Are Combat Troops on Their Way to Iraq?
Some lawmakers are trying to ensure debate and vote after Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Dempsey raised the possibility
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: The drumbeats of war are getting louder on Capitol Hill after President Obama announced last week that he would be bombing Iraq and Syria, but not sending in ground troops, to defeat the extremist group ISIS, also known as ISIL.
JAMES INHOFE, U.S. SENATOR (R-OK): When I listened to his speech, when he said, on the fight against ISIL, quote, “[i]t will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil”, American forces do “not have a combat mission”, in your opinion–let me ask you two questions, General Dempsey. In your opinion, are the pilots dropping bombs in Iraq, as they’re now doing, a direct combat mission? And secondly, will U.S. forces be prepared to provide combat search and rescue if a pilot gets shot down? And will they put boots on the ground to make that rescue successful?
MARTY DEMPSEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Yes and yes.
DESVARIEUX: On Tuesday, before the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Martin Dempsey testified on President Obama’s strategy for combating ISIL.
DEMPSEY: Our military advisers will help the Iraqis conduct campaign planning, arrange for enabler and logistics support, and coordinate our coalition activities. If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraq troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I’ll recommend that to the president. As long as ISIL enjoys a safe haven in Syria, it will remain a formidable force and a threat.
DESVARIEUX: Protesters disrupted the hearing several times, calling for a political rather than a military solution to deal with Sunni extremism.
CARL LEVIN, CHAIR, SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Thank you. Would you please leave? Would you please leave the room now? We’re asking you nicely. We’re asking you nicely to please leave the room. Look, we’re asking you nicely, would you please leave the room? Thank you. We ask you for the last time. Thank you very much.
DESVARIEUX: But senators like John McCain want further militarization, with troops on the ground now. He said President Obama’s current plan to bomb the region controlled by ISIS doesn’t go far enough and the U.S. should also be focusing on Syrian President Bashar Assad. But editor of the Middle East Report Omar Dahi says Assad should not be the focus of U.S. strategy.
OMAR DAHI, ASSOC. PROF. ECONOMICS, HAMPSHIRE COLLEGE: But in many ways, Assad per se is no longer the problem. It’s a problem of trying to find an adequate representation of different social forces.
And this regime has a social base. It has a social base in othe country. There has been the possibility of a political solution if the U.S. would push in that direction. But the U.S. and its allies for a long time enabled the external Syrian opposition, or those who claim to be speaking on behalf of the Syrian opposition, to be maximalist. And only when it was too late, only when the tide had turned militarily against the Syrian opposition, did they then start claiming to be pushing for a political solution. There may be one in the making if there is a deal with Iran, if Turkey is brought on board, and perhaps Saudi Arabia. There’s no guarantee that that would happen, but that’s a much more likely strategy of success than bombing.
DESVARIEUX: Former chief of staff to Colin Powell Larry Wilkerson agrees, and he said the 2003 invasion of Iraq disrupted the balance of power in the region. And now neoconservatives are looking for perpetual war to protect oil interests and maintain regional balance with American ground forces.
LARRY WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: The other choice you have is to stay there yourself and maintain the balance. That, as I just pointed out, is extremely dangerous, especially when you have the tendency once you’re there and you become the bête noire, the black beast of the region, fusing all these other disparate elements into complete and unified opposition to you, that would be a losing situation for the Empire.
DESVARIEUX: On the Hill, there’s not much debate on whether or not military action is the best course of action from either Republicans or Democrats. But there are some lawmakers that want mandatory debate or a vote before the president decides to put boots on the ground in either Syria or Iraq.
The resolution was just assigned to a House committee, and currently there are only two other sponsors, Representative Barbara Lee and Representative Keith Ellison. Under the president’s plan, he would like Congress’s approval to arm and train 5,000 so-called moderate Syrian rebels in Saudi Arabia. The Real News interviewed journalist and author Patrick Cockburn about these so-called moderate factions that the administration would like to arm.
DESVARIEUX: So, Patrick, you’ve done a lot of reporting on the ground in Syria. And, you know, these so-called moderate Syrian rebels that President Obama keeps referring to, I need to get a sense of who they are. Who are they, actually?
PATRICK COCKBURN, JOURNALIST, THE INDEPENDENT: Well, they aren’t is the answer to that. They scarcely exist on the ground. That’s one of the extraordinary things about the plan that was announced this week to combat ISIS, the Islamic State, is that in Syria the main opponent of the Islamic State is to be the Syrian armed moderates. But nobody can find them on the map. The main military force in Syria is the Syrian army, the Syrian government. The main opposition force is ISIS. Then there are a series of other jihadi groups. Like, there’s one called Jabhat al-Nusra. It’s pretty powerful. It’s also the Syrian affiliate of bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. So the jihadis dominate that. So it’s kind of saying that everything will depend on these moderates who are to be vetted and trained in Saudi Arabia, and then these poor guys are going to fight not only ISIS, the most ferocious guerrilla group in the world, but the Syrian army. So this is really not a policy. It’s kind of make-believe.
DESVARIEUX: The House will likely be voting on arming these rebels on Wednesday, as it is being attached to legislation that would fund the government for the rest of the year.
For The Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.