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Marc Jampole: Superhero Americans

In thinking about our troops in Syria, remember Viet Nam and how quickly 50 can become 500,000.

I wonder whether the Obama Administration has been watching too many superhero movies. You know, the kind in which a team of three or four superheroes take on armies of the powerful.

How else can we account for the administration’s assertion that embedding 50 specially trained soldiers into Kurdish and certain Syrian rebel forces will make a difference?

These must be 50 very talented individuals.

Especially when you consider that President Obama has predicted that Russian actions in Syria would lead to a quagmire. Russia now has 4,000 troops in the country, or 8,000 boots on the ground, as military pundits like to write. Before Russia began bombing ISIS, and perhaps rebel, positions a month ago, there were only 2,000 Russian troops on the ground.

What difference does it make? 4,000 or 2,000, with or without the air strikes—that’s nothing compared to 50 red-blooded Americans. We’ll get the job done while avoiding both the quag and the mire.

Obama’s initial announcement said the 50 troops would provide strategic and tactical advice. Now it turns out, that they will also go out on raids. But since they’ll be fighting less than 50% of the time, the mission is classified as “non-combat.” It sounds as if some professor of Newspeak left over from the euphemistically inclined Bush-Cheney Administration thought up that logic. I lost some respect for the President for telling this big white lie.

At least these 50 soldiers don’t have as their goal the one thing that U.S. troops have consistently shown they are able to do: Get the local military anywhere from weeks to months away from being ready to go it alone. Wasn’t that the assessment of the situation for months, and sometimes years at a time in Iraq, Afghanistan and Viet Nam? Turns out that our armed forces never were able to complete that job anywhere.

We’re not on a training mission, and we’re not on a combat mission. What then? Some have characterized what our troops are doing in Syria as offering guidance: Let’s hope, then, that we’re talking about group therapy, because one-on-one sessions can get to be expensive. Or will we get into the heat of battle and our guidance be to show the Kurds/rebels how to fire their shiny new American-made weapons? First we load, then we aim, then we push this button. Gee that was fun, let me show you again.

The sarcasm of these comments is meant to hide a large, gnawing fear that Syria is going to become the next Iraq, Afghanistan or Viet Nam. At this point, it structurally resembles Viet Nam in that we are starting with a small contingent of crack troops whose job is to train and advise the locals. Our troops in Viet Nam ballooned from a few hundred advisors to a half a million soldiers in what those who lived through it probably remember as a blink of the eye—but what was really just a few years. The difference of course is that this time we’re supporting two of three rebel forces and not the official government. That’s Russia’s role in this increasingly bloody farce.

Syria is a mess, and for a change, it’s not entirely America’s fault, as the mess in Iraq is. But like Iraq and Afghanistan, there is nothing that we can do to fix the Syrian situation. Four forces are fighting over a territory jerry-rigged between the 20th century’s two world wars and at least two of the forces would be delighted to rule over a part of the whole. No side has distinguished itself for its humanitarianism or its dedication to free-market democracy.

The only skin we should have in this game are the Syrian people themselves. And there can be little doubt that the Syrian people will suffer from the Administration’s policy of a slow water-torture kind of ratcheting up of our military involvement, and will suffer even more from the Putin and Republican solution of making a major commitment to the fighting.

If we care about the Syrian people, we should withdraw all military aid to all parties involved in the Syrian free-for-all. We should sell no more arms to any of these forces, nor to any other country in the Middle East, including Israel and Saudi Arabia. Instead, we should lead a massive relief effort to get humanitarian aid to the refugees and place them in other countries throughout the world. We should be prepared to take a hundred thousand Syrians ourselves.

The war will go on, but wars have a way of ending when resources are depleted, and withdrawing our military support from the region will accelerate that depletion process by years. Our withdrawal from an active role in the Syrian melee will, of course, position Iran and Russia to become the major foreign players in Syria—more of a poisoned pawn than an honor, based on the experience of various powerful nations in Viet Nam, Chechnya, Iraq, the occupied Palestinian territories and Afghanistan.

After the smoke clears, we should provide economic but not military aid to the two or three governments that will control parts of the former Syria. That aid should be conditioned on those governments having free elections and refraining from the worst sorts of human rights violations now practiced by Assad and ISIS. We forgave Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat for their terrorist pasts and consider the only countries to attack our shores—Great Britain and Japan—as best of friends. I don’t believe it’s inconceivable that we will be doing business with ISIS if and when they mature into a legitimate government.

Or not.

What isn’t conceivable is getting into another war in which American soldiers are lost and tens or hundreds of thousands of innocents are killed, injured or displaced. I fear going from 50 to 5,000 or 500,000 troops on the ground much more than I fear a few beheadings.

