While members of Congress, the news media, and the American public debate the merits of President Obama’s new strategy to confront ISIS in the Middle East, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, participated in a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday on this topic.  Kaitlyn McClure of Covington’s PPGA group covered this event and set forth below is her report:

Senator Levin stated, “In Iraq and Syria and Ukraine, the fight is for their people to win – but we can and should provide robust assistance to those who are prepared to fight for themselves against terror and aggression. It is the right thing to do, it reflects our values, and it is in our national interest.  U.S. military force is not always the answer, but it can be, and often is an essential part of the answer to terror and aggression.”

The Senator placed the highest emphasis on the importance of an international response to ISIS extremism, stating that opposition to ISIS should be the “glue” that brings together the Muslim world.  As President Obama is leading efforts to build a broad coalition of forces, Levin views participation from Arab states and the Muslim community as essential to turning the momentum against extremists.   Senator Levin believes both of these groups will take a public role because of the threat ISIS poses not only to their governments, but also the stability of the entire region and mainstream Islam.   Further, President Obama’s request to Congress for $500 million in funding to train and equip Syrian rebels shows the Arab world that the U.S. is actively working to contain and defeat ISIS, and will help them to do the same.   In order to be successful against violent extremism in the long-term, mainstream Muslims and Arab nations must unify to “expunge this poisonous offshoot.”

As noted in our previous post, American air strikes in Iraq and cooperation between the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga forces have helped push back against ISIS forces in recent weeks, but air strikes alone will not be a sufficient response to the rapid spread of ISIS forces.   President Obama’s new strategy includes expanded airstrikes in Iraq and additional airstrikes in Syria , which Levin believes Congress will authorize, and American military assistance in the form of equipment and training for Syrians, Iraqis, and Kurds who are willing to fight ISIS on the ground. By providing these tools to the people of Iraq and Syria, the U.S. is giving them the opportunity to eradicate ISIS and extremism on their own, which Levin hopes will result in a less sectarian government in Iraq and an alternative to President Assad or ISIS in Syria.

Senator Levin admitted that implementing this new strategy will be a challenge, but believes success is achievable.   He predicted the President’s proposal will receive bipartisan support in Congress; however, it remains to be seen whether any legislation will be considered before both chambers adjourn for the midterm elections.

Most disconcerting of Senator Levin’s remarks was the admission that there may not be a ‘Plan B’ should a coalition of allies fail to defeat ISIS on the ground in Syria and Iraq. “The focus has got to be right now on fleshing out Plan A. […] I haven’t heard too many alternatives to this plan. I’ve heard a lot of criticism, but I haven’t heard of many alternatives.”