Robert Gates, Former Secretary of Defense:
Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense from 2006-2011, appeared on CBS’s “CBS This Morning” Thursday and called for more aggressive intelligence operations and for Special Operations Forces to embed at lower levels with Kurdish fighters and Sunni tribes. Gates also said airstrikes against the group should be more effective and more precise.
Key quote: “I think we need to assess whether our intelligence operations there are as aggressive there as they might be – in terms of getting inside ISIS or in terms of sabotage and other covert operations.”
The Takeaway: Do more of the same, but better and with more special forces.
Mike Vickers, former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence:
In an opinion piece published in Politico Magazine Friday, Vickers—an old hand who helped counter the Soviets in Afghanistan and later worked in the Obama administration —highlighted the need for a “Syria first strategy.” Syria, Vickers believes, constitutes a global threat, while Iraq is a local one. Vickers also advocated for a strategy in Syria that mirrored the one the United States used in Afghanistan in 2001: A small team of CIA and Special Operations Forces soldiers combined with airstrikes and local allies to capitalize rapidly on ground seized from the enemy.
Key quote: “If there’s one thing the American military knows how to do it is defeating an opposing force trying to hold ground.”
The Takeaway: Assad must go, Syria first, boots on the ground, don’t forget about local allies.
Michelle Flournoy, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy:
In a June op-ed for the Post, Flournoy and Richard Fontaine, the current president of the Center for New American Security, wrote that a “broader and more intense effort is needed” to defeat the Islamic State. Flournoy and Fontaine called for U.S. advisers at the battalion level (they are currently at the brigade/headquarters level), as well as U.S. JTACs on the frontline that could call for air strikes quicker and more accurately. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has repeatedly called for JTACs in the fight against the Islamic State. The two writers also called for weapons to be sent directly to Kurds and Sunni tribes, instead of the current, slower, process of disseminating them through Baghdad.
Key quote: “…the execution of this strategy has lacked the urgency and resources necessary for success.”
The Takeaway: Do more of the same, but make a few tweaks and add JTACs.
Leon Panetta, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, former Secretary of Defense
In an interview with “Meet the Press” Sunday, Panetta said that the United States is not doing enough to lead in the fight against the Islamic State and that air strikes alone are not going to defeat the group. Panetta also proposed closer contact between Special Operations Forces and those whom they are advising as well as better organization of Sunni tribes and Kurdish forces. He also said that the resources the United States has brought to bear against the terror group have not been “sufficient.”
Key quote: “I think the U.S. has to lead in this effort because what we’ve learned a long time ago is that if the United States does not lead, nobody else will.”
The Takeaway: Nothing too groundbreaking. Better communication, SOF advisers closer to the fight. More of the same but better.
Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State
Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential ticket in the upcoming 2016 election, presented her strategy to defeat the Islamic state during a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations Thursday. Her solution for the Islamic State involves an expanded air campaign and having advisers “helping target airstrikes” (which sounds a lot like JTACs). She also called for more cooperation with the United States’ Arab partners and called Russia’s role in resolving the conflict “important.” In her speech she also mentioned that Turkey was focusing on going after the Kurds, that foreign fighters need to be dealt with and Islamic State social media was a large problem in its own right.
Key quote: “Online or off-line, the bottom line is that we are in a contest of ideas against an ideology of hate, and we have to win.”
The Takeaway: More of the same, just better and a little stronger than Obama.