Breaking News (OK, Not Really): McCain Wants Boots on the Ground in Syria



Except for one sinister snicker when Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) expelled rowdy Code Pink protestors, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) did not look at all pleased this morning during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the ISIS threat and the proposed American response.

McCain disagreed that the strategy for combating ISIS presented by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey went far enough in addressing the "immediate threat to American people and interests in the Middle East."

In his opening remarks, Hagel stated that the strategy would involve a mixture of air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria, a deployment of military advisers to Iraqi and Kurdish forces, and the arming and training of 5,000 "vetted" moderate Syrian rebels. He said that the U.S. was building an international coalition to implement a comprehensive approach to fighting ISIS—including Arab Muslim nations. Hagel conceded that this would be no short-lived task:

Significant commitment like this will not be an easy or a brief effort. It is complicated. We are at war with ISIL, as we are with al-Qaeda…but destroying ISIL will require more than military efforts alone.

Dempsey echoed Hagel, stating that, although the strategy focused on getting Iraqi security forces on their feet, an "Iraq-first strategy is not an Iraq-only strategy"—should ISIS remain in Syria, it will remain a threat, hence the need for a coalition force to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels.

In accordance with the current presidential stance, however, Hagel and Dempsey made a studious effort during their testimony to stress that military advisers are not boots on the ground—at least for now. Dempsey said:

My view at this point is that the coalition is the appropriate way for it…if it fails to be true and there are threats to the U.S. then I would…recommend a solution that would include military ground forces.

Later he made the same point, responding to a question about the role of American forces in Iraq:

The airmen…are very much in a combat role. The folks on the ground are in a very much combat advisory role. They are not participating in direct combat. There's no intention for them to do so. But if I found the circumstances evolving I would change my recommendation.

Despite leaving open a very real possibility of future ground troops in the the region, these answers still left McCain unsatisfied. He seemed skeptical that Hagel and Dempsey could think that a strategy of bombing, training, and arming would have the desired effect. Specifically, he worried about the U.S.-led coalition training and arming members of the Free Syrian Army without offering substantive American military support. He said:

They will be fighting against [Bashar] Assad and Assad will attack them from the air, which he has done with significant success …if one of the Free Syrian Army is fighting against Assad and he is attacking them from the air, would we take action to prevent them from being attacked from Assad?

Meant to elicit a concession that boots on the ground are a strategic necessity—or, at the very least, a distinct possibility—McCain could only get a half answer from Hagel: "Any attack on those we have trained, we will help." Hagel then changed tack, arguing that focusing on Assad would weaken the international coalition and that an ISIS-only strategy is feasible.

But McCain might still have the last laugh: The hedging about when exactly combat advisers turn into actual combatants—which Dempsey said he'd consider "on a case-by-case basis"—leaves the boots-on-the-ground question very much up in the air. 

NEXT: National Academy of Sciences Invites Creationists to Testify on the Validity of Biological Evolution: Well, Actually a Bunch Anti-Biotech Activists

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Man, I’m really getting tired of the expression, “Boots on the ground.” Every time someone says it I imagine lots of empty boots strewn across the desert…

    1. This would actually probably be more effective than many of our previous Middle East interventions.

      “Did you see the road into Mosul? The Americans airdropped boots. Millions of them, everywhere.”
      “Those fuckers are insane. Maybe we should leave them alone.”

      1. I agree. If we sent 300,000,000 troops, we could probably take over the middle east. We’d just need to make sure Mexico didn’t try anything funny while we were all over there!

        1. Leave them Mexicans to the Canucks. We could rent them our homes while we’re gone. I’m sure they’d want to come down for an extended vacation where it’s warm.

          1. I don’t want my house smelling like maple and cheese curds.

            Do I?

            1. I’m just worried there will be Ryan Reynolds DVDs and Bryan Adams albums all over the house.

              1. Now now, the Canadian government has apologized for Brian Adams on several occasions.

                1. Well then they should take some steps to prove their dedication to their contrition!


                2. They’re like the Pakistani government. They may say they’re willing to take steps against him, but in reality, they’re providing him safe haven.

