Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2015.02.16

America's Belated Third War on Terror

JBpress on February 13, 2015

There she goes again. America, after a long period of naïve forbearance, is finally starting the third and belated war on terror in Syria. Since the current situation was caused by the US's inaction, first in Iraq and then in Syria since 2003, there is no guarantee for success for the new war. The United States seems to be repeating the mistakes she made during the war of reluctant escalations in Vietnam.

Here is the gist of the draft joint resolution proposed by the Obama Administration on February 11: "To authorize the limited use of the United States Armed Forces against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant." Empirically speaking, such a policy of gradual (read reluctant) escalations is doomed to fail. Here are the reasons why.

First of all, the draft resolution describes ISIL as posing "a grave threat to the people and territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria, regional stability, and the national security interests of the United States and its allies and partners." Don't be naïve. ISIL is not the cause but the result. Even if the coalition forces destroy ISIL, another group will take over the global Jihadist-Salafist movement.

The draft resolution states that President Obama "has repeatedly expressed his commitment to working with Congress to pass a bipartisan authorization for the use of military force for the anti-ISIL military campaign." If that has been the case, why didn't he do that as early as 2012 when the danger of ISIL in Syria was already considered imminent?

Let us now examine the contents. The President is "authorized, subject to the limitations ..., to use the Armed Forces of the United States as the President determines to be necessary and appropriate against ISIL or associated persons or forces." This clearly shows the end of Mr. Obama's administration, which was supposed to end the wars in the Middle East.

However, "The authority granted ... does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations." Good grief. Nobody knows what the draft resolution means by "enduring," "offensive," "ground," "combat" and "operations." Unless Iraq and Syria regain their robust armed forces, lengthy ground battles are prerequisite for destroying ISIL.

Nonetheless, the draft resolution stipulates that, "This authorization for the use of military force shall terminate three years after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution, unless reauthorized." O.K. The resolution could be reauthorized. That's fine. No one, however, can be sure that ISIL and its successor entities will be terminated within three years.

"The President shall report to Congress at least once every six months on specific actions taken pursuant to this authorization," the draft resolution says. No matter how many reports either the Democratic or Republican White House sends to Capitol Hill, the war is doomed to continue for the reasons that I provided earlier.

All of these mean the following: In order to win the war against ISIL, we need to engage in a very long series of all-out state-of-the-art battles with sufficient U.S. "boots on the ground", which may potentially cause significant American casualties. The draft resolution, of course, falls short of that. The good news is that American ground troops will not fight those battles. The bad news is that America will not win.

A large-scale ground offensive against ISIL strongholds in Mosul is expected soon. After a year of rehabilitation, the Iraqi Armed and Security Forces, together with the Kurdish Peshmerga ground troops and air support by the coalition forces, may be able to regain Iraq's second-largest city by the end of this year. This, however, is not the end but just the beginning of a new war.

ISIL is now based in Northwestern Syria. Even if the Iraqi forces could kick ISIL elements out of Northern Iraq, this does not mean that they can destroy ISIL in Syria. The politico-military mixed tactics of bribing Sunni Arab tribal chiefs in Iraq and the Iraqi forces' offensive against ISIL in Mosul may not work in Syria, where different groups of Sunni Arab tribes are assisting ISIL.

In a nutshell, a long-term military intervention by United States ground troops in Syria is required for winning the war against ISIL. This is the unpleasant reality in Syria and Iraq. If you don't use your armed forces decisively, you will not succeed. It seems that similar mistakes have been frequently repeated under democracies. We may lose simply because we are democratic.