WASHINGTON -- There's widespread agreement in Washington that it would be great if the United States and other countries could defeat the Islamic State, a militant group also known as ISIL and ISIS. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said it's time to "defeat ISIS," President Barack Obama wants to "degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL," and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wishes to focus on "destroying this terrorist threat."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has been one of the lawmakers most vocally pushing Obama to do more about the Islamic State. But in an interview with National Public Radio Thursday morning, Rubio undermined the argument that it's actually possible to defeat the group by admitting that it has actually been "defeated" in the past -- but only temporarily.
"Absolutely it's a realistic goal. It's been achieved in the past," said the senator when asked by "Morning Edition" host Steve Inskeep whether "defeat" was truly possible. "This very same insurgency was defeated during the Awakening in Iraq. This is the same group that was driven out by Sunnis, who then reconstituted itself in Syria when that became an unstable and ungoverned space. ... But no matter how long it takes, we need to do it."
The defeat, apparently, was fleeting, and the militants are now back under a different name. Some lawmakers think the militants are even stronger than they were before, with Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) insisting in August, "They are more powerful now than al Qaeda was on 9/11."
Inskeep pressed Rubio on his definition of defeat, saying, "There are connections between this group and earlier extremist groups in Iraq. They were battled for years and pushed back, but here they are years later. This could just be something that goes on and on, couldn't it?"
Rubio acknowledged that it could, essentially acknowledging that full defeat of the Islamic State may be impossible.
"That's just reality. We wish that weren't the case, but that's the way it is," he said. "The world is not the way we want it to be all the time, and this is unfortunately a reality we face in the 21st century. We have these groups with the intention of killing Americans and enslaving people, and we have a choice to make: We either accept that or we defeat it. And I don't think we should accept it."
Rubio added that it's important for the American people to know that their country is committed to defeating the Islamic State, "no matter what it takes" and "no matter how long it takes."
Listen to the NPR interview: