Republican Criticism of Islamic State Strategy Feckless

Republicans describe the fight in civilizational terms but don’t call for substantial changes in strategy.

Republican senator Marco Rubio of Florida speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015
Republican senator Marco Rubio of Florida speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

Republican presidential candidates lined up almost unanimously on Tuesday night to condemn Barack Obama’s strategy for defeating the fanatical Islamist group that calls itself the Islamic State.

Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who is ahead in the polls in the first voting state, Iowa, took the Democratic incumbent to task for supposedly letting “political correctness” get in the way of fighting the militants. There is a simple strategy for defeating them, he said during a debate hosted by CNN in Las Vegas: “We win, they lose.”

Which, of course, is not a strategy at all.

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, both from Florida, were more sophisticated in their criticisms, but only a little.

Civilizational struggle

Both Floridians portrayed the fight against the self-styled caliphate in civilizational terms, likening it to America’s previous struggles against communism during the Cold War and fascism in World War II.

If the stakes are really that high — “Either they win or we do,” Rubio has said — shouldn’t they call for a far more ambitious military expedition in Iraq and Syria against the militant group?

They won’t, because the organization really isn’t an existential threat.

Republicans can make the argument that Obama underestimates the challenge if he dismisses the Islamic State — also called ISIS — as little more than a nuisance that will ultimately destroy itself; they cannot in all seriousness argue that it rises to the level of a Nazi Germany, let alone the Soviet Union, in the danger in poses to America.

Fearmongering

NBC News points out that underneath all the rhetoric there really aren’t many substantial differences between the president and the Republicans who hope to replace him next year.

Many are calling for more attacks from the air. Well, Americans have been launching more attacks from the air. Republicans say there need to be US special forces directing Arab/Kurdish ground forces against ISIS. Well, that’s what Obama has already proposed. Republicans believe there needs to be a Muslim face to any ground troops, so does this administration.

What most Republican candidates are doing is fearmongering. They spent as much time on Tuesday night warning against the dangers of Islamic militancy as they did berating the Obama Administration for supposedly failing to keep the country safe from it.

We have argued before that this may be good politics in a Republican presidential primary where the electorate is disproportionately hawkish and mistrustful of Democrats. But it’s less clear how it will help them defeat Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, next year in a country that is in no mood for another Middle Eastern war.

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