Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is making headlines again for his remarks that the West can’t win against the Islamic State unless we put boots on the ground.
Blair added that, because groups such as the Islamic State were “fanatical,” there was no way to defeat them without “a willingness to take casualties in carrying the fight through to the end.” He cautioned that the former Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is robust enough to require a ground war and hinted that Western troops might be needed in that fight.
Blair stated, “There’s no need to put in a kind of army of occupation.”
“You’re not re-running Iraq or Afghanistan,” he said. “But I think there will undoubtedly be, over time, a need to hit ISIS–not simply through an aerial campaign, but also on the ground. The question will be: Can those people, if they’re supported locally, can they do that job or will we have to supplement that?“
Blair reiterated this may be a situation requiring combat force. He concluded by stating the US and Britain would come to a resolution on how to deal with this threat going forward.
Blair is best known for his aggressive stances on the last decade’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Understanding Blair’s point of view requires us to examine his ever-evolving views on war since the conclusion of his tenure and his appointment as acting UN Middle East envoy, a post in which he has served since 2007.
Obama’s strategy now is to train and equip Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State on the ground, a carefully orchestrated expansion of war powers granted to him via Congress last week. And on Saturday, President Obama replayed his war cry pledge of keeping U.S. combat troops off the ground, even against the Islamic State.
“I won’t commit our troops to fighting another ground war in Iraq, or in Syria. It’s more effective to use our capabilities to help partners on the ground secure their own country’s futures,” Obama said in his weekly radio address. “We will use our air power. We will train and equip our partners. We will advise, and we will assist. And we’ll lead a broad coalition of nations who have a stake in this fight.”
In direct response to Obama’s unwillingness to commit ground troops, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate panel last week that he would recommend the use of U.S. ground troops if he thinks the situation warrants them.
Gen. Dempey’s comments were met with political pushback from top leaders on Capitol Hill, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who scathed that she refuses to support that strategy, regardless of what the Pentagon thinks.
“Certainly, he [Obama] will be affected by what the generals say,” Pelosi said. “But I think the generals should know that there’s no appetite in the public for combat troops on the ground.“
Blair acknowledged the public’s reluctance to return to the days of entrenched warfare involving Western forces in the Middle East. But he raised questions about whether the strategy to train and equip local forces to combat ISIS will be enough to eradicate the fast-rising terrorist group.
“You certainly need to fight groups like ISIS on the ground, [and] it is possible that those people who are there locally and who have the most immediate interest in fighting ISIS can carry on the ground offensive against them,” Blair said. “But, look, this will evolve over time. … And I’m sure that the leadership both in the U.S. and elsewhere, which make sure that whatever is necessary to defeat ISUS (IS) is done.”
Jennifer Hanin is an award-winning writer, influential blogger and social media maven, and co-founder and former Executive Editor of Act For Israel. She is co-author of the critically-acclaimed What to Do When You Can’t Get Pregnant: the Complete Guide to All the Options for Couples Facing Fertility Issues (Da Capo, 2013; 2005) and Becoming Jewish: The Challenges, Rewards and Paths to Judaism.