How To Defeat ISIS, According To Robert Gates
It won't fit on a bumper sticker—and that's probably why the GOP frontrunners aren't listening.
BY MICHAEL SEBASTIAN | Mar 28, 2016 | Culture
Former Secretary of Defence Robert Gates has a plan to defeat ISIS, but few of this year's presidential candidates would be interested because, as Gates says, "it's hard and it's complicated and you can't put it on a bumper sticker."
Those bumper-sticker strategies from Republican presidential candidates include "bomb the shit out of ISIS" (Donald Trump) and "carpet bomb" ISIS (Ted Cruz). But simply finding and bombing ISIS solves nothing, according to Gates.
His plan involves arming and supporting the local forces, not putting tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers on the ground. It's their fight, but the U.S. can certainly help. The strategy, which Gates laid out during a Q&A earlier this month with former Hearst CEO Frank Bennack Jr. (Hearst owns Esquire), is a far cry from many of the presidential candidates who this week shifted to national defence―specifically how to handle terror threats—after ISIS claimed responsibility for three bombings in Brussels that killed 34 people and wounded more than 200.
Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, for instance, continued his tough talk on ISIS, beating his chest over his campaign's rather vague and often illegal plans for combating extremists.
I will be the best by far in fighting terror. I’m the only one that was right from the beginning, & now Lyin’ Ted & others are copying me.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2016
Without singling out a candidate, Gates compared this sort of rhetoric to grade-school chatter. "The foreign policy and national security thoughts and proposals being put forward by some of the frontrunners would embarrass a middle schooler," said Gates, who latest book is A Passion for Leadership.
A Strategy for Defeating ISIS
It's not that the U.S. couldn't bomb the shit out of ISIS, but what would happen after the smoke clears.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the United States could go in and clean out Raqqa and dismantle ISIS in a very short period of time," Gates said referring to the ISIS stronghold in Syria. "But they would be replaced," he continued. "As ISIS is the son of Al Qaeda, there would be a son of ISIS. It may give us momentary gratification. But the truth is we won't have accomplished anything because, until the civil wars in Syria, Libya, and Iraq are stopped, this radicalisation will continue."
Gates should know. In addition to his five years as secretary of defence under George W. Bush and Barack Obama—he's the only person to hold the title for two presidents from different political parties—Gates spent 26 years with the CIA and the National Security Council, rising to CIA director under President George H.W. Bush.
The best approach for beating ISIS, according to Gates, is to continue training Iraq forces and advising them, and training and arming Sunni tribes as well as the Kurds in the region.
"Those ethnic groups, those structures need to provide the ground troops to not only take these areas back from ISIS but then to hold them," he said. "What we have to do is find a way to re-assert the role we played in Iraq until we pulled all of our troops out, or almost all of them out, by fostering greater cooperation among the different ethnic groups and sectarian groups in Iraq."
In the past, U.S military brass, including Gen. David Petraeus, got Sunni, Kurd and Shia leaders to sit around a dinner table and talk to each other, which led, he explained, to compromise. The current situation in Iraq—which has allowed ISIS to take hold—is very much the result of these groups no longer working together, according to Gates.
THE FOREIGN POLICY AND NATIONAL SECURITY THOUGHTS AND PROPOSALS BEING PUT FORWARD BY SOME OF THE FRONTRUNNERS WOULD EMBARRASS A MIDDLE SCHOOLER.
America now comes to the situation "late and a dollar short," he said. "We should have done more of what I'm talking about much earlier, and we need to be doing it much more intensively," Gates explained. "We need to be more willing to provide arms directly to the Kurds, directly to the Sunnis and others, and continue to work with the Iraqis. But the notion that sending U.S. troops in can put a stop to this, other than just temporarily, is naive."
Where Do the Presidential Candidates Stand?
U.S. presidential candidates have proposed various strategies for taking down ISIS. Trump's plan is mostly incoherent. Beyond bombing ISIS, Trump has suggested taking their oil fields and defending them with U.S. troops, although he's said he's uncomfortable sending tens of thousands of soldiers into Iraq. Trump has also talked about killing family members of ISIS fighters. Cruz has stressed that the U.S. should "carpet bomb" ISIS and, in the U.S., patrol Muslim neighbourhoods to root out extremism. John Kasich has advocated airstrikes and U.S. ground forces, as well as arming the local population.
Among the Democrats, neither candidate has called for U.S. ground troops. Hillary Clinton has said the U.S. should lead the fight against ISIS, intensifying its air campaign while collecting more intelligence. Bernie Sanders believes countries in the region should lead the fight, not the U.S.
Gates didn't offer any endorsements, implicit or otherwise, but he did say he agreed with Clinton, who served as secretary of state while Gates was running the defence department, on "virtually every major issue" with the exception of Libya. Still, he wouldn't say whether he thought she was qualified for the job of commander-in-chief.
"She certainly has the experience from being secretary of state in terms of knowing what's going on around the world," he said. "It's up to others to determine whether she would bring wisdom and judgment to these other issues."
Robert Gates latest book A Passion for Leadership is available on Amazon.
From: Esquire US.