Poor, poor Josh Earnest. Imagine his scary world as a White House Press Secretary charged with elucidating the Administration’s foreign policy regarding Syria and the Middle East armed only with words from the Obama Abridged Collegiate Dictionary. On October 30, 2015, Josh shared the President’s decision to send less than fifty special operation force members to Northern Syria to hold the hands of chosen rebel fighters. Just to be clear, the U.S. forces assigned to Syria will not be in combat, they will be accompanying and training Syrian forces as they go into combat. Operationally, these highly-trained nannies will be supervising uncertain children in the world’s biggest House of Horrors. Josh reassured his audience that the U.S. forces could at least defend themselves. Does no one in that big white house remember hearing about the Cold War?
Go ahead, put 50, 1,000, 100,000 pairs of boots on the ground anywhere you want, Mr. President, just make certain they are not filled with U.S. soldiers until the mission objectives are clear. Do not send American men and women into war zones while you play with semantics and fuzzy logic. And exactly why is it that the United States of America is in the business of overthrowing other countries’ governments anyway? It didn’t work in Vietnam, Iran, Chile, Nicaragua, and other sovereign nations during the Cold War. Overthrowing other nation’s governments was wrong then, and it’s wrong now. More recently, it was wrong for Bush to have done it before you and it’s wrong for you to do it now. By the way, how are Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Iraq working out for you?
What exactly is wrong with reviewing the Constitution and learning from the Cold War mistakes of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II? Each of their mistakes was paid in the blood of American soldiers and civilians. Let us not forget the blood shed by the civilians in the foreign nations the U.S. was helping. If you want war, go to Congress and get one declared. Overthrow the country of your choice openly and with the consent of the governed.
On September 1, 1982, President Reagan addressed the country:
“My fellow Americans:
Today has been a day that should make us proud. It marked the end of the successful evacuation of PLO from Beirut, Lebanon. This peaceful step could never have been taken without the good offices of the United States and especially the truly heroic work of a great American diplomat, Ambassador Philip Habib.
Thanks to his efforts, I’m happy to announce that the U.S. Marine contingent helping to supervise the evacuation has accomplished its mission. Our young men should be out of Lebanon within 2 weeks. They, too, have served the cause of peace with distinction, and we can all be very proud of them.
But the situation in Lebanon is only part of the overall problem of conflict in the Middle East. So, over the past 2 weeks, while events in Beirut dominated the front page, America was engaged in a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to lay the groundwork for a broader peace in the region. For once there were no premature leaks as U.S. diplomatic missions traveled to Mideast capitals, and I met here at home with a wide range of experts to map out an American peace initiative for the long-suffering peoples of the Middle East — Arab and Israeli alike….”
A little over a year later, on October 23, 1983, the young men were still in Lebanon when
two truck bombs took out French and American Barracks killing 299 people including 241 U.S. servicemen, mostly Marines. Three months later President Reagan finally ordered the military out of Beirut. In his autobiography, An American Life published in 2011, Ronald Reagan reflected on the Beirut bombings and offered the following observation:
“Perhaps we didn’t appreciate fully enough the depth of the hatred and the complexity of the problems that made the Middle East such a jungle. Perhaps the idea of a suicide car bomber committing mass murder to gain instant entry to Paradise was so foreign to our own values and consciousness that it did not create in us the concern for the marines’ safety that it should have.
In the weeks immediately after the bombing, I believed the last thing that we should do was turn tail and leave. Yet the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics forced us to rethink our policy there. If there would be some rethinking of policy before our men die, we would be a lot better off. If that policy had changed towards more of a neutral position and neutrality, those 241 marines would be alive today….”
A good lesson paid for in blood and, it seems, in the conscience of the man who made the call. Being president isn’t easy. It’s more than golf games, vacations, and handing out pictures of your dogs to trick-or-treaters on the White House lawn. Reagan waffled terribly on Middle East policy but eventually settled on an approach that forbade intervention without an objective, a plan to reach it, sufficient resources, and full disclosure to the American people. Mistakes can be forgiven, but refusal to learn cannot. It’s that paid for in others’ blood thing.
Clinton had five opportunities to either capture or kill Osama bin Laden and was afraid to do so according to declassified CIA documents. George W. Bush had two chances to do the same and declined the CIA operational proposals as well. When the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon were attacked on September 11, 2001, close to 4,000 human beings with lives, families, hopes, and dreams died. Within the year two countries, Iraq, and Afghanistan were invaded, the leadership overthrown, and thousands more souls left the earth in pain and terror. The towers fell on President George W. Bush’s watch, so he was responsible. It’s difficult to assess whether either he or President Clinton was to blame because the bell cannot unring. Decisions made by Presidents of the United States impact millions and should not be made lightly. Fifty American special forces in Syria without any definite plan is President Obama’s folly. Playing fast and loose with those soldiers’ lives knowing what we know about Syria is unforgivable.
Welcoming the Russians out of the closet and into the Syrian sandbox is awkward. Putin is not an American, who requires a translator. He is a Russian, a Cold War leftover who sees an opportunity to consolidate his power in the region and close NATO’s back door. That twinkle in his eye is not from his early morning dips in the icy Lena River. It is the twinkle in the eye of the Cheshire cat initiating its famous grin. Counting on Putin’s economic crisis at home to curb his ambition is like assuming Chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov will lose a match because he feels sorry for his inferior opponent. Putin has an objective and a plan, on that you may go to the bank. He will not back off because he feels sorry for an inferior opponent. Do not count on Putin to make the same mistakes the old Soviet Union made in Afghanistan; you may assume he read the history.
The Russians have been bombing Syrian rebels and various factions, including ISIS. Putin didn’t spend a load of money on smart or accurate bombs. He just makes them bigger so close is good enough. The Russians are supporting two arms lifts a day from Iran to Syria (in violation of the recent highly touted treaty). Russia has established its operations base and brought in its boots on the ground (more than 50). For good measure, Putin placed the exclamation point on his capability to manage multiple fronts by sending his giant Tupolev Bear bombers to buzz the U.S.Ronald Reagan at 500 feet while it was on joint maneuvers with South Korea. The carrier did not get its fighters launched until the Bears were within a mile. In a real war, the U.S.Ronald Reagan would be toast. In case the U.S. has any doubts, the international communications cables are being stalked by Russian or Russian-made submarines.
There were many factors, some years in the making, that led to the downfall of the Soviet Union during Reagan’s administration. Reagan had a good sense of timing, demanded the Soviet capitulation, and received it. Reagan had the moral capital to issue such an order. He didn’t have to act because the Soviets knew he could and would. He was a good chess player whether or not he played the game. Some Russians, the shadows of the Soviet Union, have not forgotten nor will they.
Not so today. Be careful Mr. President. You can play with all the words you wish, but in reality you are fighting against the Russians now, and they have your number-under 50. Trick or Treat.