Ranking HASC Member Defends Anti-ISIS Strategy

House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) defended President Obama’s counter-ISIS strategy in Iraq and Syria during a breakfast meeting with reporters Thursday, arguing it’s the “absolute right strategy, it’s just a very, very difficult one to implement.” Countering critics who argue the US should take a direct ground combat role in the fight, Smith said it is critical to find and enable local partners to fight ISIS and its allies. US and coalition partners must deal with a “broader ideological war” against terror groups by engaging diplomatically, economically, and building better governance in addition to working with partners to “contain the military threat.” But, he noted, “the difficulty is governance” in Iraq and Syria, such as in Iraq when the former Baghdad government alienated Sunnis and drove many of them to sympathize with ISIS. The train and equip piece is complicated, he noted, because if “we don’t work through Baghdad, who do we work through? … Who do they fight for? What’s our base? That’s what we have to work towards.” The alternative, of having a large US military presence on the ground is just not tenable, he added. “If you don’t have an indigenous group that is supported by the indigenous population, you are not going to get there,” Smith said. “We have to build partners, and they have to be effective.” A prolonged, large US troop presence will not help in the long run, and will come “at a great cost.”