Thursday, September 11, 2014

Obama's Mission

Barack Obama was elected because the American people were tired of being bogged down in unwinnable foreign wars. He was elected because a majority of American voters had come to view the Iraq war as a mistake. This is a basic, bottom-line political fact. Therefore, it is not (and cannot be) Official Beltway Wisdom.

Obama also had a mandate to save the country after the economic crash. And he had some mandate to fix health care, which he had campaigned on doing, although this was not nearly as important as he thought. A lot of Obama's early political problems can be ascribed to the fact that he overestimated how much the country cared about health care and underestimated how much the country cared about financial reform and getting the troops home from Iraq. He would have been better served with bolder steps on the economy and a quicker timetable to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. But even when he has misunderstood the voters' exact priorities at a particular moment, the voters' priorities have been real.

President Obama's address to the nation Wednesday night shows that he still remembers his mission. We're going into Syria to fight ISIS, but only with an air campaign and not with ground troops. Obama was immediately criticized by various talking heads and political opponents (in fact, was criticized even sooner than immediately, because the complaining started in advance of the speech) that Obama ought to commit ground troops, or not rule out committing ground troops, right away. They complained that Obama needs to be Serious, which means putting American soldiers and Marines in harm's way. But the American people made Barack Obama President specifically so he would not send troops to this kind of war. He is carrying out the mission we gave him.

There's been a lot of criticism in Washington about Obama's strategic maxim "Don't do stupid stuff." Hillary Clinton, who would be President if she had not voted to let George W. Bush do stupid stuff, has joined the criticism. But all this wise Washingtonians miss the basic fact. Obama was elected to keep the country from doing stupid stuff. And most of what passes for strategic wisdom in Washington these days is pretty stupid.

Committing ground troops into Syria is stupid. It is not even remotely a strategy. Sending our troops into a war zone with no plan for getting them out, or even a picture of what victory would look like, is not strategy but stupidity. And we've already lost too many American lives to stupidity like that.

People who want to invade Syria argue that supporting the moderate rebels is not enough, because the moderate Syrian rebels are not strong enough to win. Let me point out that if there is no existing force on the ground in Syria strong enough to beat ISIS even with our air support, then there is no force on the ground for us to hand Syria over to when our troops leave. It is the same problem as Iraq and Afghanistan. Going in with ground troops means going into a situation that will collapse again shortly after our ground troops leave. Staying in Syria until Syria is stabilized means occupying Syria forever.

If we don't have an ally that can win without our ground troops, then we don't have an exit strategy for our ground troops. Don't do stupid stuff.

More importantly, don't get American soldiers and Marines killed doing stupid stuff. That is our Commander in Chief's mission. Let him do it.

cross-posted at Dagblog

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