WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2015 – The United States recently announced it is sending 50 U.S. Special Forces Operators to Syria to combat the growing ISIS threat. Their role is to train and advise rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad. According to the White House, the operators will be there to “train, advise and assist.”
This strategy, supporting local efforts with Western assets as opposed to fighting local wars with Western lives, is a sound one. In fact, it can be argued that America works best in foreign policy terms when it works least.
However, to the historically minded individual, this entire situation screams one terrible phrase: the Vietnam War.
At the death of JFK in 1963 the United States had around 20,000 operators, of all shapes, sizes, and branches of government, in Vietnam. Their job was to train, advise and assist the indigenous efforts of the anti-Communist forces in Vietnam in their effort to halt the spread of Communist influence. Two years and one assassinated president later, there were nearly 300,000 troops in Vietnam leading combat operations. Four years after that the United States instituted a draft to beef up its military presence.
It all started with train, advise and assist. It ended with over 50,000 American dead and a cultural revolution in the U.S.
This is a warning to President Obama: When it comes to history, heed it or repeat it.
Mission creep is a viscous snake, and its bite is poisonous. Within several years, the United States has gone from supplying non-lethal aid to rebels, to waiving the Arms Export Act to fund ISIS and other Islamic groups, to leading air campaigns against ISIS, and now finally sending “advisers” to the war-torn area.
Mission creep has already reared its ugly head.
But where do we go from here?
One answer is quite scary. The next step is increasing assistance. Then, when more Americans face the danger of the enemy, someone will suggest we beef up our presence to provide for their protection. With so many more Americans in harm’s way, some will surely die in the line of duty. When that happens, the U.S. will see families’ loved ones dead at the hands of the enemy, and they will demand justice. The U.S. will then use the full force of the most awesome war machine in military history, and we will once again be engaged in combat operations in the Middle East.
The United States is far too close to this situation. Sending advisers is the toe in the water that will dictate the next step. But the fact that we are at this point is dangerous in the first place. Not because Barack Obama is president, but as this situation wears on, beyond his tenure in office, the next president will be tasked to deal with this problem. It is the devil that we do not know, those future leaders, whom we must be thinking about when we consider the costs of the actions we as a nation are about to take.