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Secretary of Defense Ash Carter: 'Boots on the Ground' needed to defeat ISIS

By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security

In a stunning pronouncement, Secretary of State Ash Carter stated that the U.S. coalition will place boots on the ground to defeat ISIS.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Secretary Carter, when interviewed by CNBC he stated, “We’re looking for opportunities to do more and there will be boots on the ground, and I want to be clear about that.”

Continuing in his remarks, “But it’s a strategic question whether you are enabling local forces to take and hold rather than trying to substitute for them. That is a strategic intention that we have.”

Carter also added that U.S. allies need and should do more in defeating ISIS in Mosul and in its home base of Raqqa, Syria.

This statement by Carter places the president in a precarious situation, as he has been denying and reiterating he has no intention of ever introducing American combat troops into the fight to defeat and destroy ISIS.

In the coming days, Carter will have to explain what he meant by “boots on the ground.” His statements come at the most inopportune time, as next month will be the one-year anniversary in which President Obama sent Congress his war authorization to defeat ISIS.

Since then, Congress has not taken up the measure nor debated it, neither Democrats nor Republicans want to authorize it, all for different reasons. President Obama mentioned this in his State of the Union Address, asking Congress to approve his war authorization.

“If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL. Take a vote.”

The problem President Obama has never articulated a coherent strategy, nor has he campaigned for Congress to accept his plan for defeating ISIS.

The president has always articulated that our Sunni Arab allies need to take a greater role in defeating ISIS. Unfortunately, the president’s singular focus on the Iran nuclear agreement has alienated the very Sunni allies we need to defeat ISIS.

On Wednesday, former Army Vice Chief of Staff, Jack Keane, former Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, and former Assistant Secretary Of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Philip Gordon in the Obama administration, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding U.S. Strategy and Policy in the Middle East.

In those testimonies Ambassador Crocker mentioned he had recently returned from the Middle East region speaking with friends and allies, with the overwhelming response the Sunni Arabs the president is counting on to defeat ISIS, view the situation entirely different from the United States.

The Sunni Arabs view Iran as the more serious threat, not ISIS, and have always wanted the U.S. to focus on removing Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad from power, and were outraged after President Obama issued his famous “redline”, only to back away from taking military action after Syria’s use of chemical weapons in 2011. After this stunning reversal it has been downhill from there, especially the U.S. single minded strategy of securing a nuclear deal with the Sunni Arabs greatest enemy; Iran.

The allies in the region view the nexus of instability emanating from Iran running through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, all in conjunction with Russian support of Assad and the rise of Shiite domination, all the while the United States withdraws from the region.

Ambassador Crocker stated, “There is a deeper issue at stake here. Overarching the many hot wars in the region is a Middle East cold war that pits Iran against Saudi Arabia. It is denominated in sectarian terms, Sunni versus Shia, but is also Arab versus Persian. I was recently in the Middle East and was struck by the extent to which many Arab friends perceive not only a Damascus – Tehran – Moscow axis that is anti-Sunni and anti-Arab, but also that the U.S. has tilted away from its traditional Arab allies in favor of Iran. We are absent in Iraq.”

Missing from the region as Ambassador Crocker testified is American leadership, “The U.S. needs to reengage, not with military force but with sustained, high-level diplomacy led by the President and the Secretary of State. For many reasons, Iraqi leaders find it extraordinarily difficult to make the political compromises necessary to foster a broad sense of inclusion among all of Iraq’s communities. Iraqis cannot make the necessary deals on their own, but the U.S. can serve as an effective broker. We have done it before. Only when Iraqi Sunnis feel they have a secure and equitable place in the Iraqi state will the ultimate defeat of Islamic State be possible.”

In his testimony General Keane commented to defeat ISIS we first have to identify the threat and the conflict we are engaged in.

The famous military theorist Carl von Clausewitz strategic axiom comes to mind when he said, “No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.”

In his continued testimony General Keane stated, “Yet the current U.S. administration fails to define radical Islam, or explain it nor understand it. How can we possibly defeat radical Islam if we don’t understand it? Knowing the kind of war you are fighting is the first priority of a national or military leader. Given this purposeful misunderstanding or self-deception at best by not acknowledging this narrowly focused Islamic ideology it creates an unnecessary condition where all Muslims are brought under suspicion. Law abiding, faith based, traditional or modern Muslims who would do no harm to their fellow man and resent any association with radical Islam, deserve better treatment than that.”

With the bold statement by Secretary Carter that the U.S. coalition will place boots on the ground to defeat ISIS, what does this mean, and what strategy does the administration intend to peruse? Has the president changed his mind regarding U.S. ground forces? Clarification is needed; otherwise it sends continued mixed signals to our allies and emboldens our enemies.

With the president’s singular focus on the Iran deal and the continued aggression by Iran, all with impunity by the United States, it will be difficult or next to impossible for the administration to convince the Sunni Arabs that we are committed to standing up to Tehran.

Iran is the Sunni Arabs greatest threat, not ISIS. The continued question remains, what strategy is the U.S. perusing, and what is the real enemy to the United States?

So far no one knows!

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