Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s Wednesday pledge not to send ground troops to Iraq or Syria breaks with the national security establishment she has generally aligned herself with.
“We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again. And we’re not putting ground troops into Syria,” Clinton said. Her comments are profoundly confused with current U.S. policy; the U.S. has nearly 5,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq and another 300 special operators embedded in Syria. Clinton has signaled she not only agrees with this policy, but will bolster them as president.
Clinton’s comments contradict the national security establishment she has aggressively courted throughout the 2016 campaign. It has by and large supported her candidacy. The lack of a sizable U.S. ground presence in Iraq is generally agreed upon as a major precipitating factor behind the rise of Islamic State. Similarly, the lack of U.S. force in Syria is seen as a hindrance to U.S. influence over the Syrian battlefield.
Senior U.S. military officials told the Obama administration in January, 2016, the U.S. needs more troops in Syria to accelerate the defeat of ISIS. “With more capacity, you can do more,” Derek Chollet, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Obama administration, told The New York Times when advocating for an increased U.S. presence in Syria.
“The war against ISIS and Islamic extremists cannot be won by inches,” Chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services Mac Thornberry said in a statement in July. Thornberry continued that troop level considerations are “taking a back seat” to operational needs in the war against ISIS.
Clinton’s new stance also flies in the face of her entire record as secretary of state. As a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet, she supported a massive surge of troops into Afghanistan, wanted to keep a large contingent of U.S. forces in Iraq, forcefully pushed for U.S. intervention in Libya and advocated for a more robust U.S. role in the early days of the Syrian civil war.
These positions were generally in line with the national security establishment and thinking of top U.S. military generals. Clinton’s closest national security surrogate, retired Marine Gen. John Allen, advocated Tuesday for a prolonged U.S. effort in Afghanistan. Clinton has publicly committed to backing Baghdad’s government, and stated she will implement a no-fly zone in Syria if elected.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham called in 2015 for a sizable U.S. force contingent in Syria. “The only way you can destroy the caliphate is with a ground component,” Graham said. “The aerial campaign is not turning the tide of battle.”
Clinton’s new stance seems to echo Obama’s own on U.S. involvement in Libya. Obama committed to a no-fly zone in Libya, but drew a line in the sand with U.S. ground intervention. The no-fly zone ended up knocking Libyan leader Mohamar Gaddafi out of power, but plunged the nation into civil war and chaos. Libya remains a failed state in 2016, with the second largest ISIS affiliate outside of Iraq and Syria.
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