Copyright 2015 Marc Jampole


2 comments on “Marc Jampole: Superhero Americans

  1. Katherine T. Adams
    November 15, 2015

    If we had not invaded Iraq, what would be the consequences to Iraq and surrounding nations? Hard to say. There’s nothing to indicate that Sadaam wouldn’t have just continued on indefinitely. Or perhaps he would have gone down during the Arab Spring. In terms of what would have happened to Bush politically and our country? Probably very little of consequence. Invading Iraq was a knee-jerk reaction to 911 by an incompetent president, I don’t think Iraq posed any threat and I think it’s unique as far as US conflicts go. I think it underscores the importance of the role of the President and the risk to having bozos like Bush or loose cannons like Trump in command. Unfortunately it set a whole bunch of stuff in motion.
    Yet Iraq still has one thing in common with our involvement in Vietnam, Korea, Gulf War, Cuba and to a large extent Afghanistan and Syria. We get involved in these conflicts because we fear some other country’s influence on the weaker country in turmoil. We feared Russia’s influence in Cuba (and now Syria), China’s influence in Vietnam, etc. If countries just imploded and reformed without external influence, we probably wouldn’t get too worked up. We would see who comes out the victor and evaluate them after the dust settles (like we do in Africa).
    I think our fears originate from WWII. That was the first war in all of history to be truly fought on a global scale. It was the first war where we were directly and militarily threatened in well over a century. All of which was possible because of the development of long-range planes, rockets and ships/subs. It also involved nations that conquested others on a large geographical scale, sometimes in the form of alliances.
    Since WWII, our conflicts in Vietnam, Cuba and Korea involved primarily China and/or USSRussia and the countries they/we were meddling in. We feared they were going to absorb these other Nations (either outright or politically), grow to be larger than us and mimic the scenarios we faced in WWII. Only this time we knew it would be harder to confront should we need to, since we all have the bomb.
    So is our fear of external influence always justified? China doesn’t seem as bad now as they did back then. Certainly not enough to stop trading with them or selling them bonds even though they still heavily influence North Korea, Myanmar, Nepal, Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc. The USSR collapsed largely under its own weight, not to mention failed in Afghanistan. What if we had lost Kuwait to Sadaam? I suppose we would have won it back when we overthrew Sadaam. The world’s oil supply went up not down. So some of our fears of external influence never play out. It would appear fear-based strategies don’t always make a lot of sense and other countries bungle things as bad or worse as we do.
    But as US/Russia/China conflicts subsided, we entered into smaller middle-east countries and conflicts. 911 reintroduced the act of being attacked on our on soil and made our fear very real all over again. Only this time, it wasn’t a major nation state that did so. Thanks to planes and rockets even the little guy can inflict serious damage. So in many ways, our fears are very real and justified…only now it’s a very different kind of enemy. And if it turns out there was a bomb on that Egyptian plane bound for Russia, it would seem they aren’t immune to things either.
    I don’t think our fear-based conflict strategy is entirely appropriate anymore and they aren’t very effective; at least when it comes to larger nations preying on smaller ones. The world is far too different from WWII. Even Russia’s approach is outdated. I give Obama credit for being the only president in my life-time that openly said he doesn’t want to be involved in regime change since regime change ultimately never seemed to work and I believe he is trying to take a different approach than the fear-based strategy. At the same time, I think that’s why he struggles with foreign policy. Russia doesn’t seem to have a problem with regime change (Ukraine) or propping up regimes in the case of Syria. In other words, Obama ran a risk when he said he’s not getting involved in Syria’s regime change since Russia still sees perfectly willing to. Would Russia have taken that step if Obama was more like Regan? Certainly not if you ask any Republican. So nothing rekindles the fear than watching Russia annex a country all over again. But again, I give him credit for attempting progress.
    So, do we continue to get involved in world affairs only out of fear of what might be? And, to your point …what is our role?
    My personal theory is that there’s far too much awareness of everything to tolerate dictators or super-power occupations. I believe the world is steadily running out of countries to impose regime change on, even if some countries still look for that sort of thing. I think dictators and two-bit regimes have been going away at a fairly steady pace as well. I think Assad, Kim Jung, the Saudi Kings, Castro, etc. will all be gone within 5 years. I also think colonialism (even in its modern form) is ultimately doomed as well. So issues like Russia/Ukraine, US/Puerto Rico, China/Taiwan/Nepal will also come to conflict and ultimately get resolved one way or another.
    The one thing I think is on the rise is small scale groups within countries. So splinter groups, cells, militias, so called terrorist groups, mass-shooters, Boston bombers, brokou haram, al-queda, Taliban, etc.
    And that’s what I find so interesting about Iraq and Syria. It has all of the above mentioned elements playing out at once. Two countries ultimately doomed because they were created from colonialism, two-bit dictatorships/regimes collapsing, two long time super-power rivals looking to get in on the dwindling supply of countries to carve up, one super-power trying to influence regime prop and hang onto old ways, the other super-power avoiding regime change in one of the countries while having caused it in the other, small-scale militias/rebels, terrorist groups, religious groups, multi-national influence of all sorts (Israel, Iran, Turkey, Saudi), spilling over into all sorts of countries (migrants). It’s already world war III or perhaps 3.0 in the modern vernacular and it will happen regardless of whether we send 50 troops or 500,000. As for our role in it all, I think we should stay as far away from it all as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      November 15, 2015

      Thanks for this well-developed response, Katherine. Quite a lot here to absorb….


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This entry was posted on November 9, 2015 by in Opinion Leaders and tagged , , , , .

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