The United States military has been involved in Syria in one form or another since 2014. It now seems to be escalating to a new high with no clear mission to accomplish.
When you are in the military, especially as a young service member, it’s easy to be excited about war. It’s a sentiment that is hard to explain to people who have never served, but I’ve heard some compare it to finally getting to play in the Super Bowl after years of attending practice. I don’t know if I would go that far, but it is a very unique experience that often contains the best and worst moments of one’s life. Now that I am out of the military, and even though I miss going to war, I can’t help but feel worried about the latest escalation in Syria.
It’s not that I don’t want to see the brutal and sadistic members of ISIS defeated. It’s not that I’m worried the current boots on the ground can’t crush them handily. Rather, I’m concerned that as Americans we have become far too used to war. We no longer see it as a last resort tool for dealing with the aftermath of failed diplomacy. On our 17th straight year at war, we now accept it as something that just… is.
I still sport a ‘Give War A Chance’ sticker on my vehicle, and I definitely recognize the usefulness of sending America’s best in to get the dirtiest of jobs done when all else has failed. We no longer seem to have a mission though. I’m not referring to mission in the tactical, or even strategic sense, but at the policy level. What exactly are we trying to accomplish?
In the aftermath of the attack on our country on 9/11, the mission was to destroy Al Qaida, and by extension the Taliban that harbored them. In 2003, we took up the fight to remove Saddam Hussein and his murderous regime in Iraq. By 2005, that mission transformed into fighting a local insurgency, Al Qaida, and the Iranians who were instigating in Iraq. In 2009, we started to shift away from Iraq and back into Afghanistan, still fighting the Taliban, AQ, and now the Haqqani network as well. Keeping up? Because this is where it gets muddy.
In 2010, nine years after invasion, Americans experienced their bloodiest year in Afghanistan. In 2011, a massive publicity move took place in Iraq, where we pulled out all the uniformed combat troops and replaced them with private military contractors. This is also the same year that the Arab Spring swept Northern Africa and the Middle East. What followed? I’m still not exactly sure. Lines in the sand were drawn, and then subsequently ignored by our president. An ambassador and three contractors were killed in Libya. We also gave arms, training, and equipment to some less than upstanding militias, some of the same militias that we are now fighting.
In 2014, The U.S. military re-entered Iraq – for the third time in twenty-five years. The United States also stepped up involvement with Syria by sending in “advisors,” performing daring raids, and starting a massive air campaign that continues to this day. Prior to this week’s news of Rangers and Marines overtly operating inside Syria, we have already had Americans killed and wounded while engaged in combat there.
I imagine the war in Syria looks like that scene out of Anchorman when all the networks get into a massive brawl. We’ve got the Turks, the Kurds, the Syrian military, multiple Syrian militias, the Iranian-supported Hezbollah, Russia, the United States… Oh and let’s not forget about ISIS. It’s a free-for-all and we are in the middle of it with a bunch of hard-dick Rangers and Marines ready to get their GWOT on, very little public interest, and no clear mission. What could go wrong?
We are in a perpetual fight with no end in sight. If we cannot, as a nation, decide on a mission and a clear strategy to accomplish that mission, then we need to leave. Our current azimuth is set on a course that will cost too much in both lives and money, without any return on investment. As my father, and his father before him said, “if it’s not worth doing right, then don’t do it at all.”