President Obama has steadfastly refused to engage in a ground war in Syria to stop ISIS despite calls from Republicans to put “boots on the ground”. In another time, a ground invasion may have been the right strategy to pursue to remove the very real threat of ISIS, but in 2015 it simply isn’t a tenable course of action.
Why? Because George W. Bush has made it impossible for America to lead in any serious military campaign around the world for decades to come.
While Republicans are busily accusing Obama of being an effete Commander in Chief who “doesn’t understand the real world,” Obama is in fact navigating one of the most toxic quagmires in history with remarkable skill and savvy. The almighty mess we’re seeing in the Middle East was created almost entirely by the Bush administration, who not only invaded the wrong country after 9/11, but broke it almost beyond repair and paved the way for the rise of ISIS a decade later.
This isn’t conjecture, but fact as even Tony Blair has admitted. The toppling of Saddam Hussein created an enormous power vacuum in Iraq, and America’s comically inept handling of post invasion Iraq led to one of the most spectacular cockups in military history.
It could be argued that had Obama decided to maintain a large presence in Iraq after it had (relatively) stabilized in 2011, this mess could have been partly avoided — but it should be remembered that Obama was fulfilling a campaign promise to end the occupation of Iraq after the American public had grown to despise it, and the costs had become completely unsustainable.
Colonial powers have been invading and occupying countries since the dawn of civilization, so with the most advanced military in history and literally thousands of years of easily accessible knowledge, one would have thought the Bush administration would have been able to prevent a catastrophe. But Bush and the ideologues running his administration were so blinkered by their own fantasies of America military supremacy that they failed to heed the advice of anyone who had actually gone to war before them. As Colin Powell told his boss, “If you break it, you own it.”
America broke Iraq, then basically allowed it to disintegrate as every Jihadist in the Middle East flocked to fulfill their fantasies of building a world wide Caliphate. This was partly reversed at enormous human and monetary cost, but given the instability of the rest of the region, any return to normalcy was bound to be temporary. We are now seeing the results of American hubris in the region, and president Obama has been left to clean up the mess.
Conveniently, Republicans have forgotten the spectacularly disastrous war they sold the American public, and all the ensuing bloodshed that saw the deaths of over 8,000 coalition troops and over half a million Iraqis. Now, they are ginning up for another war that could potentially create an even bigger bloodbath, with no plan to fund it and no serious exit strategy. “Defeat the terrorists” sounds nice on the campaign trail, but it isn’t a sound military strategy.
“Look around, Obama,” wrote Sarah Palin in a recent attack on Obama’s ISIS strategy. “There are strong manly leaders on the world stage whom you should try to emulate in your waning days in office. Benjamin Netanyahu is on top. Learn from him. Vladimir Putin is small-headed and wrong, but at least there’s no question he puts his country first – and he can wrestle grizzly bears – so on that front, learn from him.”
“And of course, any one of our brave women and men in uniform today, and our honored vets who proudly wore the uniform yesterday, can teach you a thing or two about defeating the enemy so America can be great again.”
Defeat the terrorists! Kill the enemy! America is strong! America is great!
Sound familiar? It should do — George Bush used the same childish rhetoric to brutalize a country most Americans couldn’t place on a map.
Obama’s efforts to share military responsibilities with the rest of the world isn’t a sign of weakness or lack of leadership — it is a sign of intelligence and pragmatism. Obama knows America cannot lead another excursion into the Middle East, firstly because the public support for a land invasion is non existent, and secondly because he knows full well what the blowback would likely be. Another 9/11 type attack on American soil would be a catalyst for an apocalyptic war that would engulf America and much of the world in a new cycle of violence that would be virtually impossible to reverse. Obama is engaging in a targeted, collaborative effort with other countries to get rid of ISIS while allaying the public’s fears about the growing threat. It isn’t glamorous, but it is the only practical strategy given the obvious constraints. Will it work? Who knows, but there isn’t much more to be done despite the military nuts and gung-ho Republicans talking up a good ol’ fashioned war with an evil enemy.
Because the adults in charge of actually running the country and participating in a highly interdependent world know just how bad it could get, and they do not want another decade of war, death and economic depression. Perhaps an American ground intervention in Iraq and Syria could have worked had America not created the catastrophe in the first place — but it did, so going back in guns blazing isn’t exactly the greatest idea.
Of course this is completely obvious to anyone who studies history, but then Republicans never do, so they are doomed to repeat their many, many failures of the past. Thankfully, Obama has learned from the mistakes of his predecessors and seems intent on not making them again.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.