President Barack Obama is determined not to get drawn back into a war in Iraq. He said so in June. He said it again after authorizing airstrikes in Iraq on August 8. He repeated it as he talked to reporters at the White House before leaving for a vacation on Martha's Vineyard. And Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said it again as the U.S. announced it had sent 130 military advisers to northern Iraq to help with the evacuation of thousands of traumatized and starving refugees under siege from militants of the Islamic State – a force that has also announced its intention to attack the U.S. homeland.
But is Obama's declaration realistic? While the president campaigned in 2008 on a pledge to get America out of what had become a costly and unpopular war, events may be forcing his reluctant hand…
…"I don't think it's possible to destroy [the Islamic State] without getting involved in combat in Iraq. He's already involved, in terms of providing [the] peshmerga [armed Kurdish fighters] with air power and support," says Peter Mansoor, a retired U.S. Army colonel and professor of military history at Ohio State University.
…The U.S. will, indeed, have to put boots on the ground – but they don't necessarily have to be active combat troops, says Adm. James Stavridis, NATO's supreme allied commander from 2009-2013 and dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
"I don't see this as a slippery slope of returning to 100,000 or 200,000 troops in Iraq," Stavridis says. "I do think we are going to have to put more troops on the ground if we want to truly influence events in the region. There are things we can do without sending tens of thousands of troops there – which I do not advocate. I do advocate [sending] special forces, cyber-intelligence sharing, [providing] equipment, and working with our European allies to do this in a concrete way."
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