On Sunday, former United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that he finds President Obama’s current resolve to completely destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), both “unrealistic” and “unattainable,” and that instead of being pre-occupied with “today’s crisis,” the United States should be looking at its long-term strategy in the Middle East.
Gates, who served as the U.S. Secretary of Defense from 2006 to 2011, discussed his thoughts on the United States’ involvement with ISIS on Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.
Gates said that while he thinks the U.S. has “made some successful steps to contain” the radical Islamic group, he also acknowledges that ISIS has “reached the natural limits of where they would have sympathetic people,” specifically in northern and western Iraq.
“I think the President has set an ambitious, and under current circumstances, unrealistic goal, when he talks about our intent being to destroy ISIS,” said Gates. “With the means that he has approved so far, I think that’s an unattainable objective.”
Gates went on to say that the United States has set “unrealistic goals” for itself when setting out to destroy radical groups like the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and ISIS. “I mean we’ve been at Al-Qaeda with all of the resources of the American military and intelligence community for 14 years now and we haven’t destroyed it,” Gates said.
In his opinion, Gates said that rather than working to completely destroy ISIS, the U.S. should be working to “deny them the ability to hang on to territory,” due to the fact that territory “gives them a base from which potentially to plot against us and against Western Europe.”
“I think you need to take a step back and realize the complexity and historical magnitude of the challenge we’re facing,” said Gates. “First of all, we have four conflicts going on simultaneously in the Middle East: The Sunni vs. Shia, authoritarians vs. reformers, Islamists vs. secularists, and then the question of whether artificially created countries like Syria, Libya, and Iraq can hold together absent repression.”
Gates noted that in addition to the current generational conflict, the Middle East is also experiencing the “beginnings of what appears to be the falling apart of the entire state system in the Middle East,” due to the fact that in half a dozen countries, “the central government does not control the country.”
“Military is clearly one tool, but it is by far not the only one,” said Gates. “There are huge problems that are going on and frankly, I think we are so pre-occupied with dealing with today’s crisis we haven’t stepped back and figured out, ‘What kind of a long term strategy do we have and what are the tools we can use?‘”