    2. It’s a way ti elide the fact that war is about putting you citizens in a situation where they could get killed. If they aren’t “on the ground” they can’t be killed. It’s the zipless fuck sort of war.

    3. I have a bunch of old boots from my military days in a seabag. I’ll send them to McCain if he wants them.

      1. I’ll throw a couple of pairs in, too.

        1. We can collect enough to fill a C5 and drop them all over the country. They won’t know what hit them.

  2. my classmate’s mother makes $74 hourly on the internet . She has been out of a job for nine months but last month her pay check was $12997 just working on the internet for a few hours. Get More Info ….

    ???????? http://www.netjob70.com

  3. Maybe it’s time we put Grandpa in a home where he can’t get out.

  4. /pounds head into wall

  5. I’m sick enough of the newsreader phrase “on the ground”, let alone adding “boots” to it.

    1. We have to differentiate between Army boots and Air Force flight boots!!!!!

      /Talking head

  6. Invasion is wonderful because FDR was pro-invasion.

    Really, at this point it would unpatriotic not to re-invade Iraq.

    1. Or Syria. They look so much alike and are both so chock full of American Interest that it gets confusing.

  7. Bomb them, shoot them, what’s the difference? You could occupy that shithole for a century, and you’d have the same result. When you leave, the people will do what THEY want to do rather than what you want them to do.

    This is a surprise to our wise leaders?

    1. We solved this problem with the aboriginal peoples in the continental US.

      We just need to invade; kill all the fighting age males; put the rest of the people on reservations; and settle the land ourselves.

      1. It’s almost as if we learned all the wrong lessons from history.

      2. Since we’re not looking to occupy the land, even this would be a waste of resources. Just fucking leave. Once we leave and ignore them they’ll stop bothering us.

        1. Once we leave and ignore them they’ll stop bothering us.

          Oh, I don’t know about that. We’ve created quite a few enemies who aren’t going to forgive us once we leave. It will take a generation or two for the hatred to simmer down.

          1. Maybe. But they’re going to have much more immediate real enemies right there in their neighborhood. Maybe a few groups don’t get the message and continue to attack American interests for a few years, but they won’t last very long once nobody is willing to fund them anymore.

        2. I agree the choice is conquest or go home.

          Nation-building is bullshit.

          1. And don’t let them follow as immigrants.

        3. We can always give it back to them in a 100 years once the oil is gone. They can return to a subsistence economy in the fucking desert.

          1. Seriously though, what a waste. Just leave, absorb any short term shocks to the economy caused by energy shortages, etc, and move on. Maybe Russia or China will see that oil and decide to get bogged down in the region – more power to them.

            1. Russia is busy retaking the eastern block countries.

              Besides, I think the United States of America and Arabia has a nice ring to it.

  8. At least Bob Dole was honest about his dysfunction.

  9. So “vetted moderate rebel” means what exactly? Someone who’s not shooting at us right now?

    1. Supporting “vetted moderate rebels” to take over in the middle east is basically like al-Qaeda using “radicalized Muslims” to take over America.

    2. Moderate means “not an extremist,” and extremist seems to mean someone with principles or steadfast beliefs.

      Based upon that, “vetted moderate rebel” means someone who is willing to die for their cause, but not so principled that they actually believe in what they are fighting for.

      So I guess it means a good liar.

  10. Are we fighting against ISIS or ISIL or IS or the caliphate or dictators?

    We are scheduled to have boots on the ground to fight against the ebola virus. Well at least we have a defined enemy there.

    1. I am guessing that the plan is to get a brigade or so of soldiers infected with ebola and then transfer them in time for them to infect ISIS. That’s the “destroy” part. The “degrade” part is still in the planning phase but I believe that it currently involves lots of alcohol, Miley Cyrus, Prime Time network TV shows, and the Jezebel e-mail alert list.

      1. You monster. Use of the Jezebel e-mail alert list is clearly a violation of the Hague Convention.

        1. *Hands ‘Law of Land Warfare’ volume to Andrew S., to throw at DwT*

  11. I generally assume that John McCain wants to invade pretty much everywhere. When he’s eating at Chili’s and his southwestern eggrolls arrive almost at the same time as his entree, he starts texting Obama telling him to send the Marines to take control the Brinkely International headquarters.

  12. Didn’t he also want US boots on the ground fighting Russia on behalf of Georgia?

    1. I’m reasonably sure McCain wants American troops on the ground in every country on Earth. Great Britain? There might be trouble with Scottish independence, why the fuck not? Germany? What if Zombie Hitler comes back? And so on, and so forth.

      1. We already have folks in both countries…

  13. The whole region will have to be obliterated, occupied, re-educated and de-Islamized before there will be peace in the world. End of. These half-assed methods aren’t going to work at all. They’ll just make things worse.

    The time to mobilize for this was 9/12/2001. Congress should have declared war on every single government in the region and carpet bombed post-haste.

    Oh, well. Guess we’ll have to wait until something on the scale of 9/11 happens–or worse.

    1. Did that sound better in the original German?

  14. ISIS is not a terrorist organization in the traditional sense. They’re not out killing people to make a statement and then going home. They’re leaving in their wake a government with police, courts, taxes, and of course a system of law.
    And I bet they’ve got more popular support than the media is letting on. Islam is more than just a religion. It’s a way of life. Government and faith are all rolled into one.
    I mean, look at the thousands of Westerners who have flocked over there to do battle. If they’ve got that much support in the West, how much more support do they have at home? Especially if regional governments can’t find soldiers willing to fight them. The Iraqi army fled. What’s to think that other regional armies won’t do the same?
    If I was king I’d wash my hands of the entire region. Get out. Let them kill each other. If an Islamic state emerges, then so be it. If it attacks American soil, declare war and nuke them into the Stone Age. They’re barely living in the Bronze Age as it is, so it won’t be too much of a step down.

    1. They’re leaving in their wake a government with police, courts, taxes, and of course a system of law.

      Sounds like a terrorist organization to me.

      1. Narrows gaze.

    2. The thing about a traditional nation states is that they have sites and institutions which you can destroy or take over and everyone recognizes that as a victory. Generally, capturing the capital works.

      Unless ISIS starts doing central state things like legislative assemblies, government bureaus, etc they’re going to be really hard to stop.

    3. If it attacks American soil, declare war and nuke them into the Stone Age.

      America doesn’t have the moral bearing to do that. This is an Objectist argument, but? it makes some sense. As far back as the 1950’s the US and western Europe started giving away the western oil production assets to the Saudis and other middle eastern countries because it was, by some calculation, justly theirs, not the stockholders’. It was on their land, after all. Now that they’re filthy rich and not westernized this looks a bit naive. The Saudis have been redistributing this wealth in ways that should make Naomi Klein pause.

  15. Can we deploy Congress to fight ISIS? It’s not as if we can’t find 535 new morons to send to Washington if something unfortunate should happen to them.

    1. “if”? A handful might know what end of the rifle a bullet comes out of…

  16. I know McCain’s a war hero and all, but goddamn if that guy doesn’t love him some war mongering. I will volunteer to airdrop McCain onto the “rebel stronghold” and see if he can whip their asses into shape. Seems like he’s just itching for a fight, so I say give him his wish. Hell, we gave John Glenn a Space Shuttle ride, we ought to be able to afford some jet fuel, beans and bullets for McCain.

  17. lol, that idiot is still around? Really? lol.


  18. Do not be fooled by the “boots on the ground” posturing. The neocons do not really expect to get it. It is more a deflection from their true aims. McCain states it in the quote above. They are trying to get U.S. air power into Syria under the pretext of attacking ISIS, but they mean to evolve it into targeting the Assad regime. They have the means to accomplish this; they run the intel services, and airmen will attack what they are told to attack. They are not happy that the public and conservative politicians thwarted their plans to depose Assad last year.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.