The Skeptics

No, a new surge isn’t the solution to ISIS

How do you solve a problem like ISIS? To hear Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) tell it, the solution is putting huge numbers of American troops on the ground in the Middle East right now.

“I bore witness to the failed policy of gradual escalation that ultimately led to our nation’s defeat in the Vietnam War,” McCain recently wrote to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. Now, he added, “I fear this administration’s grudging incrementalism in the war against the Islamic State (ISIL) risks another slow, grinding failure for our nation.” 

Though McCain’s letter brings up some important points—like how many Americans are presently on the ground in Iraq, a figure about which the White House has been exceedingly imprecise—his central contention is made with no regard for cost, consequence, or recent history. It is an irresponsible approach to foreign policy that the last decade and a half has found more than wanting. Indeed, the whole war on terror is arguably a “slow, grinding failure,” and throwing good money after bad isn't going to change that. Worse yet, what McCain proposes is exactly what ISIS itself hopes to provoke, while polling data suggests it will only turn local hearts and minds against us. 

There was a time, perhaps, when McCain’s argument would have been less absurd. That time was before we’d spent trillions (and mysteriously lost billions) of dollars on fifteen years of quagmire—all while the $19 trillion national debt mounts ever higher, no matter which party is in charge. It was before we’d deployed hundreds of thousands of Americans halfway around the globe to fight wars which seem to have no end in sight. It was before nearly 8,000 of them died in the process.