The 800-pound gorilla managed to remain quiet for a week, hidden, one might presume, by Washington’s most powerful of power players. The few who dared discuss the beast did so in veiled ways, and with hesitation. But if you listened carefully, the sound of the gorilla pounding the bars of his cage was faint.
That all changed when Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey — and later, Vice President Joe Biden — flung open the cage door and unleashed an inconvenient but plausible hypothetical into the debate about President Barack Obama’s plans to fight the Islamic State group.
“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [Islamic State group] targets,” Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), “I’ll recommend that to the president.”
The untamed animal that could wreck Obama’s plan is the mere acknowledgment that US ground forces could again be fighting — and dying — in Iraq.
Secretary of State John Kerry, Dempsey’s spokesman and others all tried to walk back and clarify that statement.
Whether they succeeded is moot. Whether SASC Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., is right that the media — including this reporter — mischaracterized Dempsey’s statement is moot.
Can the gorilla be caged?
Members of both parties are sharply questioning whether countries in the Middle East will indeed contribute ground forces to Obama’s coalition. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Corker, R-Tenn., says Obama’s plan “doesn’t even seem serious.”
Corker wants US officials to “lay out all these details and tell us which of these countries are going to be flying their flag into Syria, they’re going to be putting people on the ground, because we know … the Free Syrian Army cannot take on [the Islamic State group].”
The Crossroads of Special Operations