Secretary of State John Kerry took to Twitter Wednesday to talk tough about the terrorist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“ISIL will be destroyed/will be crushed,” Kerry tweeted, using the acronym for an alternative name for ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
Kerry’s tweet comes in the aftermath of ISIS’s gruesome murder of American journalist James Foley and goes beyond what President Barack Obama said on Wednesday from Martha’s Vineyard.
“From governments and peoples across the Middle East, there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so that it does not spread,” Obama said. “There has to be a clear rejection of this kind of nihilistic ideologies. One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.”
ISIS may have no place in the 21st century, but Obama did not exactly say America would make sure it doesn’t by “crushing” and “destroying” the terrorist group. So was Kerry speaking for Obama with his tweet — or just winging it?
We can’t be sure, but if recent history is any guide, he may not exactly be speaking with authority. After Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad crossed the redline President Obama set for him by using chemical weapons against his own people, Kerry gave an impassioned speech clearly suggesting the United States was on the precipice of launching a military response.
“It matters because if we choose to live in the world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, even after the United States and our allies said no, and then the world does nothing about it, there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe that they can do as they will,” Kerry said in August 2013.
But despite Kerry’s speech laying out the case for military action, President Obama ended up doing nothing militarily in Syria.
Which again leaves us with the question: Is Kerry now speaking for President Obama when he says the U.S. will “crush” and “destroy” ISIS? Or is he talking tough without any real assurance from the president that the United States will commit the resources necessary to back up his words?
If Obama is on the same page as his secretary of state, he is presumably preparing to lay out to the country the reality that America will be putting boots on the ground in Iraq again, which he has so far said he has no intention of doing. Because defeating ISIS will require a strategy that goes far beyond what the president has so far articulated.
Military historian Max Boot says it “will require a commitment of some 10,000 U.S. advisors and Special Operators, along with enhanced air power, to work with moderate elements in both Iraq and Syria … to stage a major offensive to rout ISIS out of its newly conquered strongholds.”
Counterterrorism expert Brian Fishman argues destroying ISIS will actually require much more.
“If destroying ISIL becomes the near-term policy goal — which seems the likely outcome of saying you are going to ‘roll back’ the group — then 10,000-15,000 troops vastly understates the true commitment, which will actually require years, direct military action on both sides of the Iraq/Syria border, tens (if not hundreds) of billions of dollars, and many more than 15,000 troops,” he writes. “ISIL is an inherently resilient organization — look how far they have come since getting ‘rolled back’ during the Surge in 2007 when 150,000 American troops were occupying the country.”
So if Kerry is right and American policy is now to “crush” and “destroy” ISIS, when will we hear the “how” part? Because it appears President Obama is more consumed with his golf game at the moment than contemplating such a significant military commitment.
Time will tell if Kerry was just jabbering — or pointing to a truly a major shift in American policy.