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Editorial: U.S. must keep ISIS options open

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 19, 2014 5:00 AM

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Though many around the nation may be weary of war, the United States is poised to once again embroil itself in a conflict in the Middle East.

Congress presented a rare united front on authorizing the Obama administration’s $500 million plan to combat ISIS, including arming around 5,000 Syrian rebels after ensuring they aren’t as radical as the enemy we’re fighting.

With 159 Republicans and 114 Democrats voting for the measure in the House and the Senate passing the bill by a comfortable margin (78-22), the crisis in Iraq and Syria has provided Congress with an opportunity to rally on common ground: for Democrats, supporting a president whose foreign-policy approach has often been criticized, and for Republicans, a chance to intervene in what could quickly become a national-security threat.

Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized that this should not be a battle the United States fights alone. On Wednesday, he called for American allies in Europe and across the globe to join in the effort, some 40 countries. While these nations are not likely to send troops, an air campaign seems a likely commitment.

U.S. planes have conducted 174 air strikes across Iraq, and they are at least one component of the campaign against ISIS that has faced practically zero opposition, even in countries historically opposed to this kind of intervention.

But although this initial plan is backed by Congress and seems sound, the prospect of an extended military campaign has raised a lot of questions and garnered a divided response.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a CBS interview Wednesday that the United States would need to use “boots on the ground” in order to defeat ISIS. He contended that by repeating there will be no ground troops, Obama “traps himself.”

That was countered by the continued assertion from the Obama administration that no troops will be sent into combat in Iraq, instead relying on supporting “partners on the ground” to secure the country’s future.

These assertions in tandem have cast doubt on what the United States can accomplish in the region. During the war in Iraq, the Bush administration called a premature end to the combat mission with the now-infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech. But with these most recent proclamations, the Obama administration seems to follow the same path.

Gates is not known as a warmonger. He often warned the Bush administration about the dangers of an over-reliance on military intervention. That his veteran analysis is at odds with the current administration’s plan is not a good sign.

Heading into midterm elections, Obama seems cautious in authorizing a widespread use of military force, not to mention explaining it to a populace that has spent the last decade hearing the same justifications. But if the administration is serious about neutralizing ISIS, it should keep all the options on the table.


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