The Washington Post
's Walter Pincus reported
yesterday on the latest House Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. policy in the Middle East, and from his description, it was a lively "reality check." The discussion featured several hours of questions for Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
But the exchange that stood out for me came towards the end of Pincus' column.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) a former Army and Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq as a civil affairs officer from 2005 to 2006, said he felt "there ought to be some U.S. military personnel forward with Iraqi forces" because when he was in Iraq, Americans who joined in patrols "really emboldened the confidence of those Iraqi soldiers." Dempsey shot back, "I would not recommend that we put U.S. forces in harm's way simply to stiffen the spine of local forces. If their spine is not stiffened by the threat of ISIL [the Islamic State] on their way of life, nothing we do is going to stiffen their spine."
Well said. There's a great demand in Republican circles for American troops on the ground in Iraq, combatting ISIS militants, but Coffman's argument -- it would "embolden" Iraqi troops -- probably isn't the talking point that's going to win the day.
That said, a significant percentage of the public at large remains quite open to the idea. From the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll
[T]he poll shows 28 percent of Americans favor sending U.S. troops into Iraq "for as long as it takes" to combat ISIS. Thirty-two percent support sending U.S. troops for only a short period of time to allow the Iraqi army to take over. And 38 percent don't want to send any U.S. troops into Iraq.
President Obama launched a U.S. military offensive against ISIS targets 10 months ago. Congress still has not yet tried to authorize the mission, and aside from the occasional hearing, lawmakers have taken few opportunities to even debate the U.S. policy on the merits.