Thursday night’s Republican debate at the University of Miami revealed one startling thing: all four Republican candidates for president would put more boots on the ground to fight ISIS.
CNN debate moderator Hugh Hewitt during the debate asked candidates whether they would put troops on the ground “to end the ISIS threat in Syria and Iraq,” and every candidate on stage said he would.
Perhaps the most shocking commitment came from Donald Trump who said he would do so, even if 20,000 or 30,000 troops were needed.
“I would listen to the generals, but I’m hearing numbers of 20,000 to 30,000,” Trump said. “We don’t fight like we used to fight. We used to fight to win. Now we fight for no reason whatsoever. We don’t even know what we’re doing. So, the answer is we have to knock them out. We have to knock them out fast.”
Many foreign policy experts have cautioned against the use of ground troops to fight ISIS, as it could exacerbate conflicts in the region.
While the other candidates did not specify the number of troops they would send to fight the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State, or exactly what that commitment would look like, they did agree that a U.S. presence on the ground was needed.
“We need to do whatever is necessary to utterly defeat ISIS,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). “And that needs to be driven not by politicians but by military expertise and judgment. Right now we’re not using a fraction of the tools that we have. We’re not using our overwhelming air power. We’re not arming the Kurds. Those need to be the first steps. And then we need to put whatever ground power is needed to carry it out.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich similarly called for U.S. troops on the ground to fight the militant group and stressed the need for a coalition. “Arabs have to be with us. The Europeans have to understand that this threat is closer to them than even is closer — is as close as it is to us. And in addition to that, you have to be in the air and you have to be on the ground,” said Kasich. “And you bring all the force you need. It has got to be ‘shock and awe’ in the military-speak. Then once it gets done, and we will wipe them out, once it gets done, it settles down, we come home and let the regional powers redraw the map if that’s what it takes.”
Rubio did not call for boots on the ground in the debate on Thursday, but he has repeatedly done so in the past. In an interview with the Guardian in November last year, he said that the United States needed to support a “ground force that is made up primarily of Arab Sunni fighters from Iraq, from Syria, but also from Jordan, from Egypt, from the Emirates, from Saudi Arabia” with additional airstrikes and special operations forces on the ground. Rubio did not tell the Guardian how many troops were needed and said the size of the U.S. special operations force “would depend on our military tacticians to outline a strategy and tell us what the commitment would be.”
“Whatever it is, we’re going to do that. If you’re going to engage militarily, you have to ensure you have the resources to win, not simply to have a symbolic gesture,” he said. In the March 3 Republican debate, he called for ground troops to fight ISIS not just in Iraq and Syria — but in Libya as well.
Former FBI Supervisory special agent Ali Soufan, a leading expert on Islamic terrorism, previously told the Huffington Post UK that the militant group is trying “to suck the west” into a new war in Iraq. “Then they’ll be not only the regional bad boy, but also the bad boy for the global jihadi movement. They can then claim they are in an international war – a modern day Crusade – against all the countries coming to fight them,” said Soufan, who led the FBI’s investigation of Al Qaeda’s bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and now works on finding counterterrorism strategies.
“The military campaign is only a tool, it’s not a strategy. The solution is not only by drones. It’s not only by airstrikes,” he said. “The solution is a regional solution that [is about] defeating the ideology that promotes extremist groups like ISIS, defeating the incubating factors that promote extremism, and [making] countries in the region.. understand they cannot use extremism in their proxy wars against one other.”
Last month, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would no longer conduct bombing missions in Iraq and Syria. “The people terrorized by (Islamic State) every day don’t need our vengeance, they need our help,” he said.