If there were one lesson from America’s tragic Vietnam encounter – and as some dead white man has said, all historical analogies are odious — it is that incremental approaches to war inevitably result in disaster.
News reports suggest that Pres. Barak Obama is reversing his strategy of limited engagement in the war on Daesh [ISIS or ISIL]. [It is significant that we can’t get the label straight for this enemy!] After the death of a celebrated hero attached as advisory personnel to Iraqi forces, we learn the lesson that the very presence of American forces of whatever size in an area exposed to conflict will inevitably attract U.S. power.
We have long argued that a vacuum, by its very nature, encourages other forces to fill it if the primary strength is removed. That is precisely what is happening all over the world in contested areas where for more than half a century, the U.S. has been the dominant force.
According to informeds, Obama is coming around to deciding that we must increase our effort against Daesh. That seems logical given three grim facts:
- Daesh represents a new kind of barbarity unleashed on the world and if it is to grow, it will be not only be an increasing menace to the troubled Middle East but to the whole world.
- Daesh’s claim that it is the legendary Isalmic caliphate, that is the unitary expression of the political intent of traditional Islam to dominate the world politically as well as religiously, is gaining at least nominal adherence in other parts of the world.
- Russian’s relatively massive intervention in Syria, while announced as an effort to collaborate with the S. and its allies against Daesh, is instead an effort to sustain the almost equally barbarous regime in Damascus by attacking its enemies in a tactic alliance with Iran.
We learn that in July when the President made one of his rare visits to The Pentagon or to consult his military advisers, he asked for additional options in the current bombing campaign against Daesh. [Again, it is significant that Russian bombing has exceeded in volume the American campaign against Daesh.]
Earlier this month, the President had to publicly announce that his goal of removing all troops from Afghanistan before the end of his Administrations could not be met. With no public statement to confirm the fact, it becomes increasingly clear that more than a year of desultory bombing has not only not destroyed Daesh, but it has strengthened its hold on its area and is expanding. Local observers point out that the bombing runs – often returning to base without jettisoning their weapons – does not have the kind of intelligence which boots on the ground would provide.
Again, reports from the White House and The Pentagon have suggested that Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has already provided the President with his options, and, indeed, backed by the military, Carter is said to be pushing for a more aggressive stance in the whole campaign.
But what must be feared most is that the President, whose underlying strategy in all his foreign policy decision for the past seven years has been to reduce the American commitment to the use of force abroad, will choose only to take an incremental approach to any increases in ground and air forces in the region. While the logic of such an approach has always been apparent – you apply the force as needed as it is needed – it ignores as it did throughout the Vietnam conflict, that such an approach permits a dedicated if less powerful enemy to grow his own forces to meet the incremental demand on his abilities.
In war, perhaps the most inefficient of all human activities, unpredictability is the norm. A measured but untested approach often leads to disaster. The incremental route is the road to another irresolute ending.