In the wake of the tragic ISIS attacks in Paris, President Obama and politicians from both parties have all made statements about either containing or crushing ISIS. Though these statements vary somewhat, they all contain the phrase “NO AMERICAN BOOTS ON THE GROUND.” A few even say that that we can defeat ISIS by air attacks without any ground troops.
Military leaders who are advising the president certainly know that ground troops are essential in any plan to overthrow an enemy. This is especially true with terrorist organizations that move their operations into schools, hospitals, and civilian residential buildings.
Understanding the political calculus that assumes that Americans don’t want another ground war, the political statements proclaim that Muslim countries in the region will do all of the dirty work on the ground, as long as US aircraft lead with bombing sorties. This idea, of course, is analogous to a schoolyard plan to attack a bully. “I’ll hold your coat and cheer while you beat up the bully.” It’s doubtful that any of the middle east countries will agree to a plan in which the US doesn’t assume some of the ground combat.
Even if countries would accept war with limited US risk, history has demonstrated that it is nearly impossible to train and supply soldiers from another culture to be as effective as US forces. This approach failed in Vietnam, and in Iraq. It never worked in Syria. It is heading for failure in Afghanistan. Training people with a different language and culture requires years of work. In many cases, soldiers in third-world countries have had limited education in their local languages and speak no English. Understanding sophisticated tactics and weaponry is nearly impossible for them.
Some of the Middle East countries have standing armies that can fight without US training. However, their armies and air forces are relatively small. And the costs of a sustained war effort would bankrupt their economies in a few months.
But the greatest obstacle of all is the complex culture and relationships within these countries. Most of us who follow current events understand that Sunni Muslim countries and Shiite Muslim countries are virtual enemies. But the sects and tribes in and around these two major groups drive a mix of loyalties and hatreds that are not widely reported by American media.
For example, within the Sunni population in Saudi Arabia the Wahhabi sect supports ISIS and strikes fear in other Saudi groups that might attack ISIS.
Media reports of the Kurdish Military, the Peshmerga, in Iraq have demonstrated that the Kurds are possibly our most capable ally. But Iraq is primarily a Shiite country, and the Kurds are Sunni. The Peshmerga troops have fought well against ISIS, but the Iraqi Shiite government has continually impeded the US from supplying and working with them.
In all likelihood, the whole concept of Muslim allies leading a difficult ground war against ISIS will prove to be a political pipe dream. American voters may currently reject the thought of American “boots on the ground.” But we will experience a terrorist attack sooner or later. In fact, we have already experienced a few smaller attacks, which the administration has spun as “workplace violence” or “single attacks by mentally disturbed people.”
But when we have a major attack like the one in Paris, those same passive voters will demand that the US government move against ISIS. The US military is probably making plans for “boots on the ground” already. And that’s the “inconvenient truth.”
My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX