WASHINGTON -- The terrorist attacks that tore apart Paris on Friday night, killing 129 and leaving scores critically injured, have prompted calls for a beefed-up policy for dismantling ISIS.
But absent Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has called for 10,000 more troops to go into Syria to destroy the organization, many of the presidential candidates are proposing enhancements of the current strategy, which leans heavily on airstrikes and a small number of special operation forces on the ground, and encourages regional players to bear the brunt of the fighting.
On Sunday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tried to distinguish his policy by calling for, among other things, better propaganda.
“Key to the success of this is we’re going to have to conduct an increased number of special operations attacks, targeting ISIS leadership, and revealing that they are not invincible,” Rubio told ABC’s “This Week.” “In essence, subjecting them to high-profile, humiliating defeats, where we strike them, we capture or kill their leaders, we videotape the operations, we publicize them, because this is a group that heavily uses propaganda to attract fighters and donors from around the world. And they are presenting themselves as this invincible force, and we need to cut off that narrative. It isn’t true. And that’s important.”
A stronger PR operation against ISIS isn’t some superficial proposal. The group recruits heavily online in addition to publicizing its brutality with glitzy videos. For some time, the Pentagon has warned that they’re losing the online propaganda war.
But the emphasis on this front by Rubio also underscores how limited the degrees of difference are between the major presidential candidates and the president when it comes to fighting ISIS. Rubio’s proposals on Sunday were to work more closely with allies (in his case, Sunni tribes in Iraq and Kurdish fighters); beef up airstrikes (by launching them from Iraq instead of Turkey); conduct more special operation attacks; and encourage regional actors to carry the load. All are enhancements of the Obama strategy, in essence.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, meanwhile, called for establishing a no-fly zone in Syria (which President Barack Obama has resisted on grounds that it could escalate tensions with Russia). But his other prescriptions are basically expansions of existing policy: safe havens for the Syrian free army, and for “getting our Arab allies and friends to be able to support one fighting force,” as he told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.