As 2015 wanes, calls among Washington's politicos are on the rise. Those calls are increasingly in favor or are demands for ground troops to engage ISIS leadership in direct combat.
"This is a war." - House Speaker Paul Ryan
I'm going to introduce an authorization to use Military Force against ISIL that is not limited by Time, Geography or Means. - Sen. Lindsay Graham
"The United States should not delay in leading a global coalition to take out ISIS with overwhelming force." - Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush
"Air power is extremely important. It can do a lot but it can't do everything." - Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James
The Pentagon believes Congress should issue a new authorization of military force (AMF) for use against ISIS in Iraq and Syria while President Obama wants the flexibility to use Special Operations forces against the terror group's leadership. Obama rejected long-term, large scale ground combat operations in favor of an incremental, air strike-based plan which relies on support for forces already fighting on the ground. Unfortunately, it's difficult to determine just who the U.S. should back and the plan to back U.S.-trained rebels fell apart.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is in favor of a new AMF, but for some in Congress, the President's proposal isn't enough. As Germany, France, China, and Russia ramp up their own operations against ISIS, a few in the U.S. want to take their participation a step further. Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain are calling for 20,000 ground troops to counter ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
"The aerial campaign is not turning the tide of battle," Senator Graham told The Guardian. Part of the McCain-Graham proposal includes the U.S. handling logistics for a 100,000 strong Sunni Arab army from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. There are a number of problems with this plan, however.
The first is that it props up the terrorist organizations recruiting claims that they are the bulwark of true Islam, fighting Western apostates. It also backs up the Sunni Jihadi myth of the "Grand Battle" to be fought for Islam. Most troubling is that the Senators' plan explicitly supports the Sunni side of what is now widely believed to be a greater religious-political civil war throughout the region (and maybe beyond). As of right now, the U.S. has taken great pains to avoid the perception of taking sides.
The McCain-Graham plan also risks antagonizing the already tense situation relationships between all players. The Russia-U.S. rivalry is well documented, as are Iranian-U.S. issues. The missions of Russia, Iran, and the Iranian-backed Shia militias in Syria and Iraq is to ensure the survival of the Asad regime, a mission antithetical to the policies of the United States and its NATO allies.
In Iraq, a similar situation exists. Iraq is a Shia-dominated country where the locals come to increasingly believe the U.S. is supporting the Islamic State, rather than fighting it, and the Iraqis would be able to win if not for U.S. intervention against them.The Iranian-backed militias are seen as the primary bulwark against ISIS aggression despite, the 3,500 ground troops in Iraq, training and advising the Iraqi forces. The call for an increased presence from Congress is a strange idea, considering the Iraqi government has specifically asked the U.S. not to increase its presence in the country.
Is it in the United States' best interest to re-enter the conflicts of the Middle East? The Iraqis already are starting to think the U.S. is on the wrong side. It's a well known fact the lineage of ISIS traces back to al-Qaeda in Iraq, who helped publish The Management of Savagery, a how-to guide for committing atrocities to trap the West in unwinnable ground wars in the Middle East, which was Osama bin Laden's long-game strategy, first against the Soviet Union and now the United States. If Putin and Russia want to jump back into the Middle East fray, maybe we should consider letting him.