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The lesson from 9/11 is not isolationism

In this Sept. 11, 2013, file photo, the World Trade Center flag is presented as friends and relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gather at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, for a ceremony marking the 12th
In this Sept. 11, 2013, file photo, the World Trade Center flag is presented as friends and relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gather at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, for a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the attacks in New York. New York City police plan heavy security for the anniversary ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014.
(Jason DeCrow, File, Associated Press)

Having spent 14 years as an Air Force pilot, flying both combat rescue helicopters and B-1 bombers, I understand the tremendous strain that the years since 9/11 have placed on our military equipment, our soldiers and their families. The result of our long fight against terror is that our nation has become war weary and understandably reluctant to get into another fight.

Throughout his administration, the president has sought to diminish the role of the U.S. overseas. Now we have seen what happens when the U.S. refuses to honor its obligation as the world’s only superpower, a nation that has stood for something rare and exceptional for generations. If the last six years have taught us anything, it is that a diminished U.S. presence leaves the world a much darker and more dangerous place.

This power vacuum was on vivid display as I spent much of August in the Middle East, meeting with presidents, prime ministers, military leaders and kings. And the message that I heard from all of them was consistent: We need your country to lead! Will you stand by your allies? When you draw a red line, does it mean anything?

Whether we like it or not, the Global War on Terror is the defining battle of our day. Indeed, the fight against ISIL may be the most important battle that this generation may undertake. The president spoke to the nation last night, outlining his strategy to defeat ISIL. Because he is late in addressing this threat, it is critical now that he follow through with his plan. This simple fact is, it isn’t enough to neutralize ISIL, we have to destroy it. Because political speeches are often light on details, I want to suggest what I believe is a military plan that most Americans would support and that would address the threat that we face.

First, we have to cut off ISIL’s sources of funding by hitting its ability to sell oil. Right now, hundreds of oil trucks make their way across the border in southern Turkey where ISIL sells its oil on the black market. These transactions will generate at least $500 million and maybe more than a billion dollars of revenue for it. Cutting off this flow of oil should be our primary military target. We must also pressure the leadership in Turkey to shut down access to ISIL's markets. Do this and we take away ISIL’s ability to operate as a terrorist state.

Second, we must be willing to use coordinated military capabilitiesF. Air power is the key to stopping ISIL’s advancements, but it will take U.S. special forces, working in concert with U.S. intelligence, to begin to push it back.

Third, we must build and equip a military coalition that is willing to do what we can not do, put "boots on the ground." Iraqis, under their new leadership, are willing to fight with us, as are the Kurds, the Free Syrian Army, the Jordanians, several of the Gulf states, and many of the Sunni tribes who understand now the terror of living under ISIL control.

Fourth, we must not allow the enemy a safe haven where it can regroup, rearm and gather strength. This means we must be willing to extend the fight into Syria. But the Syrian border is now nonexistent anyway. And everything would be for naught if we were not willing to extend this fight to wherever ISIL exists.

Finally, we must assure the Sunnis in northwestern Iraq that the new government will create a means of sharing oil revenue. They have no oil reserves of their own. Without assurances that they will not be left in poverty, they will not be willing to join in this fight.

Keeping world chaos at bay has a high cost. While other democratic governments must step up and accept their portion of the burden, the United States will always have the primary responsibility to lead. As a people we need to accept the fact that retreating from the world stage, only to return when the resulting vacuum is filled with authoritarian regimes, is more costly — in dollars and lives — than never leaving the stage. The world needs U.S. leadership. It always has and it always will.

Chris Stewart is a congressman for Utah's 2nd District.