Many critics of President Barack Obama who want us to send thousands of American ground troops to destroy and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, claim that by pledging not to give a direct combat mission in Iraq and Syria to the troops, Obama is ignoring military advice that the consequences of taking this option off the table will be disastrous for America and the region.
Advocates of this position point to recommendations by Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of U.S. Central Command, the testimony of Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, and the remarks of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno the following day to his fellow Army chiefs in Europe, who have all said that conditions on the ground in Iraq and Syria should dictate military strategy. Other retired military officers, like Gen. James Mattis, who preceded Austin at CENTCOM, have also argued that the president should not rule out the possibility of the need for a larger ground force.
“You just don’t take anything off the table up front, which it appears the administration has tried to do,” Mattis told the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
The parade of serious military advice is a classic part of the march to war. The issue is not simply whether putting American forces into Iraq and Syria is the right strategy, but whether civilian policymakers should always listen to the nation’s military leaders when it comes to matters of national defense.