On Sept. 11, 2014, Washington, D.C. - House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) presented his strategy to defeat the ISIL terrorist organization at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).
His remarks were just so off target.
Senator McKoen began, big drum roll, with a reiteration of things that we all know, the events of 9/11, quoting Tony Blair, for example, concerning “the new evil of our day,” fanatics, sanctity of human life blaa blaa blaa.
Predictably, he faulted President Obama for likening ISIL to a :”Junior Varsity Team,” which they undoubtedly were at the time. With few exceptions, the nations most threatened by ISIL were not alarmed enough to form a coalition on their own before now, and many of them were not friendly toward that United States, and still are not friendly toward us.
Should the President have formed a coalition earlier, as Senator McKoen constantly asserts?
I think Mr. McKoen is ignoring the obvious: You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink. Now that other nations are finally taking ISIL seriously and are willing to cooperate to deal with ISIL, the time has come for the United States to fulfill its responsibilities to the world, by taking a supporting role.
You need to remember that Mr. McKoen has strong ties to the defense industry, which is always happy to provide the guns, ammo and technology for more and bigger conflicts, with more and bigger USA involvement – for a price that is. And make no mistake, the war impoverishes our nation and depletes our social programs budgets.
- Acting through a willing coalition,
- Ordering more air strikes and U.S. Forces
- Stepping up intelligence collection
- Cutting off their sources of funds
- Curtailing the flow of foreign fighters
- And training and equipping moderate opposition forces in
“I have a responsibility to share my views about what more can be done.”
Yes, I agree, and that responsibility should have been carried out in the spirit of playing on the same team. But true to his style, the good Senator went on to rip the President as is his typical style. He just cannot get off his hobby horse of vilifying the standing President of the United States as follows:
The trip to the Mideast
“As recently as last week, by a long trip I took throughout the Middle East,” he said, and “There, I met with heads of state and multiple officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense.”
What he “learned,” should come as a surprise to no one, and certainly not to the President of the United States.
(1) Our allies are on the front lines of terrorism.
(2)There are concerns that America is disengaging from the region and
(3) There are concerns about American credibility.
Well sure, we are expecting them to provide for their own security, to fight their own wars and to form their own versions of democracy. In short, many of us are tired of being their “sugar daddy” (And in spite of this, not engaging their sympathy and/or appreciation.). So yes, they are going to be carrying more of the responsibility for their own security and national/international sanity.
It is hard to imagine people in the Mideast having doubts about America's credibility (Yes I am speaking sarcastically now.) given our reasons for entering the Iraq War to begin with, a war which destabilized the Mideast, strengthened al Qaeda and made the world far more unsafe (and which some experts say actually created ISIS.).
“What is also notable is that allies are ready to bear the burden of the fight. They know their very existence, and stability in the region, depends on defeating ISIL”
Well good, I am glad to hear that they are willing to take over in the good fight. But then McKoen adds:
“They need the United States support and capabilities to be able to do it. And it’s in our interests to be there.”
He says this as if that is not exactly what the President has planned, and what we are, in fact, carrying out as we speak.
“The longer we wait, the further these relationships will erode and more lives will be lost.”
The fact is, nobody in our administration is actually sitting here just “waiting.”
The President has wisely allowed things to develop to the point that the stakeholders in the region surely must realize that it is in their own best interest to cooperate. I can well imagine this is a new and unnerving approach for a Senator who seems to always favor immediate war, without any hesitation or second thoughts, just war and more war, at the expense – and often to the embarrassment of -- the people of the United States. Add to the mix that his supporters include industrialists who anticipate making $ billions selling war technology.
More on trip to Mideast
“None of the Allies there thought kinetic action, brought on by a full coalition, could wait another month, and certainly not longer than that.”
I say, fine, then let them get on with it and stop blaming the sitting President of the USA.
The Senator says:
“We need a comprehensive strategy – one that pins ISIL down and knocks them out.”
"Wrong, Mr. McKoen." Wrong because, I think by the word “we” he means the United States.
I see no indication that he is referring to a coalition of equal players in this sentence. He does not seem to imply Iraq, Syria, Iran, Russia, Egypt or any number of entities with a stake in the output as calling the shots. On the one side of his mouth, he says he approves of a coalition, but on the other side of this mouth he seems to imply that we the USA should be handling this ourselves.
In spite of his earlier statement that he supports forming a coalition, I think what he means above is we, the United States of America, unilaterally.
So no, the USA does not need a strategy. Instead, we the Stakeholders, collectively, need a strategy.
The coalition, which includes the United States, needs a strategy, given that ISIS is first and foremost a Mideast problem. The United States also is a stakeholder with responsibilities, of course, given that our actions in Iraq led to the crisis with ISIL, and also to the fact that they have beheaded Americans.
