On September 10, 2014, 13 days after he had admitted not having a strategy on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, aka ISIS or IS), President Barack Obama finally spelled out the U.S. policy toward ISIL. (Watch and read his speech here.)


Note: Levant consists of the island of Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and southern Turkey.


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Vowing the U.S. will increase its support to the Iraqi government fighting ISIL, Obama proclaimed an additional 475 servicemembers will be sent to Iraq. But he emphasized that “these American forces will not have a combat mission — we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.

As reported by The Washington Post, Obama had ignored the advice of the military on how to deal with ISIL. 

Gen. Lloyd Austin III
Gen. Lloyd Austin III

Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, had recommended sending a modest contingent of American troops, principally Special Operations forces, to advise and assist Iraqi army units in fighting the militants. Austin’s recommendation was conveyed to the White House by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But the advice was cast aside in favor of options that did not involve U.S. ground forces in a front-line role. (See “Reaction to Obama’s ISIL counterterrorism policy speech“.)

Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff
Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff

On September 16, Gen. Dempsey contradicted what his commander in chief had said six days ago. At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Dempsey laid out several examples of how U.S. troops could take part in combat operations against ISIL, including:

  • “if the Iraqi security forces and [Kurdish Peshmerga] were at some point ready to retake Mosul”.
  • if a U.S. pilot is shot down over Iraq.
  • “if there are threats to the United States”.

Former Navy SEAL Carl Higbie
Former Navy SEAL Carl Higbie

On September 18, 2014, Former Navy SEAL Carl Higbie told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that Obama is experiencing “a global failure of his foreign policy.”

Higbie had served two tours in Iraq — in 2007 and 2009 — and is the author of Battle on the Homefront: A Navy SEAL’s Mission to Save the American Dream, 2012.

Higbie was critical of Obama sending 3,000 troops to Africa “to combat Ebola,” instead of sending troops “to combat an actual enemy [ISIL] that’s threatening America.”

When asked what the military “really thinks” of their commander in chief, Higbie says, “Most of the troops, probably over 90% do not support the president.

On how to combat ISIL if he were president, Higbie says, “It’s gonna take a massive message. I would say to these people, ‘Look, you chop two Americans’ heads off, I’m coming to get you.’ That’s what it’s going to take — massive bombs, surge of troops, unfortunately, and really send a message home. They need to be in fear of us.”

Higbie also says he believes “our troops will go over there [Iraq]. They want to fight this fight. They joined the military to fight a war, to combat the problem, to combat something that’s threatening our homeland. These troops will go over there. They will fight with all their heart, and we’re the most lethal fighting force the world has ever known and history has ever known. Let us go over there, take away the rules of engagement. I talked about it in my book Battle On the Homefront. Let us fight this battle. Take our handcuffs off.”

USMC Gen. James Mattis (ret.)
USMC Gen. James Mattis (ret.)

The Washington Post reports that on September 18, 2014, retired U.S. Marine Corps General James Mattis, who had led U.S. forces in the Middle East as head of the U.S. Central Command, told the House Intelligence Committee that it is unwise and “creates problems” for the United States (i.e., Barack Obama) to say in advance that the U.S. won’t send combat troops.

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Mattis said, “Specifically, if this threat to our nation is determined to be as significant as I believe it is, we may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American ‘boots on the ground’.” Citing Jordan and the United Arab Emirates as examples, Mattis also said the United States has allies in the Middle East who will likely send troops to assist in Iraq if “we put ourselves out there and lead.”

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This article originally appeared at Consortium of Defense Analysts.