Concerned Veterans for America CEO Pete Hegseth says President Obama needs to decide whether he wants to degrade or defeat the terrorist army controlling much of Syria and Iraq and he says defeat will require American troops returning to Iraq.
Hegseth served in and around Samarra, Iraq, as a member of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division during the heat of the insurgency in 2005-2006. His comments come just four days after Obama authorized limited air strikes to protect U.S. assets and personnel in the Kurdish capital of Irbil and humanitarian missions to aid religious minorities persecuted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
“It is very narrowly tailored right now. The question is whether or not it is enough to turn back an ISIS threat, which is growing and gathering,” said Hegseth, a former U.S. Army officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said this threat must be addressed if the U.S. hopes to avoid the development of a radical state that poses a threat to the rest of the world.
“ISIS is a well-equipped, radical organization that has stated its desire to attack the American homeland and our interests. In many ways, it is a worse environment than pre-9/11 Afghanistan,” said Hegseth, who warned that the terrorists are poised to consume a lot more territory if they are not stopped very soon.
“These ISIS folks are modern-day Nazis,” he said. “They are dedicated to killing anyone who doesn’t believe exactly what they believe and exterminating them. You would see substantial consolidation of gains in the north and I think you would see a renewed focus on Baghdad.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Pete Hegseth:
According to Hegseth, the choice facing the Obama administration is whether to contain or eliminate the threat posed by ISIS. And he said those options require very different actions.
"There's a big difference between degrade and defeat," he said. "In order to stop and degrade their momentum, you're going to have to continue air strikes. You're going to have to send equipment to the Peshmerga, and you're going to need to embed advisers. It's not enough just to have advisers on post gathering intelligence. You need to have them targeting in the field alongside indigenous forces, whether that's the Peshmerga or the Iraqi army."
Hegseth admits degrading ISIS would be far less of a commitment than wiping them off the map, but he said allowing ISIS to exist in any form carries significant threats.
"We could degrade and deny them for a substantial amount of time," he said. "The problem is, you've got a lot of places where they can still plot, train and execute. The fear for us as Americans or western Europeans is that you have hundreds of Americans and many, many hundreds of western Europeans with passports who have traveled to Syria and Iraq through Turkey. We don't have a full account of how many there are getting training, getting intelligence, getting expertise and then heading back to their home country. That's what makes this such a scary scenario."
Hegseth believes ISIS need to be obliterated, but he said it will mean taking steps the vast majority of Americans don't want to take.
"If you want to defeat them, if you believe this is a threat that is too significant to ignore and just degrade, you're going to need U.S. boots on the ground. That's just a fact. Now whether that's divisions, I leave that to generals who do the war planning, but a significant level of troops on the ground will be required to displace ISIS from what they've gathered so far," said Hegseth, who believes total defeat of ISIS is the only realistic policy goal.
He also said the previous gains in Iraq were worth fighting for and worth pursuing again. He said the failure of the Obama administration to secure a status of forces agreement in 2011 was catastrophic.
"When we left and didn't leave a residual force and gave away our diplomatic leverage, you saw (Iraqi Prime Minister) Maliki hedge toward Iran and start to marginalize opponents," he said. "When ISIS made their march on Iraqi elements with no U.S. support, they faded away."
Hegseth, who saw some of the worst of the sectarian violence in Iraq, said he knows the public has little stomach for troops to return to Iraq and most soldiers aren't eager to go back, either. Still, he said those who served recognize what's at stake.
"I think the folks that are the least war weary are the folks who have seen war, not because we want it but because we understand how if you don't meet these threats head-on, they just manifest themselves more dangerously," said Hegseth, who warned Obama needs to decide soon what his policy goal is with respect to ISIS.
"The longer we we wait, the more we defer the problem, the worse the consequences are down the road, which is why I hope this administration will take this more seriously and make some tough choices but that's not been in their DNA so far," he said.