Rep. Moulton: We Don’t Have a ‘Serious Enough Political Strategy’ Against ISIS

‘You don’t fix Iraqi politics by training Iraqi troops’

BLITZER: Let’s talk about all this with Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts. He’s a member of the Armed Services Committee. He’s also a Marine Corps veteran. He served four tours of duty in Iraq. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in. You suspect that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, could already have been moved out of Raqqa?” 
MOULTON: “It sounds like that is a good possibility. And the fact that ISIS essentially has freedom of movement not just Syria, but Iraq as well, is a real problem for us in bringing their organization down.” 
BLITZER: “Should the U.S. be taking out all of ISIS’ oil capabilities right now, not just bombing the trucks, if you will, but going after the refineries, these storage depots? As you know, Donald Trump has been recommending this for a long time.” 
MOULTON: “Well, I think this is an example of where it’s very hard to have a specific military strategy without a broader political strategy, without a plan for what’s going to take the place of ISIS after we defeat them militarily, because it’s the political vacuum that’s existed in Syria with the civil war and has existed in Iraq and allowed ISIS to sweep into Iraq that’s the fundamental problem. We can defeat ISIS militarily, but unless we have a political plan for the aftermath, we are going to find ourselves back in Iraq again five years after today’s action, just like we’re coming back now, five years after President Obama pulled the last troops out.” 
BLITZER: “Are you saying that the president, the Obama administration does not have a political strategy in place?” 
MOULTON: “I don’t think we have a serious enough political strategy. I think that we have really been leading with bombs and leading with troops. If you think about what happened when ISIS had this dramatic expansion from Syria into Western and then into Northern Iraq, they didn’t just sweep in and defeat the Iraqi army. The Iraqi army put its weapons down and went home because they had lost faith in their own government. And that tells us that fundamentally it’s a political problem in Iraq today that has allowed the rise of ISIS. But what was the president’s response? He sent 500 military trainers to Baghdad. You don’t fix Iraqi politics by training Iraqi troops. I think the military piece has got to be part of the solution. There are a lot of ISIS guys who frankly need to be killed and that’s the only way to defeat them. But unless we have an overarching political strategy to guide our military plans and to make sure we have a plan in place to fill the vacuum that will be left after we defeat ISIS, then this that’s not a long-term solution. This example with the oil infrastructure, maybe it makes sense, but let’s come up with a political plan so we understand who is going to take the place, who is going to take over that oil infrastructure once we get ISIS out of there. Then we can have a better idea of whether it makes sense as a shorter-term military strategy.” 

BLITZER: “Congressman Moulton is back with us. Congressman, the Kurds, these fighters and Nick was with them only about 20 miles outside of Raqqa. Could they actually liberate Raqqa, though, with as few troops as they have?” 
MOULTON: “That remains to be seen. If is truly pulling out of Raqqa, as it sounds like they might be, then maybe they have a good chance. But, if that happens, then what have we really achieved? And are they prepared to actually hold the territory and take over administratively where ISIS left off? That’s really the missing point here. I would ask, what is the mission of our 50 special forces that are going in there? Are they there just to defeat ISIS, or are they going to force a transition from Assad’s leadership? Or are they going to overthrow Assad militarily or politically? These are the kind of fundamental questions that we have to answer to give our troops the guidance that they need and to make sure that we have a real plan for defeating ISIS, not just in the short term, but in the long term as well.” 
BLITZER: “And as they say, as General Colin Powell used to say, you also need not only a strategy, not only a plan. You need an exit strategy down the road as well. And what I’m hearing from you, Congressman, correct me if I’m wrong, you’re not hearing any of that.”

MOULTON: “No, I’m not. I’m not hearing nearly enough. The fundamental thing that has led to the rise of ISIS, that led to the rise of al Qaeda before it are these political vacuums in the Middle East. It’s a political vacuum that allowed ISIS to sweep into Iraq from Syria. It’s a political vacuum that in Afghanistan prior to 9/11 that allowed the establishment of training camps that were used against us in the 9/11 attacks. So we have got to have that piece of the plan in place. It doesn’t mean there is not a role for the military. A lot of these ISIS thugs need to be killed. And so dropping bombs and at some point perhaps even sending in advisory troops is needed. But we have got to have a serious long-term strategy, a serious political plan if we’re ever going to see this through. And, by the way, we also have to talk about things like social media. ISIS is recruiting people around the globe, including right here in America, using the Internet, using social media. And I don’t think we’re meeting that threat either.”

BLITZER: “Yes, we certainly aren’t. Congressman, Germany’s ‘Der Spiegel’ reporting that a third Paris attacker may have entered France as a refugee. It’s interesting. You brought your Iraqi translator back home from Iraq. Do you think the U.S. has a good enough vetting system right now in place to handle thousands potentially, let’s say, of Syrian and Iraqi refugees? 
MOULTON: “Yes, I do. And I received extensive briefs on that system this past week. And it’s worth pointing out that the Republican bill to hit pause on Syrian refugee immigration really does nothing substantive to improve the process, to improve the screening. We already have the most intensive screening process for any traveler coming to the United States reserved for these refugees. It’s totally unlike what happens in Europe. It takes 18 to 24 months for an individual to be approved as a refugee to come from Syria to the United States. And that person cannot set foot in our country until fully approved. It includes extensive background checks, checks against numerous different databases, and interviews with counterterrorism and immigration officials. In Europe, that doesn’t happen at all. They’re just flowing across the border. It’s a very different situation. And I think if we focus on refugee immigration, not only are we betraying our values in saying that American values only apply with caveats to certain religions or certain nationalities. We’re also really missing the threat.”
BLITZER: “Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.” 
MOULTON: “Thanks, Wolf.”

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