And then there is the matter of oil, which I will not go into.
Oil issues and the beheading of American journalists notwithstanding, we cannot unilaterally dictate to the nations what the strategy must be, so Mr. McKoen's approach is not only wrong, it is the approach that has failed dismally for the past fifty years in places all around the globe.
Mr. McKoen strongly implies that he does not trust the President's leadership abilities. Fair enough: He disagrees.
But he is wrong there too when he says:
“I believe the minimalist strategy he outlined last night will not get us there.”
What he seems to mean in the above statement is that the United States needs to go in unilaterally and knock some heads together. Never mind what the various stakeholders might think of that.
What Buck McKoen has never acknowledged is that he is not quarterbacking this game, the President is, and it just may be that the People of the United States have more confidence in Barak Obama than in Buck McKoen, for which reason we elected the Obama, not McKoen, to lead the nation. Anyone can sit back and second guess, criticize and devalue what the President does, the Monday morning quarterbacks, and that is fine, but not if they are driving policies, and if they are not beholden to industries that profit off of these wars.
“First, our strategy must acknowledge that ISIL is an immediate threat to US national security, and treat it as such … exactly when does the threat become imminent? Why wait until it does? We must have a comprehensive strategy that stops any plot against US citizens or our interests now.”
Again, Mr. McKoen uses the term “we” without specifying just who he means to include in the group known as “we.”
Does he mean, We the coalition that is facing ISIS? Or does he mean We the ideologues who think they rule and control the world unilaterally”?
My guess would be that he means the latter.
McKoen calls for “swift action with a strategically realistic plan to defeat ISIL before they gain more steam.”
What he seems to mean is that we should jump in precipitously, without really thinking about the consequences, taking brash actions that might turn out unnecessary, or even disastrous, in retrospect. This kind of foolhardy, knee jerk reaction is what has gotten us into this disastrous position to begin with.
McKoen continually overestimates our nation's omnipotence and invincibility as a unilateral agent. He does not want to contain ISIL and he faults the President's realistic analysis:
“I did not say manage ISIL. Defeating ISIL is the only option on the table,” McKoen says. “A go-slow strategy gives them space to thrive and grow and blend with the population.”
The above statement may sound appealing, but carrying it out is fraught with difficulties that scarecly need mentioning.
Additionally, the above statement is another attempt at talking down to the President of the United States, as if the President did not know the risks involved, both with precipitous action and coalition building, the latter of which requires time.
The fact that every month 500 more foreign fighters (including some from the USA) join their ranks should cause the Senator to pause and consider whether any sitting President could deliver on McKoen's implication that we can eliminate the organization entirely through military action.
The only way to remove the threat of ISIL entirely is to remove the conditions that cause people, even people from Britain and the USA, to join their ranks. And yes, to make it unprofitable and foolish for them to do. So this is a long term project, just as the President correctly suggested.
Does anyone seriously doubt that our President is informed and concerned?
“Every month, they raise nearly 85 million dollars in revenue just from oil. Every day, ISIL identifies and brutally executes the Sunni moderates who might be convinced to work with us again. Soon all that will be left is a cowering population unable to resist the Caliphate.”
Here, McKoen is preaching to the choir again, but he attempts to make it look as if President Obama is not the captain of the A-Team facing the ISIS/ISIL threat.
“ISIL is a Sunni movement. Getting the Sunnis to reject them is key.”
Yes, Mr. McKoen, we all know that. So does our President.
“While we wait to see what the newly formed government will do, we are missing the chance to get the Iraqi Sunni leaders on board, who can truly speak for their people.”
I think Mr. McKoen is misrepresenting the case. Of course getting Sunnis on board is a key issue, and one that takes a certain amount of time. Furthermore, any “new government” as he calls it, must be, not just an integral feature to the overall plan, but the central figure in Iraq's battle against ISIS.
As to attacking in Syria, there are serious logistical issues and doubts as to whether we can win that war, given the players that are involved and what/who we have to work with. If those supporting a true democracy should turn out to be a very small minority, you have the makings of another Vietnam War, only worse, because it would be more complex, more complicated. So some serious ducks must be in order or that effort will be a doomed. The only ones who win might be the manufacturers of weapons.
Rarely McKoen actually sounds like the President
“The job will be harder this time. The Sunnis must have reason to believe that we have their back if they stick their necks out with ISIL. They must believe they have a future politically in Iraq. Any US-led coalition must engage with the Sunnis and make them understand that this is not a sectarian fight against them. And we have to get into those Sunni villages with Special Operations Forces to rebuild relationships … if the moderate Sunnis slip through our fingers, they’re gone – and with them, our chances for success.”
