Blumenthal: More U.S. troops not the answer for Middle East

Wars, sectarian strife, beheadings — chaos and blood are raging across the Middle East. What can be done? What should be done?

“United States military force alone will not suffice,” U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said during a meeting with Hersam Acorn Newspaper editors in Shelton on Thursday, Feb. 19. “It’s an essential component, but equally if not more important are troops on the ground from neighboring states.”

Blumenthal, a Democrat in his first term representing Connecticut in the Senate, mentioned Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates. These Arab allies of the U.S. need to be “fully engaged and committed to this fight,” Blumenthal said, if the world’s civilized governments are going to succeed against common enemies such as the Islamic State, known as ISIS or ISIL, which has launched a reign of terror over much of Syria and Iraq and committed a slew of atrocities.

But the senator does not want to see a replay of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and

“The United States cannot send combat troops on the ground back to these wars,” Blumenthal said in an interview Thursday, Feb. 19 at the Hersam Acorn newspaper offices in Shelton.

He also said Arab allies need to do more than be strongly engaged in the fight. They need to do better by their people, Blumenthal said.

“Political and economic reform are essential, along with reliable governance,” he said

The Shiite government of Iraq, for instance, had badly abused its Sunni population under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who stepped down in August. This worked to benefit Sunni extremists such as ISIS, Blumenthal said.

But the terrorists’ recent surge of mad violence — burning a captured Jordanian solider alive, beheading Egyptian Christians in Libya — may help galvanize action by Arab governments that had previously been only half-hearted in opposing the radicals.

“The tragic horrors and atrocities of ISIS, which have energized Jordan and Egypt, are signs there will be that engagement and commitment,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal said he was working with others in Congress and the White House on a new authorization for the use of military force or AUMF that would allow the President to use the American military against the Islamic State.

“I asked the president, going back months ago, to submit a new AUMF. I’m glad he’s done so. It needs to be refined,” the senator said.

His priority in the redraft is to “clarify” that “no American combat troops on the ground will be sent back to these wars,” he said.

The authorization for military force, he said, should allow the U.S. military to be used in the Middle East for purposes such as intelligence gathering, enabling air strikes, and for the protection of U.S. citizens when specific circumstances demand it.

A new AUMF should probably run for three years, he said.

“There needs to be a time limit,” he said. “And I think there should be some geographic limits.”

But the brunt of the fighting must be born by the troops of the nations in the Middle East.

“The key is to understand American military force alone will not suffice,” he said.

Blumenthal was supportive of the administration’s plans to improve the response to propaganda by radical Islam and other sources of terrorism. The U.S. and its allies need to counter the adept social media campaigns that recruit disaffected Muslims living in America and Europe to contempt committing terrorists acts in the name of religion.

A social media counter-campaign should be “laying bare the truth about what violent extremism does and means,” he said.

“It certainly can help stop the flow of deluded and deceived young men and women to a cause that’s mis-represented,” Blumenthal said.

The Unites States and its allies need to confront ISIS or the Islamic State in a propaganda war and also with military force, Blumenthal said.

“ISIS is destabilizing an entire region,” he said, “and creating the potential for safe havens, such as Al Qaeda had in Afghanistan before 9/11, which is a threat to us.”

Macklin Reid is editor of The Ridgefield Press, a Hersam Acorn newspaper.