Whoever becomes the 45th President of the United States sworn into office on January 20th, there are no easy or popular options of how to deal with the conundrum that is the Middle East.
If the next President continues the Obama Administration’s policy of refusing to use significant and overwhelming U.S. ground troops to defeat ISIS and other terrorist actors in the region and to bring stability to that part of the world, as well as reassure our allies like Israel and others, the ultimate outcome of our fight against radical jihad is in doubt. President Obama has categorically ruled out the use of ground troops to mitigate the violence and unrest, whether it be in Iraq, Syria or Libya—all three countries rife with terrorism and human atrocities. This terror is readily exportable and thus constitutes a clear threat to our homeland.
Moreover, the idea of depending on Russia in this fight is fraught with uncertainty. Russia, closely allied with Iran and the Assad regime in Syria, has proven to be anything but an ally in the fight against ISIS and Islamic Jihad. Any plan to enlist Russia’s help is unrealistic from the start, as Russia’s partner is the leading state sponsor of terrorism: Iran. Additionally, it is Russia that continues to violate the laws of war and is complicit with Syria in targeting innocent civilians and aid workers on a daily basis. It is Russia that has openly threatened to shoot down U.S. planes in Syria if we dare to defend those civilians or implement a no-fly zone in order to provide refuge for the masses living under the threat constituted by Russia, Iran, Syria, and ISIS.
To summarily and publicly reject the use of ground troops is tantamount to saying to ISIS and other enemies, “We want to defeat you, but only up to a certain point. There are limits to what we will do to destroy you.” Even if those limitations are true, that message should never be sent to those who would destroy us.
Further, from a strictly military viewpoint, the mission’s desired end state normally precedes what the tactical strategy will be to accomplish the mission. The Commander-in-Chief gives the Pentagon the desired result. The Pentagon comes back with several battle plans to achieve that goal. Only then does the President choose the actual strategy, even if it involves the use of limited force. And at no place in this scheme is it wise or advisable to telegraph the plan to our enemy, even after the plan is approved. This process is even more critical when we are dealing with non-state actors and international terrorists.
A steely-eyed promise, “We will utterly destroy you,” without saying exactly how is the most effective and ominous strategic statement that any President can make. To say to ISIS and their ilk, “We will stop at nothing to defeat you,” would induce the uncertainty that is always pivotal in defeating an enemy, but only if it then followed up with actual action. We are still the most powerful and technologically advanced nation on earth. Our military capabilities are relatively unlimited compared to the rest of the world. It is time we reminded our adversaries of this fact, and, perhaps, ourselves.
Ever since the invasion of Iraq under President George W. Bush, and the subsequent unilateral withdrawal of any large military presence in the region under President Barack Obama, our policy in the Middle East has stumbled from event to event in a reactive, not a proactive, mode. We not only failed to anticipate the Arab Spring, we bungled our response to it. Eliminating President Mubarak in Egypt and Gaddafi in Libya had the same result as the elimination of Sadaam Hussein: order was splintered, violent unrest ensued, and radical Islamic jihadists rose up, taking control of whole swaths of each nation, if not the government itself.
ISIS rose out of the ashes of failed policies in every one of these nations. They are now the largest terror threat facing Western Civilization.
Our attempts to appease Iran and coax them back into the civilized world only emboldened them in their quest for malevolent power and influence. The acclaimed nuclear deal allows them to continue to enrich uranium and will eventually facilitate their rise as a nuclear power in the region, provoking further instability. Palestinian terror organizations continue to plot against the only democracy in the Middle East (Israel) and, flush with U.S. cash, Iran has increased the training and funding of these terror groups, as well as those in Yemen who have fired missiles at U.S. Navy ships. Iran continues to arrest U.S. citizens and hold them as hostages.
The Red Line in the sand of Syria was not so red after all. After Assad crossed that line by using chemical weapons on his own people, the Obama Administration did absolutely nothing, other than lodge verbal protests. Our refusal to step in led to the largest refugee crisis in human history and allowed ISIS to establish its capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa. Our protracted failure to take any action, civil or military, led to Russia stepping into this leadership vacuum.
As time passed, and the U.S. response continued to be feckless and wavering, our list of viable options, short of all-out war, became shorter and shorter. President Obama’s refusal to provide a safe zone in Syria increased the refugee crisis and allowed the opportunity for ISIS actors to infiltrate the refugees, posing more threats to Europe and the United States. His failure to establish a no-fly zone, even out of a sense of mercy and humanitarianism, has now virtually removed that option from the table: Russia has placed the most sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles in their arsenal in Syria. There is no appetite in the Administration to create a no-fly zone due to the risk of Russia’s missiles downing a U.S. aircraft or the U.S. being forced to shoot down a Russian plane who violates the zone. Inaction is very, very costly.
At what point does the civilized world say, “Enough!”? When do we call the bluff of Russia and say, “Here, but no further!”? What will bring the United States and Western Europe to the place where we will risk war in order to establish a just and lasting peace? How many hundreds of thousands more must die at the hands of jihadists who possess no decency or conscience before we say “The gloves are off” and that this evil must be purged, no matter the cost?
The answers to these questions are still out there. But at some point – somewhere – something will happen that will shock the United States and our allies and jolt us awake. We will rise up and stand shoulder to shoulder. And we will ultimately win, as we did in the two great World Wars of the 20th Century. But it is a shame that, like the millions who perished under Hitler and Stalin, so many more will suffer and die before righteous indignation wells up within the civilized world and we reject an “easy wrong” and choose the difficult and costly “right.”
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