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Home/Daniel Larison/Rubio’s Extremely Dangerous Plan for the War on ISIS

Rubio’s Extremely Dangerous Plan for the War on ISIS

Marco Rubio’s plan for the war on ISIS simply dismisses any consideration of costs and benefits:

When I am president, what I will do to defeat ISIL is very simple: whatever it takes.

Specifically, he says that he will “build a multinational coalition of countries willing to send troops into Iraq and Syria to aid local forces on the ground” and he will “tell my commanders that the mission is the total destruction of ISIL and will send them the forces necessary to succeed.” Taken together with his “whatever it takes” slogan, we can conclude that Rubio favors escalation in the form of a ground war that will almost certainly include a large contingent of American soldiers. He doesn’t phrase it quite that way so as not to alarm people, but that is what his plan would mean in practice. It’s absurd to think that the public will tolerate another long and costly ground war, but that is exactly what they can expect to have if Rubio were to get his way.

The “multinational coalition of countries willing to send troops” to fight ISIS will inevitably be quite small, and the contributions the other coalition members make will also be quite small compared to the U.S. contribution. As we are already seeing, our regional allies and clients are doing little or nothing to support the war, and none of them is going to agree to send their soldiers to fight in Syria. Aside from France and maybe Britain, what European ally is actually going to contribute to such a coalition? That means that the U.S. will once again be left bearing the almost all of the burden and suffering most of the losses. And that burden will be considerable, since Rubio also wants to take on the Syrian government at the same time:

Cutting off oxygen to ISIL also requires defeating Assad in Syria.

This is crazy, but it has now become the default position of most Syria hawks. Defeating Assad will involve attacking and destroying some significant part of the remaining regime forces and it will very likely involve bringing down the government as a whole. Collapsing the regime will likely expose those areas under its control to anarchy, massacre, and the slaughter or forcible expulsion of religious minorities. This won’t “cut off oxygen” to ISIS and other jihadists, but will on the contrary create new chances for them to flourish. It is incredible that this needs to be said after the experiences in Iraq and Libya, but pursuing regime change in Syria is a boon to jihadists and all those that thrive on chaos and violence.

That isn’t the worst part of his plan. Now that Russia is committed to propping up the Syrian government, seeking to defeat Assad puts the U.S. on a direct collision course with Russia and could very easily lead to a clash between our forces and theirs. Even if U.S. forces don’t intend to, they could end up killing Russians on the ground, and that risks a shooting war with one of the most powerful states in the world. Rubio is going beyond his earlier reckless support for a “no-fly zone” and promising that he will risk triggering war with a major, nuclear-armed power by seeking to topple its client while its forces are still in Syria.

The idea that the U.S. should do “whatever it takes” suggests that there is no cost too high to achieve the stated goal of defeating ISIS, but that isn’t true. Furthermore, saying that he will do “whatever it takes” to win implies that he thinks that any tactic is permissible, and it traps him into persisting in the conflict no matter how much it costs. Based on the reckless, aggressive plan he has laid out, it could cost the U.S. a great deal. Even if the policy made sense, the attitude behind it is reckless maximalism, but as we can see the policy is also quite mad.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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