The White House pretends that Marines fighting ISIS aren’t really there.
By William McGurn
The Wall Street Journal
April 11, 2016
Are Marines combat troops?
In Barack Obama’s world, the answer is apparently not—not even when they are on the ground exchanging fire with the enemy. This is the fiction supported by Hillary Clinton and largely unchallenged by any of the three Republican candidates for president.
A recent headline in the Marine Corps Times summed it up this way: “Marines in Iraq technically not in combat but still getting some.”
Welcome to Mr. Obama’s hidden war.
Forty-five years ago this month, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a young war vet named John Kerry complained that the whitewashing of the reality of American involvement in Vietnam meant that each day “someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn’t have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we don’t have to admit a mistake.”
Today, as secretary of state, Mr. Kerry travels about the world rationalizing an Iraq policy designed to keep President Obama from having to admit his mistake: that he has only made worse a war he claimed to have ended. The entire world knows this too.
In an interview aired Sunday on Fox News, President Obama declared that his “number one priority right now” is defeating Islamic State. But how does the man who sees himself as the guy who gets America out of its wars deal with the contradiction?
Part of the answer seems to be fudging the troop numbers. Officially U.S. troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan are capped at 3,870 and 9,800 respectively. But after a Marine in northern Iraq—Staff Sgt.Louis F. Cardin—was killed in an ISIS rocket attack, the Pentagon was forced to admit there are as many as 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Only then did Americans learn that men such as Staff Sgt. Cardin are not included in the official troop count because they were rotated in on a temporary basis.
Mrs. Clinton has her own version of the charade. “I will not send American combat troops to Iraq or Syria,” she has declared in more than one primary debate. Instead, she says, “we will continue to use Special Forces.”
It’s pure hooey, of course. For one thing, it is based on the ridiculous idea that special ops forces are also not combat troops. Which is part of the larger Obama fable that ISIS can be knocked off with only a handful of American fighters.
So we are left with a war in which the president continues to tell us more about what our troops won’t do than what they will, even as he sends more of them back to Iraq. In the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, columnist Cynthia Allen notes how ironic it would be if the cumulative effect of Mr. Obama’s increasing deployments would be “the kind of long-term stabilizing force in Iraq that he so vehemently opposed.”
Meanwhile, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, confirms that Congress has no real idea of how many U.S. troops are in fact in Iraq. Unfortunately, he says, there is “a political reluctance to speak forthrightly on what’s at stake and what is required” to defeat ISIS—and he senses “some of that reluctance in both parties.”
It’s a good point. Take Donald Trump, who entered the race touting his opposition to President Bush’s invasion of Iraq and fretting about anything that might get us “bogged down” there. More recently Mr. Trump suggested that, if the generals were right, he might have to send as many as 30,000 troops to defeat ISIS. Later he denied saying he would send them.
Ted Cruz has declared that “we need to put whatever ground power is needed.” But the Texas senator has also called for making the sands glow around ISIS, feeding the impression we can do most of it with air power. As for John Kasich, though he’s been the most forthright about putting “boots on the ground,” he offers few details.
In Congress, general after general has testified that more troops are likely to be needed to defeat ISIS. What these men have not yet recognized is that their commander in chief’s main priority is not victory over ISIS. It’s to do nothing that would jolt the American people into recognizing what Staff Sgt. Cardin’s death exposed: Americans are still fighting and dying in Iraq.
In 1971, a much younger John Kerry complained to Congress about the phony distinction between ground troops and helicopter crews in Vietnam, and an American people who “accepted a differentiation fed them by the administration.”
How fitting that Mr. Kerry, who recently returned from Baghdad, now serves as secretary of state for an administration feeding us the whopper that Marines fighting ISIS in Iraq are not combat troops.
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