Kind-hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat the enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed: War is such a dangerous business that mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst. --Clausewitz
So, not much happened. Congress is willing to abdicate authority again; President “Beware of Unintended Consequences” warns of unintended consequences if we do act, or if we don’t. Talking heads ask irrelevant questions and focus the discussion on the acts of terrorism against individuals. My fellow Holy Cross alum Chris Matthews worries, no agonizes, that if we attack ISIL that they’ll behead more of our people. We’re not really engaged in the War of Jenkins Ear and the fate of one American or two is not justification to kill thousands. It might be good, if we were good and never evil, to say with Lord Palmerston that in today’s world being an American provides some level of extraterritorial protection. “Civis Romanis Sum!” or “I am a Roman citizen “meant a lot in the time of Caesar, Diocletian, Marcus Aurelius and so on.
What is true is that ISIL’s tactics represent a really horrific turn toward the Dark Ages. Bill Mahar was on Matthew’s show tonight, and responding to a Republican complaint that “Gee, Obama has been President for six years, so you can’t blame Bush for what’s going on now!” with a bit weary shock at the stupidity of people. “That’s six years and that’s what we’re going to use as a measure? This has been going on since the 7th Century.!” Mahar pointed out that as a nation we’re not really all that well informed, learning our history and geography by the wars we fight. I tend to agree with Harry Reid that the resurgence of Dick Cheney as the Republican Oracle on Foreign Policy in the middle East is terrifying.
It seems that the President is keeping it all very fine, seemingly well calibrated. I have a T-Shirt on at the moment with the formula for Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Theorem on It. The theorem which along with Schrodinger’s cat is what makes us think Quantum Physics is really DA Bomb! as opposed to tired old Newton’s approach, is fairly simple to state : The closer something is observed, the harder it is to describe accurately or to predict. Specifically, that the more accurately you know a particle’s position, the harder it is to know it’s momentum and vice versa. This President tends to be a guy who measures efforts in terms of a micrometer but doesn’t seem to get it that the target keeps moving and it’s really squirrelly up close. I prefer a President who thinks about the things he thinks about, but this measure it with a micrometer and then turn it over to someone else to mark with chalk and then cut the wood with an axe doesn’t really satisfy. Isn’t there a hacksaw or something around to do that?
Matthews had a good point during post speech autopsy on MSNBC, that he heard the necessary steps from the President, but didn’t hear the sufficient ones. Mahar said earlier that he thought the President was going to be in a bind because most Americans are ignorant and don’t pay attention. Both were right and we know it. This is a complicated issue and between Ukraine, ISIL, NATO, the fate of the Wild Cards in the Two Baseball Leagues, the problem of whether it’s worse to choke and kill a dog or beat up your fiancé and on and on and on, how the hell are we supposed to think about this?
Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. -- Clausewitz
OK, here’s my take: It’s really pretty simple –
- ISIL is the modern equivalent of a gang of pirates plundering and looting the seas. If you claim to be a nation, you need to do something about it.
- The fact that the seriously local problem of the Islamic schism between Shi’a and Sunni has empowered a gang of murderous thugs to kill, torture, rape, plunder, blackmail and anything else they want to do – understand they turn left on red and spit on the sidewalk – and the Islamic world is capable only of hand wringing says a lot about the Islamic world. Monolithic it ain’t.
- The 475 military personnel sounds suspiciously like a Ranger Battalion with a beefed up Ranger Support Element and Intelligence people. Or, possibly a SF battalion with massive augmentation. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you’re familiar with these guys and what they can, you’re talking a major battle changer.
Oh, they’ll train and advise and shoot and call in artillery and air and do everything else that leaders should do because they’ll be leading and training and advising by doing. That’s what they do. “This is how to blow up a bridge. Now let’s go blow up a bridge.” ‘This is how to laze a target for a drone. Let’s go laze a target or ten.” During Vietnam, there was a corps level organization, Military Assistance Command Vietnam that did just this. Read over Col Jack Jacobs MOH citation to get idea of what training in this kind of environment means.
- Air power doesn’t win ground wars. If it did, we won in Vietnam. We didn’t win. If it does, the Israeli amputation of the Egyptian and Syrian and Jordanian Air Forces in 1967 mean that they didn’t have a ground war. They had a very vicious ground war, and a lot of the problems we have there now, come from that Israeli victory.
The Kurds are good fighters as are the Turks. But, I suspect that the Saudis and the rest will sit on their hands and wait for the US and Britain and France to clean this up. Which in a war based on real good gunfights, we could. But, those wars tend not to happen so much any more. We’ll win; and we’ll get to do it all over again.
- Keep the contractors out of this as much as possible. Let’s discourage this as an opportunity to grow shareholder value for Halliburton, KBR, and whatever they’re calling Black Water this week? Zoosk? (Actually, it’s now Academi, acquired several years ago by Constellis. But Zoosk will work.)
- We need to get a good choke collar on our client states, especially Israel and keep them on a tight leash. Now, we need to start doing that anyway to minimize horrors like the latest atrocities in Gaza using this struggle as a distraction and excuse. But the first time a major Islamic leader with some clout decides to pull a Karzai or a Malaki and bitch about the USA, the allies, or any of their other nonsense, either we leave the theatre with a soldier’s farewell or they leave office to spend more time with their families, and don’t come out until it’s over.
So, we’ll see. I think this is not what we want to do, or ought to do, or need to do. It’s something that we have to do, and Obama’s outline makes a lot of sense. However, Clausewitz’s disciple Moltke the Elder was pretty clear, “No plan survives the initial contact with the enemy”. In this case, we are engaging in a war with a partisan war and an election that nobody wants to jinx. So, get out the popcorn and the beer and enjoy the show. See if you can get some bets down with the bookies in England and Dublin and New Zealand.