The news was bad. And then it got worse. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday and said the battle against the Islamic State is daunting on any number of counts.
But Dempsey’s comment that he could see a possibility of American advisers joining Iraqi troops if the Iraqis tried to recapture Mosul in northern Iraq was the most disquieting comment, for it conjures the idea of U.S. forces again on the ground, something President Obama had seemed to rule out. It also raises the risk of the U.S. again getting involved in a region where too many troops lost their lives and limbs after President Bush’s ill-advised invasion.
America is engaged in airstrikes, which the president has named as a key component of his strategy to beat the Islamic State.
A new Iraqi government has been formed and two American journalists were murdered by ISIS forces. Those are the reasons the United States is refiguring its strategy. But Hagel and Dempsey clearly were uncertain whether Iraqi military forces or Syrian forces trained by the U.S. could or would fight against the Islamic State.
The American people, themselves divided by the Iraqi invasion and more skeptical of foreign entanglements, will not easily support the idea of U.S. forces again going on the ground in Iraq. Any move to have them engaged will have to be justified not by Dempsey but by the president, the commander-in-chief. It will not be an easy sell, nor should it be.