A few years into President Obama’s presidency and with approval ratings dropping, the comparisons between he and his presidential predecessor began to become widespread. The left accused Obama of betraying his campaign message and tacking much too far to the right, and the familiar cry of “new boss, same as the old boss” was heard around the country. Now, with calls for a new coalition to quell the unrest in Iraq, déjà vu has descended (once again) upon much of the American population.
In the past two decades there have now been three instances where our leaders stood on a global stage and demanded immediate military assistance in quelling a threat in Iraq. In the first Gulf War, the first President Bush took his time in building both international support for his coalition and broad condemnation of the actions of Saddam Hussein. His son attempted a similar maneuver, but his false assumptions and desperate pleadings were ignored by much of the international community. Now we face a threat of a new kind, but whose tactics remain similar to groups we have been fighting since our failed occupation of Iraq. Unfortunately, the fear and disgust the American people felt after learning of devastating ISIS brutality, coupled with hysterical and similarly frightful responses from our leaders, is exactly the response this group is looking for. There is nothing they want more than to instill fear in the ordinary citizens of the West and hopefully push those nations into fighting in an area they do not understand and are not welcomed.
The shortsightedness of our elected leaders, both in the past and the future, is truly astonishing. A quick look back will show that conventional military excursions into the Middle East do not go very well at all. A $10 million dollar tank does not bode well in treacherous conditions against fighters who know the terrain, rarely surrender, and who have stolen the (American) equipment necessary to repel it. The idiotic idealism of our 2003 Iraqi incursion has already cost us trillions of dollars, and our ongoing efforts in Afghanistan yield little results and too many body bags. Of course, a basic understanding of America’s failure in Vietnam could have alerted Bush and Cheney to the hazards of fighting a committed guerrilla effort with conventional forces, but they were a bit busy dodging the draft to have learned from it.
Like previous iterations, our current plan to become saviors of Iraq gives little attention to the past and possesses an amazing lack of insight into the future. The primetime address to the nation made by President Obama on September 10 stated first and foremost that the plan in Iraq is to “degrade and destroy” the ISIS threat with a “comprehensive and sustained” counter-terrorism effort. The word sustained is a frightening one to use to anyone with a memory longer than that of a goldfish, given the fact that we lost 4,486 Americans in the ten years we spent the last time we tried a sustained counter-terrorism effort in Iraq, which led not to the dissolution of the terrorist threat but rather to the emergence of ISIS. Unperturbed or shockingly unaware of this, Obama pushes on and assures Americans that the 475 new soldiers headed to Iraq will be there solely in an advisory capacity, and specifically mentions that “we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.” This is a strong and powerful assertion, enough to temporarily quell the worries of a global community tired of American belligerence. Unfortunately for the president, the other top military commanders feel otherwise; just a few days after his speech, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that using ground forces in an offensive capacity is very much under active consideration, and if necessary they would absolutely recommend such action.
Beyond the fact that our top three military commanders cannot agree on whether or not to sacrifice American lives for the cause, the most frightening part of American strategy in removing this threat is trying to understand what happens next. After making a concluding point of saying once again that the campaign will not involve American combat troops on foreign soil, Obama finishes with a romantic “America is the best” ending before blessing the troops. Nothing is particularly wrong with ending on a flowery and optimistic note, but without a clear vision of the non-immediate future our present actions will be pointless. In Vietnam, no one looked beyond simply repelling the North, and we lost 55,000 troops and the war. In Iraq in 2003, no one saw further than ousting Saddam, and we lost thousands of lives, spent trillions of dollars, and inadvertently inspired the emergence of the very ISIS threat which we now face.
Make no mistake: ISIS is a very real and dangerous organization hell-bent on causing massive suffering and pain to its victims, who seem to be every man, woman, and child on the globe. But whatever path we choose in dealing with them, one question must first be answered: what happens when ISIS is gone? Without even the slightest attempt at answering that question, bombs are being dropped, drone strikes flourish, and the quagmire is entered into once again.
– Harry McAlevey