In the above statement, McKoen is starting to sound more like President Obama than Senator McKoen himself. Enough said.
Then McKoen goes on to make what, to me at least, is an opaque statement:
“We have to reconnect the intelligence links and security forces’ capabilities that were lost when we left Iraq.”
I am not sure what he means by this, what he thinks this means we should do differently than anything the President, the State Department or the military have in mind. That was not at all clear to me.
“Iraqi Shia, Sunni, and Kurds all will be needed to maintain post-war security and stability.
That process has to start now.
Nothing new here, and that process is, indeed, in the works.
“Third, we must kick ISIL hard in both Iraq and Syria at the same time.
An 'Iraq-first,' or an 'Iraq only' approach won’t work.They can never be defeated if they have a safe haven as big and remote as western Iraq or eastern Syria.
Mr. McKoen may be correct, but again, this is a matter that must be decided by the coalition, not entered into unilaterally by the USA.
“Now, striking in Syria will not be easy. We must tailor operations there so that we do not empower Mr. Assad or al-Qaeda elements in-country. That may sound difficult to do. And that’s because it is. But, if we want ISIL defeated, we need them encircled. Any strategy that allows ISIL to squirt out into Jordan, Lebanon, or Turkey will only make the fight more difficult. A coalition force, empowered by the Americans, could do just that. And once they are encircled and eliminated, we need that territory held by those friendlies.”
It seems doubtful that McKoen would get much argument against that from any quarter, but again, this is something that must be determined by whatever commander the coalition places in charge of operations.
The President has asked for the authority to train and equip moderate opposition forces in Syria. He has implied that it’s Congress that has been stalling on giving him this tool. He also implies that this is the key to defeating ISIL in Syria.
I am well aware that what Mr. McKoen infers may be much different that what Mr. Obama implies. Enough said.
Let’s be clear. There have been bipartisan doubts about this proposal, starting from within the White House.
Just last month, the President said that arming moderate rebels in Syria has “always been a fantasy” and that there wasn’t “as much capacity as you would hope.”
I too recognize the risks. Yet I support this effort as a necessary component for the long term security of Syria.
Yes, indeed, let's do be clear: In the past when the President attempted to arm moderate forces there was an immediate hue and cry from the talking heads on the right side of the aisle, claiming that he was arming terrorists. Mr. McKoen should work harder, perhaps, on getting the right wing extremists on the same page.
But arming surrogates and conducting sporadic airstrikes is not a formula for success against ISIL. It is not timely enough or decisive enough … the U.S. must take the lead to build a coalition, which the President has finally started.
Finally started? Yes, we are well aware that there are people who think any war, any time, is a good idea.
[He goes on about the brutality of ISIL, which again is something to which there is almost universal agreement.] Then comes:
“The Kurds, the Iraqis, the Turks, the Emeratis, and the Jordanians all have military capability. They all want to knock ISIL on its back. They need our help, they want our help, and we owe them our help.Ignoring their pleas is a quick way to end up friendless with little, if any, U.S. influence left in the region.”
Ignoring their pleas? Please, get off the hobby horse, Mr. McKoen. Nobody is ignoring their pleas. These people need to get their acts together, and that has been the hold up all along.
“Let’s not forget that our allies around the world are watching and wondering if they can ever trust the U.S. Again.”
How much of that mistrust is due to our meddling in foreign nations, then leaving things in a mess, as seems to be our formula?
“American leadership isn’t an option here. It is a necessity. We are the missing piece in the puzzle.”
We are a piece of the puzzle, but we are not the piece that has been missing. What has been missing has been a consensus among the stakeholders.
The money trail
“There are certain capabilities that we have invested in for decades -- the ability to control air and sea space, the ability to put troops in difficult terrain and hostile territories, the ability to supply forces and communicate on the battlefield. That’s how we pull these nations together.”
I figured he would get around to this. It is called the money trail. Any solution supported by Senator McKoen is bound to involve large government expenditures to a huge military industrial complex. So grab your wallets. You have not yet paid for the Iraq war but here we go again.
Redefining boots on ground
“I do believe we can bring Sunnis and Shias and Kurds and even Turks together. To make that happen, the President needs an A-team of diplomats and soldiers on the ground, ushering every player towards the same purpose – not just this week, but on a sustained basis.”
Bringing these elements together is exactly what the President seem to be attempting to do, and this would be an amazing feat if accomplished, given the differences among these groups. McKoen should be giving the President credit for this instead of spewing out a steady stream of invective.
