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War without end?

September 17, 2014 at 3:49 pm

As any five star general worth his salt will tell you, a war without an exit strategy is a war that is likely to be lost. And yet as the United States embarks on its third war in Iraq in a little more than twenty years, it is doing so, eyes wide open it seems, to the glaring reality it has no exit strategy.

The American people have been warned that this will be a long engagement. Indeed Mr Obama (who made a campaign promise in his first run for president to get the US military out of Iraq) has suggested that his successor will be left to cope with what he has now begun.

Tellingly, the president in his 10 September address to the nation was at pains not to call this latest war a war. Rather it is “a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”

There will be, he emphatically said, no boots on the ground.

“I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”

And yet less than one week later his top military advisor General Martin Dempsey was saying something rather different:

“At this point, [Obama’s] stated policy is that we will not have U.S. ground forces in direct combat … but he has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis,” the general said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has made it clear he does not foresee the day when British troops will engage IS jihadists in ground battles.

But for how long would Britain stay out if America sent ground troops in?

Like President Obama, Mr Cameron is not prepared to talk of a war even though he acknowledged that with IS and its territorial ambitions “we could be facing a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean.”

It is almost as if a mantra has prevailed among the politicians – no ground troops means no war.

This hesitation not to call what clearly is a war by its rightful name can only have heartened the IS ideologues and their brainwashed jihadi foot soldiers.

They will read into it the concern that is behind the hesitation, the anxiety that this will be a war without an end.

Indeed Mr Cameron appeared to acknowledge as much in late August when he spoke of a “generational struggle that I believe we will be fighting for years and probably decades.”

And though Mr Obama spoke of a strategy, a US army officer who fought in both Iraq wars and in Afghanistan has been quick to argue that what the president was actually talking about was tactics.

Lt Col Daniel L Davis writing for the Daily Beast had this to say in response to the president’s speech:

“As a soldier who’s spent a fair amount of time on the ground in conflict zones, I find this popular focus on the power of Hellfire missiles and precision bombing a little disconcerting. What many of the talking heads who’ve filled the airwaves apparently fail to understand is that tactics are not strategy. Without first establishing the latter, they advocate a tactic in the dark that, even if successfully attained, could worsen the situation with perverse consequences”

Colonel Davis is not a senior officer but he is a man whose views should not be dismissed out of hand.

Two years ago he blew the whistle on the “candour gap” between what was happening on the ground in Afghanistan and the overly optimistic picture being painted by the Pentagon and the politicians.

At the time he wrote:

“No one expects our leaders to always have a successful plan. But we do expect — and the men who do the living, fighting and dying deserve — to have our leaders tell us the truth about what’s going on.”

With IS there is no exit strategy and according to Lt Col Davis no military strategy for fighting this war that apparently is not a war.

Mr Cameron has called the Islamic State “a greater and deeper threat than we have known before.”

And Mr Obama in his 10 September address spoke of “a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East. If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region — including to the United States.”

That being the case is it not time for our leaders to consider Colonel Davis’ advice to “tell us the truth about what is going on” and to acknowledge openly the painful reality that we are now at war with a brutal, resourceful and fanatical enemy and that this is a war we must at all costs win?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.