If Republicans gain control of the US Senate following the November midterm elections, President Barack Obama should expect an old rival in a powerful position to push for US ground troops in Iraq and Syria.
Sen. John McCain, who lost the 2008 presidential election to Obama, is currently the most senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. If his party wins a majority in the Senate, as it is expected to do, McCain would become chairman of the committee, which oversees defense policy and the military.
The longtime senator from Arizona said over the weekend that he would use his perch on the committee to advocate sending ground troops to buttress US-led airstrikes against extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL), which has come to control large areas of Iraq and Syria since the latter’s civil war brought the group to prominence.
“Frankly, I know of no military expert who believes we are going to defeat ISIS with this present strategy,”McCain said at a Pacific Council on International Policy conference, according to The Huffington Post.
McCain has hit the campaign trail ahead of election day to support his party’s Senate candidates. The GOP has painted President Obama’s foreign policy and national security policies as weak as well as insufficient in the fight against jihadist group du jour, Islamic State.
“We may be able to ‘contain,’ but to actually defeat ISIS is going to require more boots on the ground, more vigorous strikes, more special forces, further arming the Kurdish peshmerga forces and creating a no-fly zone and buffer zone in Syria,” McCain said.
Syrian President Bashar Assad, a fellow foe of Islamic State, must be removed from office if the US wants to see success against extremism in the region, McCain added.
Many top congressional Republicans have stated a desire to send combat troops back to Iraq and into Syria ever since American airstrikes against Islamic State began this summer. President Obama has repeatedly said no ground troops will be sent to the region, despite the stated willingness of top Pentagon brass to suggest that this very option might be necessary to “destroy and degrade” Islamic State.
Public opinion seems to tilt slightly to the side of withholding troop deployments. A recent Gallup poll found that 54 percent of respondents opposed sending ground troops to fight Islamic State.
Outside of American troop deployments, McCain said the US must arm Kurdish forces currently fighting Islamic State, send more arms to the Free Syrian Army, and institute a no-fly zone and buffer zones to safeguard territory and appease regional allies like Turkey. US military leaders have signaled they are open to installing a no-fly zone over Syria.
“It’s immoral to tell [Syrians and Kurds] to fight ISIS but then let them get bombed by Assad,” McCain said.“It’s the most immoral thing since Henry Kissinger abandoned the Kurds many years ago.”
McCain also stated that he was “very, very worried about the Iranians, not just because of the nuclear weapons issue but because of their other activities in the region.” The US and other world powers are in talks with Iran to decide how much and in what manner it must deplete its nuclear power program in order for an easing of draconian economic sanctions currently imposed by the West. McCain said he and other Republicans fear this deal will simply delay Iran’s achievement of a nuclear weapon.
McCain said that as chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he would seek to boost the defense budget after slight cuts in recent years. He added that a Republican-controlled Senate would work with the US House, already run by the GOP, to evade Obama’s reach.
“We could work with the House and leave the President two choices — either sign or veto. But I’m hoping that if we gain the majority, it will be incumbent on Obama to look at the last two years of his presidency and look at what we can accomplish together.”