“Now, most of us cringe at the term “boots on the ground.” But we need to talk about what “boots on the ground” actually means. Some have taken it to mean large occupying forces in a hostile land. That’s a red herring.In fact the best way to ensure that we never have to drop an entire maneuver Corps into Iraq is to be smart about using the right boots on the ground today.
“The President may not admit it, but he has already made this distinction. He has inserted Special Forces, trainers, advisers, and security forces. This is the right decision. But more can be done. That includes increasing our assistance to the Kurds. It means empowering moderate Sunnis when and where we can, and bolstering the non-sectarian forces in the Iraqi security forces."
The President may not admit it?
Where has the Senator been? The President went on Television and announced what he was doing for the whole world to see and hear. Senator McKoen's insulting rhetoric is really getting old.
Yes, McKoen wants to re-define “boots on the ground” in order to save face for his bullying, militaristic approach, but Americans are not buying that: We all know what we mean by boots on the ground, and it is not what McKoen implies at all. And yes, there is risk and there is always the possibility, perhaps even the inevitability, that things may evolve to the point that we have to do something we really do not want to do, with real boots on the ground. But let's just cross that bridge when and if we come to it.
“This will take troops. It will not take divisions. But there’s no way around it; American boots will be standing on sand. Americans will be shot at, and they will be shooting back. There’s simply no other way to do this. This strategy isn’t without risk. Neither is the President’s. It would be wrong to sell it that way to the American people.”
Unfortunately, Mr. McKoen may be right about this. There is risk, and any prudent man would think it over before stepping into the ring, just as our President has been reluctant to get us involved in a fight where we may well be in over our heads.
“This is a dangerous business. It is dangerous any time we have our sons and daughters take to the skies, the seas, or the shores to defeat an enemy. The only thing more dangerous is waiting.”
There he goes again. Nobody is waiting. There is a necessity to have good intelligence and an acceptable plan in place among the coalition members, rather than just jumping in with guns blazing, possibly shooting the wrong people, as was sometimes done in the Iraq War and in other conflicts, and as Israel did, slaughtering 2000, mostly civilians, before the cease fire.
“Finally, we must not rely solely on counter terrorism. Wars are not won by counter terrorism alone – the 1990s proved as much. The President has implied that he will approach the problem of ISIL with a heavy emphasis on counter terrorism forces. The same tool he has used for 7 years. That’s like trying to solve a puzzle with a single piece. C-T has not stopped the growth of ISIL and the spread of terrorist groups in the region. The President wants to use a light footprint now in hopes that he doesn’t need a heavy footprint later."
Unfortunately, McKoen does not supply the missing information: How many boots, and for what purpose? You don't send "boots" into a foreign country without a specific purpose for those "boots." You don't just send a bunch of armed men in without some very concrete and specific ideas about what they are to do, whom they are to attack or defend and so on.McKoen is very sketchy about the details, which makes me wonder if he is just trying to trump things up to detract from the President's record.
"This approach was not terribly successful in Libya, which has fallen into chaos. It has short-term benefits, though. It will be cheaper in blood and treasure –for now. I want our coalition to go all-in now, so that we do not risk having to use enormously more blood and treasure later. I would much rather fight ISIL in Iraq and Syria today than fight them in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Kurdistan tomorrow."
Fair enough, Senator McKoen has a right to this opinion, but I see two problems with this:
(1) He wants to dictate what the coalition must do. That is fine. He is entitled to his position, but he cannot force it upon the coalition. The coalition must make those decisions.
(2) As usual he cannot stop himself: He must go on to add the snide and inappropriate remarks:
“I believe the President is finally waking up to what must be done to stop this evil.”
Finally waking up? Mr. McKoen, you really do need to stop trying to talk down at the President of the United States. Clearly you are out of line here.
“History punished us once thirteen years ago today. It is the responsibility of us all to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
This remark seems almost off the wall. History punished us? Punished us for what? The Senator gives no clue as to what he thinks should have been done that would have prevented 9/11. As a conservative, Mr McKoen might take note that a Republican, George Bush, was president at the time of the terrorist attack on the United States that we now refer to as 9/11. Terrorist do not care whether Democrats or Republicans are in office. This should not be a partisan issue, and shame on Mr. McKoen for attempting to make it seem otherwise.
McKoen's reference to 9/11 attempts to link that event to something that is actually unrelated except in a very roundabout and almost illogical way to the situation in Iraq.
Remember that arguments in favor of our war in Iraq, after the initial WMD argument flopped, was that this was really a war on terrorism. Oh really? That would be a difficult position to prove, and if it was the case, the attempt proved to be a total disaster.
My parting thought is that Mr. McKoen needs to attempt to do what may be impossible for him: The leopard needs to change his spots and start supporting the President of the United States and the people of the world, in our struggle to promote liberty and justice for all. Fat chance.
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