Today on CNN’s State of the Union, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), joined senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta to discuss if the United States is losing the battle against ISIS and whether the war against ISIS requires U.S. combat troops in Iraq.
Text highlights and a transcript of the discussion are below
MANDATORY CREDIT: CNN’s “State of the Union”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger tells Jim Acosta that he supports a GOP proposal to send 10,000 troops to Iraq.
Dem and GOP lawmakers agree: ISIS gaining ground
Gabbard on whether she agrees with Obama saying that the US is not losing the battle against ISIS: “I disagree with the president on this. ISIS has gained momentum, in particular over the last week… I met with a Sunni tribal leader last week in Washington — they are begging for arms, heavy weapons, ammunition, to be able to fight against ISIS to protect their families and their tribal lands and their territories, but still to this point, both the U.S. and the central Iraqi government is failing to provide that, and, therefore, ISIS continues to be able to grow.”
Kinzinger on the proposal to send 10,000 U.S. troops into Iraq: “Yes, it’s reasonable… let’s think about where we have been here. And the question is, are we winning against ISIS? Eighteen months ago, I called for bombing ISIS when they moved into Fallujah… I was accused of wanting to start Iraq three. But we saw what happened then as it went on. ISIS grew. And eventually people got engaged and wanted to destroy them. We are seeing this movement continue to grow… I think we have to do the force that is proportionate, and, frankly, the violence proportionate necessary to push back ISIS.”
Gabbard on the Iraqi lack of will to fight ISIS: “I think it’s important for us to really focus on what our mission and goal and objective should be, which is defeating ISIS. Let’s look back to Iraq several years ago, where we had over 100,000 U.S. troops there training these Iraqi security forces. After the United States pulled out, you saw how these Iraqi security forces lasted. They cut and run — they cut and ran and dropped their weapons when they were faced with their first real battle with ISIS. So, the issue here is not about how many U.S. troops can be sent to train these Iraqi security forces, because you can’t train into someone the will to fight.”
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: I am joined now by two lawmakers who have a lot of familiarity with what is going on in Iraq, Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. She served two tours of duty in the Middle East. and Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, who served as an Air Force pilot in Iraq.
Thank you very much, Congresswoman, Congressman, for being here on STATE OF THE UNION this morning. Let’s get right to it. President Obama said earlier this week that the U.S.-led coalition is not losing this battle against ISIS. Congresswoman, I will go to you first. Is he right about that?
REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI): I disagree with the president on this.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Well, maybe, I guess… (CROSSTALK)
ACOSTA: Let me go to Congresswoman Gabbard first, Congressman. And then we will get to you in just a moment.
KINZINGER: Oh. Please.
ACOSTA: Congresswoman, what do you make of that, the president saying the U.S.-led coalition is not losing?
GABBARD: You know, clearly, ISIS has gained momentum, in particular over the last week, as we have seen the ground that they have gained both in Iraq and Syria.
And I would like to just break it down to what I see as the basic problem here, especially in Iraq, where we are seeing the Sunnis continue to be persecuted by the central government in Baghdad. Their distrust for the central government, this Iranian-influenced Shia militia has really created a situation where, just as a matter of survival, they have no place else to turn to protect their families and their communities other than to ISIS.
You have this solution. You have got the Kurds, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and you have Sunni tribesmen who are literally begging — I met with a Sunni tribal leader last week in Washington — they are begging for arms, heavy weapons, ammunition, to be able to fight against ISIS to protect their families and their tribal lands and their territories, but still to this point, both the U.S. and the central Iraqi government is failing to provide that, and, therefore, ISIS continues to be able to grow.
ACOSTA: What do you make of that, Congressman, the president’s assessment last week that we’re not losing?
KINZINGER: Well, of course, you are not losing and you are not winning because we are not really engaged in this fight.
At some point, we’re going to have to understand that the goal is the destruction of ISIS. The president, when we began this — this — this attack, I guess, on ISIS, he said, you know, we are going to do it, we are going to bomb them, we’re going to hit them, but we’re not going to put troops on the ground.
