Should ISIS' gains lead to more U.S. troops in Iraq?

The territorial gains of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Middle East over the past week have prompted a fresh look at what the U.S. can do to stop the militant group. But lawmakers are still divided about whether a military or political strategy provides the best shot at success.

"We need to have a more robust strategy. We need more troops on the ground, we need forward air controllers - we're just referring to air strikes," said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Arizona, on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday. "We found in Vietnam War that if you don't have the right strategy, airpower is minimal in its effect, but we need to have forward air controllers, we need to have special forces, we need to have more of those kind of raids that were so successful into Syria. We need to have a strategy. There is no strategy. And anyone that says that there is, I'd like to hear what it is because it certainly isn't apparent now and right now."

He said that there should be a few thousand more American troops on the ground to carry out that kind of mission.

But California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says the U.S. will not be able to sustain any victories in Iraq unless the government is able to resolve its political differences.

During the Iraq War, Schiff said, "We won Ramadi but it didn't stay won because the political problems that preceded the first Iraq war haven't been solved and that is the Sunnis have not been brought into the government adequately, Sunni forces haven't been adequately trained and integrated into the military.

"Until those changes are made, until Iraq makes the political decision to fully incorporate the Sunnis we can add more forces we can win these battles but they're not going to stay won. I think that's the real lesson of the last Iraq War and what's going on now," he said.

He warned that sending in a lot of American troops could "aggravate" the threat that ISIS already poses and risk further escalation of the fight.

McCain, for his part, argues that President Obama never should have pulled troops out of the country entirely in 2011 because the 2007 troop surge had succeeded.

"George W. Bush at least had the guts to reverse and sponsor the surge which...eventually then succeeded. I wish, I pray that Barack Obama would do the same thing," he said.

For now, Schiff said there is an "ebb and flow and a largely stalemated situation in the war against ISIS." He said he is concerned that the administration appears to be measuring success by the number of bombing runs it is able to carry out in the region.

"I think the more important metrics are how are doing in stopping foreign fighters from entering the country, how are we doing in drying up ISIS' resources, how are we doing in working with our gulf allies in fighting the ideological fight within Islam that we're not positioned to fight ourselves, and how are we doing in terms of our military support," he said.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for