Republicans’ ‘plans’ for Isis would drag us into Iraq for another ground war

May 27, 2015 by

After more than a decade of war in the Middle East some have still not lost their appetite for military intervention. Photograph: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of the groundwork being laid for US ground troops to return to Iraq for another indefinite war with no end game.

Republican presidential candidates (of which there now seem to be more than a dozen) have spent the past month ripping President Obama for his administration’s approach to the war against Isis, in which the US military has dropped tens of thousands of bombs, sent 3,000 troops back to Iraq, and killed over 12,000 people, all without any legal authorization. Predictably, the Republicans have no problem with the war technically being illegal, or the tens of thousands killed – only that we haven’t used more of our military weaponry yet.

The New York Times detailed many of the Republican candidates’ nebulous “criticisms” of the Obama administration, most of which assume a fantasy world in which Obama is not sending the US military to fight Isis at all, even though he’s authorized thousands of airstrikes per month in both Iraq and Syria. Most of the candidates, while competing with each other over who can sound more “muscular” and “tough”, are too cowardly to overtly call for what they likely actually want: another ground war in the Middle East involving tens of thousands of US troops.

The vague, bullshitt-y statements made by Republican candidates would be hilarious if it wasn’t possible that they’ll lead to more American soldiers dying in the coming years. “Restrain them, tighten the noose, and then taking them out is the strategy” is Jeb Bush’s hot take on Isis. Thanks, Jeb – I can’t believe the Obama administration hasn’t thought of that! Marco Rubio’s “solution” is even more embarrassing: according to The Times, he responded to a question about what he would do differently – and this is real – by quoting from the movie Taken: “We will look for you, we will find you and we will kill you.”

Rubio has also called for “strategic overhaul”, but his radical plan seems to be virtually indistinguishable from what the Obama administration is actually doing – yet another sign that Republicans tend to live in a fantasy land where Obama is an anti-war president rather than someone who has bombed more countries than his Republican predecessor. (That is not a compliment, by the way.)

While Republican candidates use innuendo and coded language to prepare the public for the idea of sending in ground troops, other conservatives and military hawks are much more overt. The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman wrote that military leaders are starting to signal they want ground troops – possibly in both Iraq and Syria. In the Daily Beast, unnamed Special Forces soldiers were quoted as “begging” to go fight Isis on the ground. Since the beginning of the current military campaign, it’s been clear that the US military always wanted to send in ground troops, even if the Obama administration refused to admit that they’re considering it.

Meanwhile, arch neoconservative Fred Kagan told Congress that the US needs to send 15,000-20,000 troops back to Iraq. Robert Kaplan went even further, calling for a return of US “imperialism” in the Middle East. Why either Kagan or Kaplan is still taken remotely seriously considering their hand in the initial Iraq catastrophe is anyone’s guess, but you can bet Republican contenders are paying attention.

The most breathtakingly inhumane argument came from unnamed Iraqi and American military sources whose anonymous statements were dutifully printed by the New York Times: the reason Iraqi forces are losing ground to Isis is not because the Iraqi forces refuse to fight, but because the US is too afraid to kill civilians. Putting aside the fact that the US has already killed hundreds of civilians, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out, the idea that being willing to kill more civilians is key to victory is disturbing in the extreme.

Unfortunately, nothing much has changed since George Bush invaded Iraq years ago: the main controversy isn’t whether military engagement in the region is a smart strategy, but whether we should be only bombing the Middle East or also sending in ground troops. No one even bothers asking any of the Republican candidates (except Rand Paul) if Congress should actually vote to send troops to war against Isis for the next decade. When we wake up eight years from now, still mired in Iraq – at a cost of countless more lives and millions of dollars – will anything be any different?

  • This article was corrected on 27 May 2015 to indicate that it was Robert Kaplan who recommended a return to imperialism in the Middle East, not Robert Kaplan.

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