And, in essence, what the president did was say, look, we need to destroy ISIS, until that takes boots on the ground, in which case the existence of boots on the ground is worse than the existence of ISIS. I think the president needs to stand in front of the American people and frankly lead on this and say, look, this is a cancer that is growing in the Middle East.
This is not just a situation where, if the house catches on fire, it will burn down and then we just look at a burned-down house. This is now a house on fire in a densely packed neighborhood, where this is going to spread to other places.
So, I think we have to be very aggressive at stopping this cancer now in Iraq, in Syria, in Libya, where it’s existing. And I think we have to show a big, major blow to the — to ISIS, because right now you have a lot of people that are sitting in their basements looking on the Internet that want to join ISIS not because they want to be martyrs, but because they want to be part of something big.
And until we show that the chance of martyrdom increases greatly by joining ISIS, I think we are going to continue to see this problem with foreign fighters.
ACOSTA: And I want to toss out to our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, who is joining us from Baghdad.
And, Arwa, you have been joining this conversation here. Obviously, we will get to the congresswoman and congressman in just a moment.
But is ISIS being pushed back? Is ISIS losing ground? That is something, those are two assertions that the White House was making last week to sort of cool down all of the second-guessing that’s been taking place here in Washington. What can you tell us from the ground there?
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, first of all, one has to continuously keep in mind that the battle lines here are constantly shifting, and small chunks of territory do regularly go back and forth.
But following the fall of Ramadi about a week ago, ISIS did quite quickly push into various other smaller towns located to the east of Ramadi. Now, the Iraqi government has managed to recapture some of them, but not only on its own.
You had a unit that was comprised of the Iraqi army plus, and this was arguably the deciding factor in all of this, the popular mobilization units. And this is this Iranian-backed Shia paramilitary force. And it was largely due to them that they were able to accomplish these very small victories in the grander scheme of things.
They are using the Sunni tribes, we’re being told, using them to hold ground, but these Sunni tribes are very underarmed when it comes to the potential threat that they might be facing by ISIS.
But, look, the government at this stage has no choice but to use these unconventional fighting forces. As has been painfully clear at this point, the Iraqi government does not have its own units directly under its own command that are capable of taking on an entity like ISIS.
ACOSTA: And so let me go back to Congresswoman Gabbard about this.
I mean, what is — it seems that we have a strategy in place in terms of providing air support to the Iraqi security forces on the ground or the Peshmerga in the Kurdish areas to the north, but it doesn’t seem like any — that is a — an effective strategy at this point, that it is just not working.
You can get into semantics as to whether we are winning or losing or failing, but that strategy just doesn’t seem to work. So, I mean, what do you propose, do you think, at this point?
GABBARD: Yes, Jim, I would like to point out a couple of things.
I think that there is definitely more that we can do in providing these decisive blows with airstrikes against these ISIS strongholds. But the Iraqi government actually does have a choice. They have a choice by arming directly the Sunni tribesmen. As your correspondent just pointed out, they are woefully underequipped.
They have the will to fight. They are on the ground begging, saying, please give us the heavy weapons, the arms, the ammunition that we need to be able to fight against ISIS. Instead, the Iraqi government is relying completely on this Iranian-backed Shia military. The U.S. government is now saying, well, we’re going to expedite more arms, more ammunition, these anti-tank weapons, to the Iraqi government, when we see that these Iraqi security forces have cut and run and left their weapons for ISIS at a few opportunities.
And these weapons are getting into the hands of the Shia militia. And I want to point out something that happened in the Armed — during — while we were going through the Armed Services Committee hearing process for the National Defense Authorization Act, where I co- sponsored an amendment that would authorize the U.S. government directly arming the Kurds and the Shias.
We had a leader of this Shia militia, Muqtada al-Sadr, as we were going through this hearing live. Quote — he said, “If this bill is passed, we will have no choice but to unfreeze the military wing that deals with the Americans, so it can start targeting American interests both in and outside of Iraq.” So, when you look at this, these are the people that the United States is aligning itself with who are essentially saying we are going to come out and attack you if you don’t do what we want.
