- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 10, 2015

As President Obama plunged America deeper Wednesday into warfare in Iraq, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton ducked for cover rather than choose between the White House she served and her party’s anti-war wing.

The Clinton campaign refused to answer questions about the president’s decision to send more U.S. troops to Iraq, putting off the day when Mrs. Clinton must reconcile her close ties to Mr. Obama’s Iraq policy and the urgent need for a new strategy to combat the advancing Islamic State terrorist army.

As Mr. Obama’s secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton supported the move to end the Iraq War with a U.S. pullout in 2011. The decision created a power vacuum that helped give rise to the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIL or ISIS.

Mrs. Clinton has blamed Iraq for not agreeing to allow a residual U.S. force to remain in the country. The Obama administration has offered the same excuse, though there has been no debate about Iraq’s agreement to the airstrikes against Islamic State fighters or the roughly 3,050 U.S. troops in Iraq — much less the decision Wednesday to send up to 450 more troops to help train Iraqi forces.

The well-funded and heavily armed Islamist terrorists have taken over several major cities in Iraq and control a swath of territory the size of the United Kingdom. The group has offshoots in countries around the world and an online presence that has spawned homegrown terrorists in the United States and other Western countries.

The Islamic State threat likely will dominate the foreign policy debate in the presidential campaigns.

The issue will be especially vexing for Mrs. Clinton, the party’s all-but-inevitable nominee. She must rally the Democratic Party’s liberal base and allay their fears that she is a hawk, while not appearing to retreat from the terrorist menace and risk scaring off general election voters.

Republicans are convinced that they have an advantage over Mrs. Clinton when debating national security.

“The challenge for Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is that she will need to soon articulate a national security strategy in Iraq and the Middle East on how best we take the fight to ISIS,” said Republican political strategist Ron Bonjean. “Democrats will have a huge problem with American voters who are concerned about how to destroy ISIS if they can’t differentiate themselves from President Obama’s lack of an ISIS strategy.”

Some of Mrs. Clinton’s long-shot competition for the Democratic nomination didn’t hesitate to break away from Mr. Obama.

Sen. Bernard Sanders said the United States should not play a leading role in Iraq and should let Middle Eastern countries fight their own battles.

“At the end of the day I do not believe the United States can or should lead the effort in that part of the world. What is taking place now is a war for the soul of Islam,” Mr. Sanders said on NPR’s “Diane Rehm Show.”

Mr. Sanders, an avowed socialist from Vermont, said countries such as Saudi Arabia, which has the third-largest defense budget in the world, Turkey, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates should “step up to the plate and lead.”

He said the United States and other Western countries should relegate themselves to a supporting role.

“I think everyone understands ISIS is a barbaric organization and that they must be defeated,” said Mr. Sanders, though he added that it wasn’t worth the cost of getting the U.S. drawn into another Middle Eastern war.

“But here is my nightmare, and I see it moving forward every day,” he said. “You have a lot of Republicans who apparently did not learn anything from the never-ending war in Afghanistan, learned nothing from what happened in Iraq and want us in perpetual warfare in the Middle East. I’m strongly opposed to that.”

Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee declared that the only strategy the U.S. needs is an “exit strategy.”

Mr. Chafee said the nation faces the same dilemma with Iraq as it did when President George W. Bush ordered the invasion in 2003: How does it end?

“I do not believe the U.S. should send advisers to Iraq until we can answer that question,” Mr. Chafee told The Washington Times. “Right now, we have too many ‘bad guys’ such as ISIS, al Qaeda, Taliban and Boko Haram. We need an exit strategy.”

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, however, took a cue from Mrs. Clinton and remained mum.

Mr. O’Malley previously backed the president’s policy of staying out of the fight in Iraq as much as possible.

He told The Des Moines Register in March that the best way to deal with the Islamic State was “to work in collaboration and coalition with the other nations who are on the front lines of this battle.”

He said sending in U.S. combat troops would “turn out to be counterproductive.”

Mr. Webb, who has not yet announced his White House run, plans to address the issue next week during events in Iowa, according to a campaign spokesman.

Mr. Webb, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War who served as Navy secretary under President Reagan, recently said he was counting on another “Sunni awakening.” He was referring to the tribal militias that joined the fight and helped U.S. troops gain control in Iraq from 2005 to 2007.

“You are probably going to see the same thing long-term here, that we can do what we can do but the Sunnis in the region and in Iraq are going to get sick of ISIS,” he told CNN in May, shortly after the city of Ramadi fell to Islamic State fighters.

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