Back when George W. Bush was president and launched the war against Iraq, he got accused by everyone under the sun of having failed to listen to the advice of his generals. Implicit in the criticisms, of course, was the suggestion that after the Bushian Era of Darkness, no Democratic president–and especially no president who was a prominent critic of George W. Bush and his administration–would make the same mistake.
With that basic history in mind, read this:
. . Responding to a White House request for options to confront the Islamic State, Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, said that his best military advice was to send a modest contingent of American troops, principally Special Operations forces, to advise and assist Iraqi army units in fighting the militants, according to two U.S. military officials. The recommendation, conveyed to the White House by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was cast aside in favor of options that did not involve U.S. ground forces in a front-line role, a step adamantly opposed by the White House. Instead, Obama had decided to send an additional 475 U.S. troops to assist Iraqi and ethnic Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.Recommitting ground combat forces to Iraq would have been highly controversial, and most likely would have been opposed by a substantial majority of Americans. But Austin’s predecessor, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, said the decision not to send ground troops poses serious risks to the mission.
Of course, it ought to go without saying that the people who would have excoriated George W. Bush for failing to listen to his generals will say nothing whatsoever about this little episode. And of course, we ought to be more than a little concerned about the White House’s belief that air power, and 475 troops will constitute a sufficient counterinsurgency force capable of defeating ISIL. We are entering a war while pretending that it isn’t a war, and we are claiming to focus on achieving victory while taking actions that will only serve to tie our hands militarily and undermine us. The Obama administration had better thank its lucky stars that this is not a parliamentary democracy; if it were, a vote of no confidence would surely be in the offing.