The horrifying murder of a Jordanian pilot, made public this week, suggests that U.S. efforts to stop the Islamic State extremist group are ineffective, making it more likely that the 2016 election campaign will become a debate about ground troops.
President Obama has launched waves of airstrikes at Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria, but he steadfastly rules out sending ground troops into combat.
At least six potential Republican presidential candidates won’t dismiss that option. Others, though, hedge when asked how they’d proceed beyond criticizing Obama’s airstrikes-only strategy as ineffective.
Americans are increasingly worried about terrorist threats and want heightened readiness and a tough response. A recent Pew Research Center survey found combating terrorism inching ahead of the economy as Americans’ top priority for Obama and Congress. Two-thirds were concerned that the Islamic State was a major threat to this country.
The drumbeat of horrors keeps the apprehension fresh. The beheadings of hostages, the killings at the offices of satirical Paris-based magazine Charlie Hebdo and the burning alive of Jordanian Lt. Moaz al Kasasbeh intensify the concern.
Republicans, far more than Democrats, have for months sensed an opportunity to use terrorism policies to their advantage, and aren’t relenting.
“There is a Democrat in the White House, so it’s a little easier (for Republicans) to be hawkish,” said Craig Robinson, editor of TheIowaRepublican.com, a partisan website.
Add to that the prospect of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee, even though she was in office in 2011, when American forces killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. As a U.S. senator, Clinton voted in 2002 to authorize President George W. Bush to use military force in Iraq, a vote she later said she regretted.
“Republicans likely view her as being weak on foreign policy,” said Robinson.
Clinton said last month that military action against Islamic terrorists was “critical.” She did not get more specific about U.S. ground troops.
Ground troops, many suggest, could or should be an option. Among their views:
▪ Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He “believes we shouldn’t take options off the table when it comes to protecting America’s interests,” said spokeswoman Lucy Nashed.
▪ Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. “If you need ground troops to take ‘em out, you put in ground troops,” he told McClatchy in a recent interview.
▪ Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. “We have to be prepared to put boots on the ground if that’s what it takes,” he told ABC on Sunday.
▪ Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. The fight against the Islamic State “might require some element of U.S. ground power in order to finish the job,” he told CNN last fall. He continues to think the U.S. shouldn’t take options off the table.
▪ Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He suggested “ground troops on the American side to supplement a regional force . . . with large enough numbers to defeat” the Islamic State. He called for about 10,000 American support personnel “to make sure that we win not only in Syria but in Iraq.”
▪ Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has been a supporter of U.S. airstrikes, though he said Obama had acted improperly by not seeking congressional authorization first. In December, he introduced a resolution providing that consent, which hasn’t been taken up for a vote. It included a section limiting how ground forces could be used.
It said such forces could be used “for limited operations against high value targets or as necessary for advisory and intelligence gathering operations.” Ground power could also be used to protect or rescue U.S. citizens or military personnel from “imminent danger” posed by the Islamic State.
Others are less specific.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas suggested Tuesday, “The question of what is to be required should be a military question driven by the objective.”
The problem with Obama’s foreign policy, he said, is that “the objective has not been focused appropriately on destroying ISIS. Rather, it has been a photo op foreign policy.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told a New York audience last fall that the rise of the Islamic State has come partly because of allies’ inability to trust Obama and his policies. His office didn’t respond to requests for comment. Nor did former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s political committee.