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US Ground War in Syria? What Would Robert Gates Say?

In Syria, the likely choices are diplomacy now or ground war later.

Remember Republican Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ 2011 “farewell address” at West Point?

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.

Yet here we are again, a mere four years later, debating a US ground war in the Middle East.

The Washington Post notes,

The Republican candidates who claim to represent the party’s mainstream, including former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), offer a variable and, in some cases, vague set of positions on how to engage internationally. All three have argued for American ground troops in the fight against the Islamic State…

CNN recently reported that a majority of Americans now support sending US ground troops to fight ISIS.

The New York Times notes that this is exactly what ISIS wants – to draw the US into a ground war. But if the Syrian civil war is not resolved diplomatically before President Obama leaves office, a US ground war in Syria is the “alternative” that is waiting in the wings.

Look how the political discourse of the country has shifted following recent terrorist attacks and the one-upmanship xenophobia of the Republican presidential primary. Who is confident that whoever wins the Republican primary would not try to lead the country into a ground war in Syria? Who is confident that Hillary Clinton would not do so? Who is confident that a congressional majority would have the courage to say no? Who is confident that the US media could be trusted to fully interrogate a presidential push for a US ground war in Syria?

Who wants to find out how this story ends, if the Syrian civil war is not resolved diplomatically on President Obama’s watch?

Ending the Syrian civil war through diplomacy isn’t pie in the sky. There is already an agreed framework among the five key countries: the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran. By January 1, 2016, talks on a transition government in Syria are supposed to start between the Syrian government and its non-ISIS, non-Al Qaeda opposition. Once the talks start, the five key countries agreed to support an immediate UN-monitored ceasefire between everyone participating in the talks.

Once the ceasefire starts, Secretary of State Kerry has said that US, Russian and Syrian forces could wipe out ISIS “in a matter of literally months.”

But this diplomatic process can still be derailed. Predictably, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are doing things that threaten to destabilize the process – like trying to exclude the Syrian Kurdish allies of the US from the talks.

On Iran’s nuclear program, the choices were diplomacy now or war later. In Syria, the likely choices are diplomacy now or ground war later.

You can show your support for Secretary of State Kerry’s efforts to get a ceasefire by January 1, 2016, here.

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