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U.S. Engagment Against ISIS Can't Be Timid, Retired Marine General Says


We'll hear next how one military thinker wants to defeat the self-proclaimed Islamic State. That group captured a significant city in Iraq this week. That prompted questions about the U.S. strategy. Retired Marine Gen. Gregory Newbold disapproves of President Obama's limited support to Iraqi forces. He also dismisses calls in Congress to send in another 10,000 or so troops.

GREGORY NEWBOLD: I think the problem with any of the simple solutions is that they can be counterproductive.

INSKEEP: Here's why Newbold says that. The group called ISIS thrives on an idea that it is re-establishing the caliphate, a Pan-Islamic kingdom. A drawn-out war just gives ISIS propaganda wins, and that helps them gain recruits. Newbold would rather persuade Iraq and other nations to accept a larger U.S. intervention. This advice comes from a general who retired in 2002 because he objected to the planning for war in Iraq. He later gave advice to presidential candidate Barack Obama. Here is his advice now.

NEWBOLD: What has to occur is that ISIS must be, frankly, humiliated, and ISIS as an option for disaffected youth has to be eliminated.

INSKEEP: When you say humiliated, what do you mean?

NEWBOLD: Right now, we're trying a combination of tactical airstrikes and training missions to the level permitted by the local governments. And if we go beyond that, we endanger those local governments. What we need to do is become the single most effective and welcome option for those local governments. And when we do that, our engagement can't be timid. It has to be so decisive in employment and so overwhelming an effect that ISIS as an idea, as well as a force, is humiliated.

INSKEEP: I'm trying to interpret what you're telling me, Gen. Newbold. I think I hear you telling me that a strategy would be for the United States to say to its allies in the region, we are ready to go in with the whole force of the United States with far more overwhelming force than we have to date. And just let us know when you're ready for that because we're going to watch you be defeated until you're ready for that. Is that what you're saying?

NEWBOLD: In effect, yes. I would add to that that there was some hope that the regional forces with the assistance of tactical air power and some training would have enough of an effect to defeat ISIS. What I'm arguing is that that has not taken place, and defeat of ISIS isn't enough. We have to destroy the notion of ISIS and the caliphate as a realistic option for the Middle East.

INSKEEP: Does your strategic thinking then lead maybe to not much of a war now, but maybe a very large war in the near future?

NEWBOLD: Well, I would be reluctant to use terms like large war. I don't think the U.S. troops need to be there in very large numbers or for a long period of time. The most effective employment of U.S. power is limited and extremely decisive. It's the old Powell Doctrine or the Weinberger Doctrine applied in this case. The Middle East doesn't need a long-term presence by the United States. It's counterproductive. But when we use force, it has to be very clear and overwhelming.

INSKEEP: I guess we should mention the United States has done two pretty powerful interventions in Iraq. And one was rather short and worked out well for many people, and the other was a disaster. It's about 1-1 there.

NEWBOLD: And that's probably debatable, too. But in the second instance, we tried to use sufficient force to achieve an outcome, and it didn't work. And it didn't work in Afghanistan either as we diverted forces from our initial success there to another theater.

INSKEEP: You mentioned that you've spoken in the past with President Obama. Is there any level on which you think he is thinking the way you are?

NEWBOLD: No, I don't think so. I think he has gathered around himself the best advisers that he has and he's listened to them, and he's following a course that he hoped would be sufficient. And now it's time to re-evaluate that and reconsider.

INSKEEP: Well, Gen. Newbold, thanks very much.

NEWBOLD: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's retired Marine Gen. Gregory Newbold. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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