Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2014.10.02

There America Goes Again

JBpress on September 26, 2014

There is an old colloquial Japanese expression, "Doro-nawa." Doro is "dorobou," "thief," and "nawa" is "rope." A "Doro-nawa" operation is a makeshift measure taken in haste or too late, as the expression literally means "braiding a rope to tie a thief only after the thief was caught." The latest decision by the Obama administration to go to war, this time against ISIS in Syria, must have reminded the silent majority of Japanese of another "Doro-nawa" military operation by the U.S. in the Middle East.

President Obama said on September 23 that this is "not America's fight alone." He also said that, "Not since the Gulf War has the United States been joined in direct military action by such a broad coalition of Arab partners."

U.S. media echoed the president by reporting that it is "unprecedented" that five Arab partners, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar, have joined the airstrikes against ISIS strongholds in Syria. Wait a minute! Are they kidding us?

Isn't America fighting alone? U.S. military tactics and technologies are so advanced that none of those five Arab monarchies can truly fight with the U.S. Air Force and Navy. In addition, what happened to other Western or NATO allies? Where are the British, Australian or Turkish forces?

As one of the civilian witness-veterans of the Iran-Iraq War of 1980, the Gulf War of 1991 and the Iraq War of 2003, my memories are different. "Unprecedented" coalition? Hardly. Did they forget that the Gulf War was waged by coalition forces from 34 nations?

By January 1991, more than 500,000 coalition forces, including boots on the ground, had gathered in northeastern Saudi Arabia. At that time, the United Kingdom, France, Egypt and even Syria, to name just a few, actually sent ground troops there. Moreover, they shared something in common.

Operation Desert Shield was for the buildup of troops in and defense of Saudi Arabia, and Operation Desert Storm was a war against Iraq in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait. The war's objective was both clear and realistic: to kick the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.

Most important of all, the making of preparations for the Gulf War was coupled with Washington's serious efforts to rejuvenate and solve the territorial issues between Israel and the Palestinians. After the war, the Peace Process was re-activated and culminated in the Oslo Accord of 1994.

Whether you like it or not, the United States is a unique country. Unique in that their history is renewed every four or eight years so that almost every administration in Washington believes that they can forget about the past and start doing something new from scratch.

The Obama administration does not seem to understand that it was their decisions to both withdraw and send U.S. combat troops from Iraq and into Syria respectively that gave ISIS a golden opportunity to create a Caliphate state in the two countries.

The decision makers in Washington D.C. don't seem to get it. Without U.S. forces stationed in Iraq, a government in Baghdad cannot rule the entire country. Without U.S. military assistance to less radical but still Islamist rebels in Syria, a government in Damascus cannot be ousted.

This is simply because Baghdad and Damascus have lost legitimacy, so that the Iraqis and Syrians cannot govern themselves without a dictatorship anymore. Therefore, destroying ISIS is a temporary remedy but it will never be a solution to the real problems there.

Unfortunately, there is no realistic war objective now. Reportedly, President Obama's strategy is to 'degrade and destroy' insurgents, which will include military action and support for Iraq and Syrian opposition. Fine, but this is just his hope and hardly a realistic strategy for the war he started.

The silent majority of Japanese supported the Gulf War in 1991 because its coalition was much broader and the war objective was crystal clear. They reluctantly supported the Iraq War in 2003 even if WMDs were not found in Iraq.

Now, how will they react to the latest war against ISIS? It remains to be seen. They are still against international terrorism and will most likely--although more reluctantly--support U.S. military operations against Islamic militants in Syria, especially now that ISIS has executed American hostages in Syria.

However, they are not sure that such military operations will eventually succeed because they instinctively know that such operations are "Doro-nawa" ones. What Washington is doing now is just a Whack-a-Mole game which has no victory in the end.