Invariably, when one thinks of the efficacy of a nation’s military, the mind’s eye is drawn to the ability of that country to deliver a "warhead onto the forehead" of their enemies. Indeed, owing to the Pentagon’s slick packaging of the First Gulf War, modern conflict, in the American mind, became synonymous with high-tech toys, grainy videos of successful missile shots, and a quick resolution of hostilities.
A decade later, that casual assurance, initially buttressed during the invasion phase of what came to be known as Gulf War II, soon shattered under the weight of the extended combat referred to as the Iraq War. This much longer military action revealed the flip side of a nation’s military efficacy—the willingness of the nation’s population to absorb the casualties that victory entails.
This is particularly important when waging war in a democracy. As our last great adversary, Ho Chi Minh, correctly noted, "You will kill 10 of our men, we will kill 1 one yours, and in the end it will be you who tire of it."
Even though the Pentagon barred media coverage of the flagged-draped coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base during the Iraq War, the families and friends of those veterans who paid the ultimate price began questioning the justification of the war.
Neo-Con’s Rush to War and Failure to Secure the Peace
When the Neo-con staffed Bush White House planned for the toppling of Saddam Hussein, they made no contingencies for securing the peace. Indeed, in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, administration officials were dismissive of such discussions. Spending more time attempting to gin up evidence that would serve as a justification for war, they blithely ignored requests for details regarding the post-war occupation. That is because there were no cogent Administration plans regarding the post-war occupation of Iraq.
"My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators...I think it will go relatively quickly" pronounced then-Vice-President Dick Cheney on Meet the Press four days before the first bombs struck their targets.
Defense Policy Board advisor, Kenneth Adelman opined to the Washington Post a month before the war began, "Liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk." Finally, when asked on a radio call-in show about the difficulty of the proposed mission, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld noted, "The idea that it’s going to be a long battle is belied by the fact of what happened in 1990."
The Secretary was being Disingenuous
Referencing the First Gulf War, fought under the stewardship of President George H.W. Bush, the strategic goal of that conflict was merely the ejection of Iraqi force from Kuwait. As Rumsfeld well knew, the parameters of this new mission required the painstaking task of nation building following the efficient dispatch of Hussein’s military by the United States land, sea, and air forces.
Today, these same talking heads are lambasting President Obama’s measured response to the regional threat posed by ISIS. The bomb-everything-on-the-menu crowd is back and touting their foreign policy expertise. Giving their talking points any credence considering it was their failed (non) policy ideas that led to the rise of ISIS, and so their counsel should be ignored now.
Critics of President Obama’s engagement policy, regarding his "no-boots on the ground" strategy towards ISIS, have failed, either willfully for partisan advantage or through ignorance of George Santayana axiom, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" to properly assess the American public’s appetite for unending war in the Middle East.
A Rational Foreign Policy Goal
The White House strategy of targeted airstrikes against ISIS forces is the correct one in light of the failed foreign adventures of the Bush administration. The shifting mosaic of alliances throughout the Sunni and Shiite world makes finding a reliable moderate force difficult in a region that becomes increasingly radicalized as a direct result of the neo-conservative policy failures of previous administrations.
Their incompetent actions squandered the good will of the world following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. In their wanton disregard of the truth, to justify the 2003 attack on Iraq; they lost the trust of the American public when it comes to rules of engagement that place American military personal in harm’s way in the Middle East. President Obama, with an understanding of history, has selected the correct rules of engagement in the ongoing battle against extremism.
American forces should and will always be available to protect our citizens and allies. However, trying to police the entire world has become too expensive both in terms of the lives of American soldiers and in the financial resources needed to be successful. President Obama realizes this and has correctly asked our allies and friends around the world to help keep Democracy strong no matter where the need arises.
If we are to remain strong as a country, we must protect our ability to respond quickly and decisively when needed. Engaging in numerous engagements threatens this readiness.
Whether gained by experience or incite, our current policy is the correct one. As Theodore Roosevelt said, speak softly but carry a big stick! This administration seems to understand this concept.