October 20, 2018

Congressional candidate Ted Lieu on fight against ISIS

When I sat down with Democratic Congressional candidate Ted Lieu to talk about Iraq, the situation hadn’t improved since I discussed it a month before with Lieu’s opponent, Republican Elan Carr. The militant terrorist group known as ISIS continues to advance, while the Iraqi army remains impotent.

Lieu, a state senator, and Carr, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, are running to replace Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, who is retiring after a four-decade, distinguished congressional career. Lieu is currently favored to win in the heavily Democratic district, which extends from Los Angeles’ Westside through the South Bay, but Carr is campaigning hard.

My premise was that the voters would want to know what each of them has to say about a central question they will face if elected: Should the United States send ground troops to Iraq if the ISIS advance isn’t stopped? When I interviewed Carr, who is an Iraq war veteran, he told me he did not favor the ground-forces option. He would enlist the support of Sunni tribal chiefs while using American military advisers to help the Iraqis.

Lieu sat across from me at the Café 50’s on Lincoln Boulevard in Venice, down the street from his headquarters. That day, United States Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had said he didn’t see a reason at present to send in units of American ground troops other than as advisers, instructors and spotters for air attacks. I asked Lieu if he believes we should get involved in a ground war there.

“There are American ground troops there now, very small numbers. I would support small numbers, military advisers, people who can assist the Iraqi army fighting ISIS, that I would support,” he said. “But I wouldn’t support bringing in battalions of American ground troops to directly engage with ISIS. I would support limited numbers of American personnel to help direct air strikes against ISIS targets.”

Lieu is currently a U.S. Air Force Reserve lieutenant colonel, and he added:   “Having served in the Air Force — been in there 19 years — it’s very clear we have an amazing military. We are very good at defeating enemies, very good at blowing things up, taking over territory, but not very good at asking the next question, which is: What do you do next? In Libya, [Muammar] Gadhafi was an evil, bad person, but [there was] not a lot of evidence he would strike the United States. Saddam [Hussein] was an evil dictator, but there was no evidence he would strike the United States.

“I support the American air strikes because I think that’s needed. It’s a remarkable thing that we protected the Yazidi people from genocide [by ISIS in Iraq]; I support the Kurds in northern Iraq and Kurdistan. If we stopped ISIS from overrunning [the Kurds], they would do well.”

But what about fears that ISIS-controlled territory is a training and nesting place for terrorists who would come to the United States and do damage here?  “Anything we can do about that? Is that a worry?” I asked.

“It is,” Lieu replied. “That is why I support air strikes to stop them, but I don’t think that worry would override sending in ground troops. On balance, I would oppose ground troops to try to stop that potential worry — American ground troops.”

I asked what if President Barack Obama, influenced by intervention hawks on his team, were to ask Lieu to vote to dispatch ground troops to Iraq. “You’d vote no?” I asked.

“Correct,” he said.

What should the United States do if ISIS were to attain its goal of imposing its rule on large areas, establishing what it calls a caliphate?  

“My view is that if ISIS does attain its goals, then I believe neighboring countries would get a lot more involved because the one thing that ISIS has done … is that they have offended every other single nation and organization,” Lieu said.   “They will kill anyone … not within its specific sect. Turkey, UAE [United Arab Emirates], Lebanon — everyone there hates ISIS, and, in my view, if ISIS actually got stronger, the neighboring countries would get much more involved.  [It is] much more a threat to Turkey.”

Lieu said, “Turkey is not going to stand for a crazy ISIS caliphate, [nor are] Saudi Arabia, Lebanon — lots of countries are going to be far more affected by ISIS than the United States. They should be the ones that are trying to destroy ISIS.”

Lieu added, “It is true ISIS is a threat, but to me the main threat is still Iran and a nuclear weapon.”

We talked about what the United States should do if Israel bombed Iran’s nuclear sites. “My sense is that Israel would strike and then tell people afterward, and at that point, I think the United States should support Israel. If Israel’s enemies see any wavering of America’s support of Israel’s security, it would impose an immediate existential threat to Israel,” he said.

Lieu added, “I also believe for the long term, the only way you can get real peace there is with a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Arab conflict.

“That’s a different morass,” I said.  Maybe we’d better leave it for another interview.