War

Pentagon Considering 'Boots on the Ground' to Fight ISIS in Syria

President Trump has promised both non-interventionism and "safe zones" in Syria. He can't have both.

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How boots on the ground come back home
Dover Air Force Base/Wikimedia Commons

The Defense Department will not rule out putting additional U.S. troops on the ground in war-torn Syria when it presents President Trump with a range of options to fight ISIS next week.

At Washington D.C.'s Brookings Institution yesterday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said, "We've been given a task to go to the president with options to accelerate the defeat of ISIS specifically, but obviously other violent extremist groups as well," according to McClatchyDC. Dunford added, "We're going to go to him with a full range of options from which he can chose."

As a candidate, Trump said he would "bomb the shit out of ISIS," but also criticized his opponent Hillary Clinton's predilection for military interventionism. To date, the president has maintained a confounding duality when it comes to the use of military force, one that remains muddled by his call for "safe zones" in Syria to help stanch the flow of refugees, but which will ultimately require a military presence on the ground to enforce. Moreover, such a presence could find itself in conflict not only with ISIS and other radical Islamist groups, but also Syrian and Russian military forces.

About 500 U.S. special forces troops are already operating inside Syria (a holdover from the Obama administration and the representation of a broken promise by President Obama). Military action in the form of airstrikes against ISIS polled well among Americans last year (about 72 percent), but putting U.S. ground troops in Syria fared far worse—with only about 42 percent in favor.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis was non-committal last week when asked if he would recommend ground troops in Syria to President Trump, but in 2014 he publicly took issue with Obama's ISIS strategy. Business Insider quotes Mattis as saying:

Whichever strategy is chosen, we should be reticent in telling our adversaries in advance any timeline that governs us or which of our capabilities we will not employ. Specifically, if this threat to our nation is determined to be as significant as I believe it is, we may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American 'boots on the ground': if a brigade of our paratroopers or a battalion landing team of our Marines could strengthen our allies at a key juncture and create havoc/humiliation for our adversaries, then we should do what is necessary with our forces that exist for that very purpose. The U.S. military is not war weary, our military draws strength from confronting our enemies when clear policy objectives are set and we are fully resourced for the fight.

Mattis has frequently been described as one of Trump's more "sane" cabinet members and, as a retired Marine general, is intimately familiar with the horrors of war. That said, he's an Iran hawk who thinks there are "an increasing number of areas where we're going to have to confront Russia."

"Mad Dog" Mattis may very well be the right person to remind President Trump that soldiers are not toys and "safe zones" need to be made safe by the threat of deadly force. But if Trump is presented with a range of options that include a robust U.S. military presence in one of the world's worst war zones, don't bet against the "non-interventionist" president rejecting the use of what Hillary Clinton used to call "smart power."

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  1. Damn, the alt text…

  2. RE: Pentagon Considering ‘Boots on the Ground’ to Fight ISIS in Syria
    President Trump has promised both non-interventionism and “safe zones” in Syria. He can’t have both.

    Oh, goody-goody!
    More American troops getting killed.
    More money wasted on Middle East bullshit.
    More stupidity from a new administration.
    The best things in life never change.

  3. Wasn’t his call sign “Chaos”? It’s a slow morning here in Mudslide Manor, so I may as well throw out some offhand insult about how appropriate that is for this administration in particular and all politics in general.

    1. #ShoutYour…

      No that won’t work here.

  4. don’t bet against the “non-interventionist” president rejecting the use of what Hillary Clinton used to call “smart power.”

    Why not? It’s a safe, although not certain, bet.

  5. GREAT

    Also obvious. Why wouldn’t the Pentagon present that option?

  6. In other words, “keep ’em guessing” is a valid military doctrine.

    one that remains muddled by his call for “safe zones” in Syria to help stanch the flow of refugees, but which will ultimately require a military presence on the ground to enforce

    But would it necessarily require our military on the ground?

    1. Because no military in the area is capable of securing any zone. Not that we would be right in doing so, but that is the reason it would be considered.

      1. That’s why we have super qualified UN peacekeepers (when they’re not raping the locals).

  7. “President Trump has promised both non-interventionism and “safe zones” in Syria. He can’t have both.”

    This is the default alternative to working closely with Russia.

    We were going to try to arm the locals, but the Democrats were too prude to work with anyone who wasn’t pure of heart and the necons in both the Democratic and Republican parties didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to invade.

    Trump was going to try to coordinate closely with Putin, but the Democrats are too prude to work with anyone who isn’t pure of heart and the necons in both the Democratic and Republican parties didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to invade.

    Now, with those options off the table, if we’re looking at direct involvement, why should that surprise anybody? Since when has doing nothing been the preferred option of anyone in the White House, Congress, or the deep state?

  8. Sometimes, we paint ourselves into the dumbest corners, and that’s what happens when we oppose every option except our favorite–the one that no one is considering.

    Milton Friedman didn’t think we should have a Fed, but just because they decided to have a Fed over his objections, that didn’t prevent him from having an opinion on what the Fed should do. Life is about choosing from a list of imperfect options.

    In this case, the option on the table that limits the U.S.’ involvement the most is the best. That’s the one where we work with Putin and let him take the brunt of it on the ground in Syria–even if he isn’t a very nice person. You know who else wasn’t a nice person? Stalin. But if it’s in the best interests of the U.S. to work with Stalin to defeat the Nazis and the imperial Japanese, then of course we should work with Stalin.

    It’s the same thing now.

    If we end up putting American boots on the ground in Syria, something that will almost certainly end in disaster, I’ll put a nice slice of blame in front of all those who went after Trump for wanting close ties with Putin.

  9. I’ve been told repeatedly that there are only two foreign policy options to any given problem: complete isolation or thermonuclear war. So which will it be this time?

  10. Damn Fish, that’s some poignant alt-text.

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