By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
With the attention focused on Jonathan Gruber’s testimony and the recent Senate CIA torture report, missing was the coverage of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee seeking a war authorization to use force against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
During his testimony, Kerry faced strong opposition from Republicans who criticized the Secretary of State for not including in the authorization to fight the regime of Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad.
In his request for renewed authorization, Kerry stated the authorization would not include a geographical limitation, and that the U.S. had no plans to expand military operations outside of Syria and Iraq, as it would be a mistake to let ISIL know they have safe havens outside these countries.
The most controversial part of Kerry’s testimony was when he mentioned that “The president has been crystal-clear that his policy is that U.S. military forces will not be deployed to conduct ground combat operations against ISIL, and that will be the responsibility of local forces, because that is what our local partners and allies want, that is what we learned works best in the context of our Iraq experience, that is what is best for preserving our coalition, and most importantly, it is in the best interest of the United States.”
Then Kerry added, “It doesn’t mean we should preemptively bind the hands of the commander in chief or our commanders in the field in responding to scenarios and contingencies that are impossible to foresee.”
It is currently unclear if Kerry is speaking on his own accord, or if President Obama is slowly coming to the conclusion that U.S. ground forces will have to be used.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in both the Bush and Obama administration stated, “The reality is, they’re not going to be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air, or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces, or the Peshmerga, or the Sunni tribes acting on their own…” Gates continued, “So there will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy. And I think that by continuing to repeat that [the U.S. won’t put boots on the ground], the president, in effect, traps himself.”
Sen. Robert Menendez, (D-N.J.), the committee chairman, said he opposes getting into another unlimited war in the Middle East. “That would be an open-ended authorization that would allow the president to do whatever he wanted, wherever he wants,”
The final aspect of his remarks was that continued military operations against ISIL will not be short lived; it will take time. Kerry or the administration was not seeking an open-end authorization, but wanted a provision to allow it to be extended.
The missing component of Kerry’s testimony, and that of the administration is, what is the long-term strategy of the U.S. in dealing with ISIL? This has always been the U.S. Achilles’ heel.
Anyone knowing the region knows that each country has its own strategic interests and they don’t necessarily align with the United States.
The administration has faced much consternation in dealing with Turkey, who views the real threat coming from the regime of Syrian President Assad, and not from ISIL; but also has long simmering hatred against the Kurds.
The Saudis view the real threat emanating from Iran stroking rebellion throughout the Middle East, especially now in Yemen, and its strong influence on the Shiite government in Baghdad. This also takes into account Iran’s long term pursuit of a nuclear device which has the Saudi’s most concerned and feel the U.S. is undercutting them just to reach any kind of deal with Iran.
Just last week Iran undertook military action against ISIL in Iraq, as their motivation is far different then the U.S. and have strongly supported Assad for years. Iran and Russia are the two countries which have kept Assad from being toppled since the “Arab Spring” began in 2011.
The biggest obstacle in moving forward with a functional strategy is that the U.S. has a problematic and contentious relationship with all of our key allies in the region. In summation, no one trusts the current administration! This will be a tough hurdle to clear, if it can be cleared at all.
Other articles by John Ubaldi:
New Defense Secretary Faces Challenges In The Middle East
The Implications of Extending the Iran Nuclear Talks
Obama Sends more Troops to Iraq Following his Letter to Iran’s Leader
How Effective is the Air Campaign against ISIS?