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.

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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.

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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.”

Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Recce Guru says:

    We are F’ed up three ways from Sunday over there. We would be better off disengaging, rather than ramping up. We are on the wrong side of this conflict, one that Obrock Banana and Killary Clinton dreamed up and is illegal and wrong. Hopefully Trump will wise up quick and rectify the situation- Join forces with Russia and Assads Syrian Arab Army and kick terrorist ass, or GTFO! RLTW!!!

  • Chris says:

    9/11 changed many people’s lives, and like the writer if this piece, I too have regrets of not making my voice stronger then. I, too, bought the narrative presented by the Bush administration. Like previous dictators that the US government supported, Saddam Hussein was our puppet, a convienient puppet against Iran, which at one time nearly 40 years ago was an American ally prior to Iran becoming an Islamic nation. 9/11 was a result of our meddling in the affairs of other nations in the Middle East. As the author said, Americans have become too comfortable with war. With drones, war has become a video game. The question people ask now was whether my son or daughter died in vain in Iraq. That same question I’m sure is still being asked about America’s conflict in Vietnam. For a policy in Syria…Americans should ask those same questions.

    • Scott Lambin says:

      Chris,
      Marty is a VERY talented writer and has very balanced views and an even keel perspective…that said…he is an Army Ranger and possesses the ability to slap a dude so hard his grandmother will feel it! Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more content on the Blog!

      Scott

  • Greg Frazho says:

    Marty, you are right to feel concerned about the uptick in troops and the level of bellicosity in Syria. It’s a bloody mess, literally, and it probably could have been mitigated or perhaps minimized if Obama had had the nerve to back up his initial policy statements instead of being upstaged by Putin. That graphic from CNN, by the way, is a pretty good indicator of what they’re trying to convey: CHAOS.

    Like you, I miss the extremely profound mindset required when entering a combat zone and I really miss the camaraderie of being “in it together”. That’s priceless, and arguably the best juice about wearing the uniform and deploying. But even that has its limits, and the longer we’re “locked and cocked”, so to speak, the longer it will take to reintegrate into regular society, i.e., non-locked-and-cocked-dom.

    You obliquely, then specifically, bring up the matter of the overarching strategy, or the lack thereof, and the end state, both of which are trite expressions, but I use them because I think this is an instance where both hackneyed terms are warranted. War should be the last response and it reminds me of a graphic I saw at the War College once: “Give diplomacy a chance. You can always invade them later.”

    When a Marine four-star, I think it may have been Mad Dog, publicly went over the last four major conflicts in U.S. history, all in Asia by the way, (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq), he made a specific point to classify Desert Storm as the outlier. How and why?

    Why first. It was very finite, very specific and thus very atypical: it didn’t last long, it accomplished the mission the Coalition had set out for it as articulated by UN Resolution and there was a specific end state: expulsion of the Iraqi army from Kuwait, although many leaders in the military and the Beltway wanted to go further north, above and beyond what the mission set was.

    How second. As Robert Gates said a few years ago, and I paraphrase here, “Given our past history, any secretary of defense who advocates to the POTUS to engage in yet another land conflict in Asia probably needs to have his or her head examined.” The implication being, we’re not particularly adept at protracted, indefinate conflicts. That’s not controversial; in fact, it’s moderately observant. What we are good at, in my opinion, is truly expeditionary missions that have a specific timetable, a set of specific objectives, manpower, materiel and resources…..and then an exit stage right.

    But back to the matter at hand, I would add, too, that unfortunately, we’re not much better at nation-building. The whole shithouse that was Iraq caved in during Maliki’s second term when the Iraqi military WE trained, guided and mentored, cut and ran in the face of ISIS. It’s been a long, hard slog in Afghanistan, too, not least of which because, a la Iraq, tribal prejudices and the internecine nature of conflict in that region predates the founding of our nation by several hundred years, if not longer. Also, as in Iraq and other nations, most clans and tribes are very suspicious if not openly hostile to this notion we call ‘federalism’, i.e., a strong central government.

    Be that as it may, the one big difference to the wars Gates mentioned, as opposed to OEF/OFS and OIF/OND/OIR, is that in Korea and Vietnam, the nation was at war, as it was during WWI and WWII, although less so in ‘Nam. In these current wars, the military is at war, along with our diplomats, contractors, etc….and that’s it. This is not something that is part of our national ethos, although it was a decade-and-a-half ago.

    In order for the nation, vice just the military, to get behind the idea of utilizing lethal force, a clearly-articulated, cogent plan of action (within OPSEC) needs to be conveyed and be believeable in today’s hyper-charged world of instant messaging, gotcha politics and increasing detachedness from reality. And it needs to have a sundown, although we shouldn’t reveal when.

    People, and nations, need closure. As you state, the longer this goes, and the higher the cost, the less likely it ever has of being resolved, at least to our satisfaction.

  • Fadi Bassil says:

    Interesting article indeed but with a couple of inaccurate statements:

    “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 fact, our mission was never to fight the Iranians who were instigating in Iraq and the Bush AND Obama Administartion have done everything to AVOID any fight with Iran.

    Moreover, the statement that “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 cannot hide the fact that American involvement in Syria has been pathetic at best.
    Iran sent thousands of fighters, weapons, funds to prop up the Assad regime while the Obama administration delivered speeches and issued empty threats. The White House even came up with the dumbest of moves, creating the T&E initiative to train Syrians to fight ISIS while ignoring the Syrian regime and the foreign forces that were exterminating Syrians. The only honest American move was the resignation of the US Ambassador in Syria, who preferred to leave the clueless Obama Administration rather than being associated with its criminal indifference.

    The problem is not that we have no clear mission. The problem is that we have been fighting the symptom (ISIS) while ignoring the cause for the emergence of said symptom: Iran.
    We have no clear mission because our leaders are knuckleheads that surround themselves with sycophants and inept advisors that worry more about approval ratings and political correctness, than protecting our traditional Arab allies and maintaining regional stability.

    President Bush removed the main rampart against Iranian expansion in the Middle East (Saddam Hussein) and left Tehran “run the show” by withdrawing American troops from Iraq. The rest is (disastrous) history…

  • Joe says:

    We should think twice about getting mixed up with this mess that has been going on for years. I like Marty’s analogy of Anchorman, it pretty much sums it up. There are too many factions in this conflict and I don’t want to see our people getting killed or wounded for no reason or our military getting bogged down for years.

  • John Palys says:

    I agree with the above folks. We should get out of there and spend our time and money here at home. We don’t even need a wall. Just deploy our troops on the border. Less costly, they can go home and be with family often, and the savings can be used to help veterans, particularly in the medical area. My 2 cents.

  • George says:

    Yes. We DO have an issue of putting people in charge who only want to do half the job.

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