Barrack Obama has unveiled his plan for US military intervention in the Middle East. No. nothing unilateral. The US will lead a coalition. And there’s more. No boots on the ground. Humanitarian motives. Air strikes, armaments and advisers only will be supplied. Or so we are told. No mention of the W word. It’s the war you have when you are not having a war. If Obama’s plan sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. The plan will not deliver the intended objective. ISIS will not be significantly diminished by a policy of erosion, however systematic. Increasingly abortive air strikes will lead inevitably to mission creep. Mission creep raises its ugly head today amidst a thicket of euphemisms, jargon and military double-speak which US involvement richly and effortlessly generates. It is not what it might seem. No. Mission creep is not the detested commander in chief who never knows what’s going on – on the ground and who never gives the troops enough to do a proper job. No. He is not the guy on your mission who takes selfies with corpses, loots from combat zones or who takes advantage of the thousand and one opportunities war provides to the morally challenged. On this occasion mission creep is a cute way of saying boots in air will be followed by boots on the ground. The mission Obama has so carefully and confusingly outlined will morph into full military involvement. Boots and all. It’s inconceivable that he’s unaware of this but it may be postponed until his term of office concludes. Indeed, boots on the ground could be a catchy and attractive slogan for the next Republican candidate to aim for the Oval Office. Boots on the ground is another US militarism but unlike mission creep, one which dates from the earliest encounters. The literal meaning is easy to grasp. But it symbolises an approach to battle that has characterised part of US military thinking for at least eighty years. It is an approach, however, despite its pedigree which brings with it intrinsic difficulties. In the Second World War, it was a cornerstone of US strategy. History is not kind in its verdict. The United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) pursued a doctrine of strategic bombing as its main mission. The doctrine was founded in the belief that unescorted bombers could win the war all by themselves. No ground troops would be required. It was a fundamentally flawed doctrine. Yet it prevailed throughout the entire course of the war. Belief in the doctrine did not waver amongst USAAF command. Consequently the USAAF operated independently of the rest of the Army. Strategic bombing is neither new to US military thinking nor without its detractors. It appeals of course to presidents such as Obama whose advisors would gauge this type of military intervention as the easiest to sell to a population increasingly wary of engaging in foreign wars. Yet in an era of alternative sources of information from Al Jazeera to social media and images taken on cell phones, it is increasingly difficult if not impossible to maintain that it is a workable policy. For it flies in the face of all evidence. At its core is the delusion of a safer type of warfare. The face of US policy, however, is one thing. Its exercise is another. Again, the key is in the language. Students of US military-speak around the world and especially in South East Asia and the Middle East would understand that the phrase military advisor can cover a multitude of modes of deployment including active combat. Historically, the role of the US military advisor is well-defined. It is the soldier you send to fight when you are not sending soldiers to fight. The Vietnam War demonstrated that for the US there is no such thing as a military “advisor” in a war zone.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the U.S. sent thousands of military “advisors” to South Vietnam to allegedly train the South Vietnamese army against “Communist” invaders. This was, of course, another civil war that the U.S. should have had no role in and that only created an even worse debacle in that country. But the fact of the matter was that these so-called “advisers” were, in fact, combat troops or special forces units that didn’t just advise; they engaged in combat. That’s why they were there in the first place. Americans don’t like taking a secondary role to anyone, and certainly this is true of the U.S. military. No military “adviser” is going to just take a secondary role with the Iraqi military. Mario T Garcia National Catholic Reporter
We need to be cautious about what the President has set in place. We need to be sure we understand the nature of the beast that has been unleashed. We need to be hard-nosed. Military intervention admits of no other kind of approach. One way to start would be for politicians who have written a blank cheque of support for Obama’s intervention to cancel it. Instead they should ask the hard questions. These include: What is the US planning exactly? Why? What will it most likely lead to? This particularly applies to Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott. Stop slavering at the prospect of a war. It’s embarrassing. You don’t need to act like a total sycophant of the US to help your much beloved ally. In fact you would be more respected and you would be of more use to ‘our great and powerful friend’ if you asked what exactly the US plan really was and what precisely we are committing ourselves to supporting. And then you need to share this immediately with the Australian people. It will be a difficult new step for you. it will involve the extension of trust. It will involve the practice of honest communication and democratic sharing. You may have to take fresh advice. But it won’t hurt your image at all. And it may save the lives of the very people it is your responsibility to protect.