Mitt Romney and GOP Want ‘Boots on the Ground’ to Fight ISIS
Policy + Politics

Mitt Romney and GOP Want ‘Boots on the Ground’ to Fight ISIS

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said over the weekend that he favored sending U.S. troops to Syria and Iraq, if necessary, to combat ISIS. He’s the latest in a long line of Republicans taking exception to Obama’s “no boots on the ground” mantra. Romney spoke the same day that the jihadist terrorist group released a video showing the gruesome beheading of another American hostage, aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig.

The Republican presidential nominee who lost to Obama in the 2012 said during an appearance on the CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday that the president was badly mistaken by saying repeatedly he wouldn’t consider sending U.S. ground troops in Iraq or Syria to fight ISIS.

Related: ISIS Beheads Another American as 60 New Terror Groups Join  

“When the president says, for instance, that ISIS is a cancer and it must be eliminated, he’s right,” Romney said. “But you don’t say, ‘Well, we’re only going to use the following tools in doing so.’ You say, ‘We’re going to do whatever it takes.’ And hopefully we’ll be able to do that with other people’s troops, but if it takes our own troops, you don’t take that as a source of our strength from the battlefield.”

War weary Americans aren’t quite ready to support sending ground troops to Syria and Iraq to battle ISIS, as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and many other Republicans favor. But about three quarters of those surveyed by CNN/ORC International late last month say they favor the stepped up air strikes against ISIS that president Obama ordered in September. And nearly 72 percent say they would favor sending ground troops to the region if ISIS were to attack the U.S. embassy in Baghdad or something of a comparable nature. In short, public sentiment is fairly fluid on this topic as President Obama and congressional leaders try to negotiate a framework for a long-term battle with the Islamic jihadists.

The brutal year and a half ISIS campaign of mayhem and subjugation across Syria and Iraq has alarmed Western and Middle Eastern leaders and prompted numerous questions on Capitol Hill as to whether Obama’s plan unveiled in September is tough enough to foil ISIS.

Many fear the jihadist “cancer” may be spreading too quickly. ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last week declared the expansion of ISIS to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and Algeria by accepting the allegiance of jihadist groups from these countries.  The following day, ISIS announced that that five Jihadist groups had joined ISIS.

Romney – who has been encouraged by some to mount a third bid for the presidency -- joined a growing list of GOP hawks pressing for much tougher action, including ground troops to supplement the nearly 3,000 military “advisers” being sent to the region:

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who is line to become the new chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee; House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH);  House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA); Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of McCain’s closest allies; Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who is set to assume the chair of the Senate Budget Committee; Sens. Jim Inhofe  (R-OK), Kelly Ayotte  (R-NH) and Roger Wicker (R-MS); and Reps Tom Cole (R-OK).

Related: McCain: Give Obama More War Powers Against ISIS

In an interview with USA Today before the election, McCain said that it wasn’t necessary to deploy large combat units. But if Obama were serious about his goal of “degrading and ultimately destroying” ISIS and its allies, he said, there was a strategic need for troops in Special Forces roles, intelligence and – in particular – targeting U.S. airstrikes.

John Dempsey, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that if the situation worsened or he saw an opportunity to severely weaken the enemy, he might recommend that the president send in troops. Obama said at the G20 Summit in Australia Saturday, “If we discovered that ISIL had gotten possession of a nuclear weapon, and we had to run an operation to get it out of their hands, then yes, you can anticipate that not only would Chairman Dempsey recommend me sending U.S. ground troops to get that weapon out of their hands, but I would order it.”

The day after the GOP swept to control of the Congress in the Nov. 4 midterm elections, Obama told reporters he had changed his mind and now wanted Congress to grant him new war powers authority to carry out his plan for continued air strikes and training and arming “moderate” Syrian rebels to fight ISIS.

Related: Boehner Says Defeating ISIS Means Using Ground Troops   

While there is ample Republican support for stepping up military action against ISIS, it may be harder to pass new use of force language that would essentially authorize another open-ended war in the Middle East -- one that the president and his advisers warn could take years to successfully wage.

Not every GOP senator is on board with U.S. boots on the ground. Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, two potential GOP presidential candidates in 2016, have voiced concern about such a commitment. He and others believe that any escalation of this war needs congressional approval.

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