Editor's Note: This column originally appeared in the November issue of Townhall Magazine.
There is no doubt Americans are war weary, and according to a recent Military Times survey, our soldiers are too. But as the public debate about whether ground troops will be necessary to “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS” rages on in Washington D.C., at the Pentagon and on television screens across the country, one question isn’t being discussed or answered: Why do our modern wars take so long?
The current worn-out American attitude toward the Middle East and the world as a whole comes from 13 years in Afghanistan and Iraq. Things feel drawn out, and military families who haven’t made the ultimate sacrifice of a loved one dying for their country have made serious sacrifices of missing far too many birthdays, anniversaries, and milestones due to multiple deployments. Time is a precious thing that nobody can get back.
When it comes to the complicated situation in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry has said the United States’ approach and potential attack on President Bashar al-Assad’s assets would be “unbelievably small” in a war with more than 191,00 dead since 2011.
“Now, I believe that the aftermath of the Iraq experience and Afghanistan leave a lot of people saying, ‘We don’t want to see our young people coming back in a body bag,’ and so forth. But that’s not what we’re talking about. And what we have to do is make clear to people that this is—we’re not talking about war. We’re not going to war. We will not have people at risk in that way,” Kerry said during a joint press conference with the British foreign secretary back in 2013.
“We will be able to hold Bashar Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort in a very limited, very targeted, very short-term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria’s civil war,” Kerry continued.
“That is exactly what we’re talking about doing—unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.”
President Obama later walked back Kerry’s comments, saying any action in Syria wouldn’t be “pinpricks.” Too bad that wasn’t true.
Obama’s latest strategy against ISIS, the terror army that has now erased the border between Syria and Iraq to form an Islamic caliphate, is by all accounts a drawn out half-attempt to do something.
“America will be joined by a broad coalition of partners. Already, allies are flying planes with us over Iraq; sending arms and assistance to Iraqi security forces and the Syrian opposition; sharing intelligence; and providing billions of dollars in humanitarian aid,” Obama said on the eve of 9/11 in an address to the nation. “I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”
If Obama isn’t interested in going back to the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, then why the “steady” plan to take out ISIS? The White House and the Pentagon have also said in press reports this mission could “take years.” America is about to spend a whole lot of time and resources training “moderate” forces incapable of getting the job done. Many military leaders and experts say the mission is destined to fail.
“I don’t think the president’s plan has a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding,” retired head of the Marine Corps General James Conway said at the Maverick PAC Conference in Washing- ton, D.C., recently.
The bottom line is this: Our soldiers have to be able to fight wars to win, not simply to damage the enemy. Doing otherwise only results in bigger problems and longer combat time on the ground. Training and depending on local fighters on the ground to get the job done for us isn’t a viable option either. Further, telling the enemy what we are not going to do only makes wars last longer as terrorists are able to reassess strategy, move into civilian population centers, and therefore drag out wars they’re willing to fight until the end of eternity in the name of Allah. The rules of engagement, which I’ve extensively detailed in the Dispatch before, make it impossible for our troops to get the job done by eliminating our enemies quickly and without regret or reassessment in life or death moments. They must be rewritten.
America is tired because our wars have been long, but the reasons for the past 13 years of drawn out, extensive conflict are a result of useless and oftentimes dangerous policies, which are heavily influenced by the international community and political correctness rather than by military leaders who have been pushed aside by the president.
When we use our military to fight our enemies, it should be used quickly and to win. Our men and women in uniform deserve nothing less. •