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They may not have vowed Clint Eastwood-style retribution against ISIS for the burning death of a Jordanian military pilot – as King Abdullah did in Washington on Tuesday. But members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Defense Secretary-designate Ashton Carter came close to promising the obliteration of the jihadists operating in Iraq and Syria.
Carter, during his Senate confirmation hearing today, said it wouldn’t be enough to simply defeat the terrorists and take back massive chunks of Iraq and Syria. Instead, he said, it must be a “lasting” victory.
“I say lasting because it’s important that when they get defeated, they stay defeated,” said Carter, a former deputy defense secretary and trained physicist nominated by President Obama to succeed Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. “That is why it’s important we have those on the ground who will ensure that they stay defeated once defeated.”
Carter, to be clear, was not talking about putting more U.S. military boots on the ground to battle ISIS, as many Republicans and some Democrats say is necessary. Instead, he wants to “connect the dots” between U.S. and allied airstrikes against ISIS and the efforts to bolster Iraqi government and Kurdish forces in Iraq, as well as Syrian rebels friendly to the U.S.
Outrage over a shocking ISIS video yesterday apparently showing the burning of the captured Jordanian fighter was on the minds of many lawmakers who questioned Carter.
“I hope this heinous crime helps us put in place what thus far has been lacking – a comprehensive strategy to achieve the goal to degrade and destroy ISIL,” said committee chairman John McCain (R-AZ), using an alternate acronym for ISIS. “We still do not have a viable strategy to counter ISIL… If uou are not winning in war, you are losing.”
Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) warned that “ISIL’s depraved and violent campaign in Iraq and Syria to establish a religious caliphate threatens to erase borders, destabilize regions, and create a breeding ground of fighters willing to return to the West and attack United States’ interests.”
Reed told Carter that the Pentagon must offer leadership as the U.S. and allied forces battle ISIS, “while being careful to ensure the U.S. doesn’t end up owning the conflict in Syria and elsewhere.”
McCain said he and other leaders in Congress reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Jordan to provide key military equipment and resources during a meeting on Tuesday with Jordan King Abdullah. The king then rushed home to deal with the crisis surrounding the murder of the captured fighter pilot, Moaz al-Kasasbeh.
Abdullah, seeking military equipment to assist in his country’s fight against ISIS, signaled he was prepared to administer retribution against ISIS – shortly before Jordan executed two ISIS and al-Qaeda-linked terrorists before dawn on Wednesday.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) told Fox News Channel’s “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren” that ISIS is going to regret what it did. “King Abdullah is not Barack Obama,” he said.
Hunter said Abdullah referenced the Eastwood movie Unforgiven and said there will be retribution. The king, not originally scheduled to meet with Obama, was invited after the video surfaced.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA), recalling the meeting with the king, said today, “I couldn’t believe what I heard yesterday about all the red tape [necessary] to get something they need on the front line … They just need the weapons to do the job.”
Asked if he considered ISIS the top threat in the Middle East – and thus deserving of the maximum focus of the DOD and the Obama administration – Carter replied that he viewed Iran as an equal threat to security in the Middle East and throughout the world.
Carter, a Pentagon pro, didn’t directly contradict GOP criticism of Obama’s strategy against ISIS. He noted that military and political situations in Iraq and Syria are quite different, requiring different approaches in propping up the Iraqi government and building up support in war-torn Syria.
“That doesn’t sound like a strategy to me, but maybe we can flesh out your goals,” McCain said. “Sounds like a series of goals to me.”
Hagel reportedly was frequently excluded from White House deliberations on troop strength and strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq, while two previous defense secretaries – Leon Panetta and Robert Gates – complained in their books about Obama and his advisers micro-managing the DOD.
“If I am confirmed as secretary of defense, I will be a stickler for chain of command,” Carter said, an apparent allusion to complaints about White House national security staff meddling in Pentagon affairs.
Carter’s nomination is expected to sail through the Senate.
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