ACOSTA: And, Congressman, I want to ask you this, because you heard some fellow Republicans this week, Senator Lindsey Graham, John McCain, talk about a proposal to send in roughly 10,000 troops into Iraq, primarily to do training and provide intelligence, that sort of thing, not to go and fight house to house in combat situations.
What do you make of that proposal? Does that sound reasonable to you? What do you think?
KINZINGER: Yes. Yes, it’s reasonable. I am not sure the exact number, but let’s think about where we have been here. And the question is, are we winning against ISIS? Eighteen months ago, I called for bombing ISIS when they moved into Fallujah. At the time, we thought it was al Qaeda, because they had yet to go through their divorce.
I was accused of wanting to start Iraq three. But we saw what happened then as it went on. ISIS grew. And eventually people got engaged and wanted to destroy them. We are seeing this movement continue to grow. And I think, at this point, we have to understand that every day that goes by where we don’t push this cancer back, where we allow them to put car bombs in areas — in alleys, we allow them to put IEDs in towns that they occupy right now, every day that goes by, the cost of liberating Iraq or the cost of defeating this cancer is only going to increase.
So, I think we have to do the force that is proportionate, and, frankly, the violence proportionate necessary to push back ISIS. The president likes to talk about the fact that we are not going to send 200,000 troops into Iraq. I agree. I have not even heard a single person ever say that we need another 200,000 troops back in Iraq.
ACOSTA: You think that’s a straw man argument? You think that’s a bogus argument?
KINZINGER: I think it’s absolutely a straw — I think, absolutely.
If you see how the president argues a lot, he likes to put two false choices up and say he is the one in the middle. I think the one in the middle right now is saying, what do we need to do to be able to embolden the Iraqi territory where it exists, to arm the Peshmerga — I agree with Tulsi — arm the Peshmerga, arm the Sunnis? The problem is, the Peshmerga can’t liberate all of Iraq. They have a 600-mile border with ISIS as it exists today.
KINZINGER: They are struggling to maintain their own territory. It’s a very complicated battle.
ACOSTA: And, Congresswoman — it is.
But I guess, what do you make of what Congressman Kinzinger just said there? He is OK with 10,000, maybe less, maybe more troops going in there? But you know this. Deployment after deployment, it’s breaking military families across this country. On this Memorial Day weekend, that may not be the news they necessarily want to hear, more and more lawmakers calling for troops to go back into Iraq one more time.
How do you prevent mission creep from occurring, Congresswoman?
GABBARD: Well, I think it’s important for us to really focus on what our mission and goal and objective should be, which is defeating ISIS.
Let’s look back to Iraq several years ago, where we had over 100,000 U.S. troops there training these Iraqi security forces. After the United States pulled out, you saw how these Iraqi security forces lasted. They cut and run — they cut and ran and dropped their weapons when they were faced with their first real battle with ISIS.
GABBARD: So, the issue here is not about how many U.S. troops can be sent to train these Iraqi security forces, because you can’t train into someone the will to fight.
They don’t have the will to fight, this Iraqi security force organization. You do have people who have the will and the courage to fight, and we have seen time and again with the Kurdish Peshmerga. Now these Sunni tribes are — are asking for the equipment that they need to…
GABBARD: … be able to protect their families and their communities.
KINZINGER: Hey, Jim?
GABBARD: And yet, unfortunately, we — we are still not taking care of it and dealing with the obvious.
GABBARD: We have these boots on the ground there who are ready to fight.
ACOSTA: And we’re going to have to wrap it up there.
KINZINGER: Jim, can I just…
ACOSTA: Well, Congressman, we have got to go, but we appreciate your time.
Well, go ahead and jump in there, if you have got something to say.
KINZINGER: Well, let me just say real quickly, the American military — the American military wants to defeat our enemies.
And — and I think they are ready to go. They’re ready to be unleashed, which is necessary. And — and that’s what they are called to do.
ACOSTA: All right, very good.