One of the most dangerous side effects of our chronic military failures is that the people in charge rarely concede their plans were flops. As a result, no one is held responsible and the architects of failure are promoted with another star and even the Oval Office. To state the obvious is somehow considered unpatriotic. For example, look at the sanctimonious uproar when Donald Trump simply pointed out that George W. Bush was President when the September 11th attack was executed.
With no situational awareness we stumble on like a blind giant, blowing up a hospital here, a wedding there, seeing no connection between our actions and the blowback that comes as a logical consequence. As we reflexively escalate by droning and bombing more, the list of failed states grows, the field of destruction widens, and the wave of war refugees continues to swell. Meanwhile, the flow of ISIS supporters from the west continues.
In her recent Benghazi testimony up on Capital Hill, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the House panel there were now no less than “19 higher threat” diplomatic outposts where diplomatic personal faced elevated risk. “We have a lot of hot spots now and very dangerous places that are not in military conflict areas,” said Clinton.
The truth is just too awful to comprehend, and yet to ignore it is to consign ourselves and the world to an ever-expanding sphere of violence and revenge. What we have been doing is not working and our war on terror has proliferated it.
After more than a decade of efforts, and the investment of tens of billions of dollars by the U.S. in training Iraqi and Afghani troops, both fighting forces are undermined by desertion and corruption. In spectacular defeats both armies have demonstrated they are incapable of containing the enemies they face on their own.
As Lawrence Korb, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Reagan administration, pointed out earlier this month in an op-ed, we have made the same mistake in Iraq and Afghanistan that we made in Vietnam 45 years ago: “Military success on the battlefield is more dependent on whether men and women are willing to fight and die for a government they believe in,” wrote Korb. “Rather than how well trained they are, troops have to believe their government is acting in the best interest of all its citizens.”
Korb, who now is with the Center for American Progress, says rank and file Afghani and Iraqi troops “view these governments as inefficient and sectarian” and the regimes not “worth sacrificing their lives for.” So, what are we continuing to prop up there?
In the case of Iraq, Korb says that when ISIS threatened Mosul and Ramadi, the Iraqi military melted away, noting that just 800 to 1,000 committed ISIS fighters sent 30,000 Iraqi troops into full retreat. In the case of Kunduz in Afghanistan, 7,000 U.S.-trained and -equipped Afghani soldiers were routed by “a far smaller Taliban force.”
The time has long come for the U.S. to start living in the world that is, as opposed to the one we wish existed. We saw the results in Libya of what happens when we fail to anticipate the consequences of letting the missiles and drones fly with naive reckless abandon.
Clearly the American people, nor their current President, want to commit the U.S. military into a massive land war to take out ISIS. And even as we continue our grand Iraq delusion, the world is moving on. Canada, our neighbor to the north, under the new leadership of Justin Trudeau, has committed to ending his air force’s role in the bombing campaign aimed at challenging ISIS in Syria and Iraq opting to instead “engage in a responsible way” with more humanitarian aid.
So far, the U.S. and its partners have conducted 7,000 air strikes on ISIS. What we are seeing is what we already knew: You can use all the drones in the world, but if you don’t have living breathing human beings (boots on the ground) willing to make the final sacrifice, you can’t hold the land.
Peter Galbraith, former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia and staffer with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, argues that the region would be better off if 21st century maps reflected the reality on the ground with a monolithic Iraq re-defined as discreet territories for the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites.
On Democracy Now last year Galbraith observed that for 90 years, the minority Sunnis ruled Iraq by keeping the Kurds in their fold but did all they could to marginalize the Shiites, historically aligned with Iran.
Now that the roles have been reversed, with Shiites running things in Baghdad, Galbraith said “there isn’t the prospect of putting together a unified Iraqi government that is going to win over the Sunnis and make them partners in an effort to eradicate ISIS.”
Tribes and their families are willing to fight and die for the land from which they draw their identity. By contrast Iraq’s political boundaries are the post World War I legacy of the British Empire and were never a reflection of the collective free will of the people that live there.
Contrast the failures of the Iraqi and Afghani armies with the ability of the Kurds to stand up to ISIS. As it turns out their tribal cohesion inspires the courage and tenacity that makes all the difference.