We have a Syrious problem with our foreign policy

"These boots were made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do. One day soon, these boots are gonna walk all over..." Syria.

OK, so it doesn’t make the greatest lyric, but Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s literal stepping up of 100 to 150 additional special operators can be well-represented by the impending "stompage" presented in my take of Nancy Sinatra’s timeless song. The cogs of the U.S. war machine have begun turning again in earnest, and it’s only a matter of time before we end up wholly invested in yet another quagmire. Vietnam 3.0, Iraq 2.0, you name it — here we come, like an enraged bull.

One week before the initial insertion of 50 special forces in late October by President Barack Obama, the U.S. suffered its first casualty in Iraq from enemy fire in 16 months. Yet the White House insists those 50, and the currently incoming troops “do not serve a combat role." Strange, because I plainly recall the raid on a Daesh compound that got that aforementioned serviceman killed — does that classify as a non-combat role, too? Because that’s the type of missions these new forces will be undertaking.

So, what’s the narrative: that we have some combat and some non-combat personnel on the ground? Diluting the number of troops deployed for combat doesn’t change the fact that troops are being deployed definitively for combat in Syria. So while we’re on the topic, no, Mr. President, this current policy is not consistent with your multitudinous promises to keep boots off the ground in Syria.

Here’s something I don’t need a degree or lengthy military career to figure out: 50 special forces don’t change the tide of a war. So why are those 50 there and why are 100-150 more headed there? Because, like snow on the mountain peak during an avalanche, this force is going to bring a much greater force than their own with them on the way down.

In essence, the ideological dam keeping U.S. troops out of Syria is springing leaks through these minor 50- and 100-man cracks — and it threatens to rupture entirely in just a short time. Just wait until the flow of troops really gets going, when the masters of war decide that we need yet another expeditionary targeting force in Syria, then another, then some additional troops for “support,” then maybe some more “specialists,” then just a few (thousand) more, and then, and then, and then…

Don’t mistake this for anything other than the genesis of another wide-ranging, 2003-style invasion. When we find that our half-measures and infinitesimal forces fail to contain Daesh, the solution that will be pushed for is more troops. Suddenly there will be a cascade of American soldiers fighting on the ground in Syria and no viable, credible or safe way to slow our invasion.

Consider what would happen if one of these advisers was to be caught by Daesh. He would be, no doubt, tortured. Extensively. Information may or may not be extracted from him. 

And then what? — then, the military-industrial-government apparatus will tell us we have a genuine justification for total war in Syria. If ever there’s been a case when somebody was “asking for it,” we are right now, through our current policy of escalation on the ground. Like the late, great George Orwell opined: the war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous.

Our soldiers are not needed in the "corner of some foreign field" once again. Forget for a moment the 3,500 we’ve left in Iraq (which, incidentally, started off with a mere 300 ‘advisers’) or the 9,000 still in Afghanistan, because it appears that they aren’t going anywhere under Obama’s watch. But instead of adapting to the reality of our past failed policies, we’re foaming at the mouth to ratchet up the stakes again.

I have advocated time and again for the formation of a multilateral coalition to grind Daesh into the dirt with a complete absence of U.S. troops. Our funding, our training, our support and our technology can and should play a decisive role in destroying Daesh, but only if we choose to utilize those resources in conjunction with our allies in the region and around the world. This presumes that our government wants a solution that doesn’t engender further ill will towards the U.S. and won’t needlessly cost American lives.

As is, we are operating under "American exceptionalism" at its hawkish worst. Refusal to wait and find a diplomatic solution with other anti-Daesh states reveals the naked arrogance of American foreign policy: the petulant belief that the “finest fighting force the world has ever known” can, assistance notwithstanding, conquer Daesh wholesale; the erroneous belief that the U.S. alone, without Russia, will wield influence and shape geopolitics throughout the Middle East; the naïve belief that this war will somehow follow a pattern unlike those of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Considering I was only 6 years old during 9/11, I’ve always wondered what the post-9/11 political and social climate was like. In the wake of the attacks in Paris, our likely doctored intelligence, party front-runners open to the idea of databases for Muslims and our bellicose response to Daesh, I feel intimately familiar with the impotent anti-war rage experienced by millions of Americans then, and echoed now. "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."

I borrowed from Nancy Sinatra to kick off this column, so I’ll give it up to Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker to it finish off:

"The good old boys are back on top again, and if we let them lead us blindly the past becomes the future once again."


Reach the columnist at hfinzel@asu.edu or follow @OnlyH_man on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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