The Pentagon’s report details the administration’s intention to “degrade and ultimately defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” as well as bring a politically-negotiated end to the conflict in Syria. It would do this by expanding the capacity of coalition forces and local allies, containing ISIS’s expansion in other parts of the world through a program of countering violent extremism (CVE) and working to disrupt the flow of foreign fighters internationally.
But much of the document is a review of initiatives currently underway, and Thornberry derided it for “fail[ing] to provide much new information and fail[ing] to address all the elements required by law.” He also charged that the Pentagon had intentionally released it on Thursday — during a long congressional recess — so that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter wouldn’t have to take questions about it during recent committee testimony.
Congress included a requirement in last year’s defense authorization bill that the administration deliver lawmakers “a strategy for the Middle East and to counter violent extremism” by Feb. 15 of this year. It was the official punctuation of an oft-repeated Republican complaint that the Obama administration doesn’t have a strategy to defeat the Islamic State — and doesn’t seem to want to craft one.
Recent events on the ground have suggested that after a year and a half, anti-ISIS operations in the Middle East are succeeding in pushing back the extremist group’s gains, and putting them on a defensive retreat.
But in the last several days, the cries from Republicans that the Obama administration lacks a game plan in the Middle East have only become louder, as the world scrambled to respond to the latest terror attacks in Brussels.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) declared the attacks were “sadly predictable” considering that the Obama administration had “allow[ed] the ISIL threat to grow and strengthen for years.”
The United States needs “a strategy to destroy ISIL, not ‘ultimately,’ but as quickly as possible,” McCain said in a statement.
Speaking to reporters, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) also stressed that the lack of a clear “strategy” was the critical missing element of the United States’ response to ISIS-driven attacks around the world — despite reports that sub-par intelligence and policing in Brussels and across Europe was playing a complicating role.
“Nobody should be critical at all of our ally,” Nunes said of Belgium on Wednesday, noting it is “tough for a country that small” to handle the threat before them.
“They have to rely on us,” said Nunes. He added that in his own estimation, Americans were also the likely target of the attacks, given how close the airport bombs were to the counters of U.S.-based airlines, and the proximity of the U.S. embassy to the Maelbeek metro station.
Not even Carter’s announcement Friday that U.S. forces killed one of ISIS’s top commanders quelled the Republican criticism that the Obama administration’s strategy isn’t good enough to sustain the fight against ISIS.
“These type operations are necessary to disrupt ISIL, but they are no substitute for a sustained ground campaign which ultimately destroys the organization,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Armed Services Committee who has pushed for more ground troops to be engaged in the fight against ISIS. “Raids like this help, but at the end of the day, it will take an army to defeat an army.”