TAMPA — On the first full day of the battle to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the so-called Islamic State, the former head of U.S. commando strike operations told a Tampa audience that removing ISIS alone won't bring peace.
"It is certainly not the cause of" the region's problems, said Stanley McChrystal, who once lead the secretive Joint Special Operations Command, the nation's premier counterterror military organization. "Their disappearance is not going to solve it."
McChrystal was in Tampa on Monday afternoon to speak to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a bipartistan organization that works to educate policymakers, business leaders and the public on the importance of using America's civilian-led tools of development and diplomacy to make the world safer.
As JSOC commander, McChrystal helped revolutionize warfare by fusing intelligence with the military capabilities of commandos like Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Green Beret and Delta Force members and Air Force and Marine special operators. He later became a key proponent of counterinsurgency warfare as head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, where building security, governance and stability were seen as the way ahead.
Careful to avoid politics during a divisive presidential campaign, McChrystal nonetheless questioned the notion, espoused by Republican nominee Donald Trump and others, that "bombing the hell out of ISIS" will solve the festering problems of the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands have been killed in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and millions displaced from their homes.
"If I stood up in front of most crowds today and I said, 'Bomb those bastards,' I'd get applause," said McChrystal. "But if I said it will take 30 years, billions of dollars and a lot of frustrating work, it is unlikely anyone would carry me out on their shoulders, except to tar and feather me. But in reality, that is the more honest answer."
McChrystal oversaw hundreds of commando raids in Iraq, often 10 a night, ultimately leading to the June 7, 2006, airstrike that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the notorious leader of al-Qaida in Iraq.
But the reality, he said, is that helping other nations is better than bombing them.
"We have got to stop thinking of problems as military problems and start thinking of them as problems," McChrystal said. "We have to start educating kids that way. We can elect leaders who believe and represent that. It is much easier to advocate for guns and military assistance than it is to advocate for aid, but it is less effective."
Assuming ISIS is defeated in Mosul, fighters are likely to escape to Syria, embroiled in civil war. Then there is the quarrelsome nature of Iraqi internal politics, where Shia, Sunni and Kurd have a bloody history.
McChrystal said he believes the United States should remain involved in Iraq for years to come and has mixed feelings about providing humanitarian aid to Syria. Not because it isn't needed, but because "the United States isn't in a position to fix it. ... The world needs to be in a position to fix it."
Surprised that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has hung on so long, McChcrystal said the bloodshed could go on indefinitely.
One reason is the support provided by Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Russia, McChrystal said, "will be very painful for the next decade, at least as long as Vladimir Putin is in power."
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.