Will President Obama Put American Soldiers in Iraq and Syria in Time?

Eventually, we're going to need U.S. boots on the ground. Will they be sent to prevent an attack on America, or in response to one?

Photograph by Jeff Fusco

Photograph by Jeff Fusco

When President Obama addresses the nation Wednesday night, on the event of the 13th anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, the country faces its greatest threat from a terrorist organization since that fateful day.

After a long, sleepy summer of inaction by the President as ISIS grew and seized land, arms and treasure, the President finally does have a strategy and is ready to share it with the country. The President will look for national support in the face of his lowest approval numbers since he was first sworn in to office in 2008.

We should give it to him.

For critics of the President, and there are many, it is a difficult thing to do. In many ways, ISIS fed on the President’s inattentiveness. It started with the Red Line in Syria that wasn’t. That emboldened ISIS to seize territory in Iraq that is larger than the state of Indiana. The President claims he was caught off guard, but there are reports the CIA warned him of this threat a year ago. And then, in between the beheadings of Americans, the President announced that he didn’t yet have a strategy to deal with ISIS.

However, it does seem now that the President is getting his act together. NATO is on board and so is the Arab League. Increased air strikes on ISIS command and control have already started. The new Iraqi Government and its newly re-armed military should be ready within the week. The Iraqis and the Kurds will lead the offensive against ISIS in Iraq; and when the fight moves to Syria, the U.S. will arm and support “moderate Syrian rebels.”

As we go on the offensive, Americans should support our Commander-in-Chief against a direct and growing threat to the country. We know it is a direct threat because the Islamic State has said, more than once, that their goal is to spread terror to America and I believe them.

But as we ban together as Americans to support our President in time of, well, whatever we are calling this action, as we desperately try to avoid the “w” word, there is this nagging skepticism that we are not ready to do everything we need to do to defeat ISIS.

In an interview with Chuck Todd on Meet The Press, the President reiterated that we would not be sending large numbers of troops to Iraq. “The boots on the ground in Iraq will be Iraqi boots, “ the President promised. And when the offensive necessarily moves into Syria? “It will be Syrian boots on the ground.”

It seems the President is being led by the polls and not his own instincts.

Two years ago, President Obama wanted to leave 10,000 troops in Iraq to keep it stabilized. We would not be dealing with the caliphate of the Islamic State in Iraq if he had been persistent and threatened to withhold funding from Iraq’s new government unless the troops stayed. Instead, we caved to the self-destructive wishes of Nouri al-Maliki and the Iraqi Parliament, who wanted everyone out.

It is time to send back the 10,000 troops that both Presidents Bush and Obama wanted to leave in the first place.

General Anthony Zinni, former Commander of the United States Central Command in 2002, sounded the alarms about the dangers of terrorism coming out of Afghanistan before 9/11. On Meet The Press two weeks ago, Zinni said, “Very simply put, if you put two brigades on the ground of U.S. forces, they would push ISIS back into Syria in a heartbeat.”

A brigade is between 3,000 and 5,000 troops. So we are back to about the 10,000 troops we had planned to leave behind all along. Zinni says the strategy will take less time and in the end, will probably result in fewer casualties

Zinni understands and is frustrated by the public’s reluctance to send troops. “I wish we were not so paranoid about boots on the ground. We can’t even define it! There’s going to have to be special operations forces, even with air strikes.” There are 800 special forces soldiers and military advisors on the ground in Iraq right now and they are all wearing boots.

Air strikes can only do so much. ISIS will need to be pulled up by the roots in Iraq and Syria. Relying on the Iraqi military is problematic, as they dropped their arms and ran the last time they confronted ISIS. Arming the Kurds may lead to a civil war and even an attack on Turkey. Finding moderate anti-Assad, anti-ISIS rebels we can trust is near impossible. Eventually, we are going to have to put more American “boots on the ground.”

The real question is – will we send them to prevent an attack on America or in response to one?

Follow @LarryMendte on Twitter.