combat forces. Hence, there already is within NATO substantial planning, coordination and execution capabilities transferable to Syria. Given the direct security threat ISIL represents, Europe, especially the French, is ready to share the combat burden. The White House can restore the surges' counterinsurgency and state-building capabilities it prematurely dismantled in the futile hope that "the tide of war is receding" and the US could now "shift away from large scale ground wars." In sum, a ground war is both necessary and doable.

Many assert regional forces can be our boots on the ground. That is nonsense. Is it really wise to enlist mutually antagonistic Turks, Kurds, Iranians, Arab Sunni and Shia to bring peace to Syria? Do we want Saudis, whose government produces the hate literature used to radicalize young Muslims, patrolling Syrian streets? Arab forces are rife with corruption and routinely commit human rights abuses at home. Would they act differently in Syria? This toxic regional brew would require as many Western troops to referee as it would to secure and transition Syria.

It is time for President Obama to end his dogmatic adherence to "no ground troops," exercise his duties as Commander in Chief, lead a NATO ground action into Syria, and destroy this cancer to our way of life. The alternative is to watch ISIL expand and strengthen as the West's liberal way of life unravels further. 

These are my personal views and do not reflect those of the Institute per se.

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