GOP hopefuls split on sending ground troops to Middle East
ATLANTA (AP) — Republican presidential candidates are split on whether the U.S. should send ground troops to the Middle East to combat Islamic State forces.
And most of those who would commit troops offer few details on their plans.
“I don’t see anybody on our side coming up with a robust plan that truly would destroy” the Islamic State militants, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Graham stands out among Republicans hawks for his specifics. He has called for 20,000 American troops divided between Iraq and Syria.
“You can’t do this through the air,” Graham said.
Yet several other Republicans want to try — or at least not to get mired in the details beyond casting President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as weak and feckless. Clinton is Democrats’ 2016 favorite.
Businessman Donald Trump, who is leading most surveys of likely Republican primary voters, backed into a commitment of ground troops Sunday during a wide-ranging interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Trump said to cripple Islamic State group he would “take away their wealth” by reclaiming oil fields the group has commandeered. When host Chuck Todd told him that would take ground troops, Trump replied, “That’s OK.” But he sidestepped Todd’s reference to the potential number of troops.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich blasted the Islamic State group: “All the religions of the world ought to stand up say, ‘You blow up innocent men, women and children and you think you’re going to paradise? There’s something wrong with you. You’re nuts.’”
But on ground troops, Kasich said he would deploy American forces only as part of an international coalition. “I don’t want to go alone,” he said.
The U.S. currently has about 3,500 troops working as trainers and advisers to Iraqi forces, but those Americans are not intended to engage in direct combat.
Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, blasted Obama and Clinton as “inconsistent” in the region. “We’ve done nothing in Syria,” Fiorina said of another country where Islamic State militants have a foothold.
But, she added, “I disagree that we’re at that point where we need to put tens of thousands of boots on the ground.”
Pressed on the question, Fiorina repeated that “the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, the Kurds and the Egyptians ... know this is their fight” and that they “need leadership resolve, support and material from us.”
Other Republican candidates have avoided detailed policy pronouncements on the Middle East.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has called for the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad and said more ground troops would be needed, but he didn’t give a number. Bush blames Obama’s reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq for the rise of Islamic State militants.
Trump blames Bush’s brother, President George W. Bush, for invading Iraq in 2003.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is an outlier in the Republican field with his argument that the U.S. should reduce its international footprint. But even Paul has declined to rule out using military force.
Outgoing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno cautioned last week in his final Pentagon press conference that U.S. forces alone will not defeat Islamic State militants in the long-term.
Odierno said the U.S. initially could overwhelm the militants. But, he added, “We’d probably be right back where we are today six months later.
“I absolutely believe that the region has to solve this problem,” he said. “The U.S. cannot solve this problem for the region.”
Follow Bill Barrow at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP .