Frank J. Batavick | Columnist
The slow, staccato sound of the drums of war that began faintly a year ago is now echoing off the studio walls of the Sunday talk shows. The President’s critics claim that his “lead from behind” strategy on Syria and the Islamic State isn’t working, and that we need a change. Amid the undisguised admiration for the unfettered Czar Putin and Russia’s indiscriminate bombing campaign, there is the demand that we do more; be more proactive. Often overlooked is that these Russian bombs have fallen largely on anti-Assad rebel forces that we’ve equipped and trained, and not on ISIS targets. Also, what the critics don’t appear to take into account is that by mid-November, the U. S. had conducted almost 6,500 airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, compared to only 1,800 strikes by the other twelve members of the coalition. As of October 31, the cost of U. S. activities over 450 days of operations has been a not inconsequential $5 billion.
However, the demand from both the Republican presidential candidates and Hillary Clinton is that we must begin to "lead from the front." This is nothing but empty rhetoric if not followed by specifics. Do these critics want us to establish a no-fly zone in Northern Syria? If so, do they understand that this literally requires declaring war on Assad? That’s because we'd have to destroy Syria’s command and control centers, radar stations, surface-to-air missile batteries, and airfields so that our pilots enforcing the zone aren’t put at risk. We’d also have to shoot down any airborne planes and attack helicopters violating the air space. Are we ready to do this now that we also have Russian fighters freely roaming the region’s skies?
If not a no-fly zone, shall we put more American boots on the ground? A November Gallup poll revealed that 53 percent of Americans opposed "sending ground troops to Iraq and Syria in order to assist groups in those countries that are fighting the Islamic militants." I am guessing our citizens believe that we’ve hemorrhaged enough blood and treasure in the Middle East, and have little to show for it. If anything, our reckless adventures in Iraq and Libya are part of the calculus that created ISIS.
In August, 2013, the President asked Congress to untie his hands and renew the 2001 and 2002 resolutions approved after 9/11 and prior to the Iraq war. These would permit him to combat ISIS with full congressional authority. He got no response. Last February, Obama asked Congress to pass an Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF, to fight ISIS. He did not include the deployment of ground troops. Congress again answered with deafening silence. And why is that? It’s because Republicans who now control the House and Senate don’t want any potential debacle in the Middle East on their hands. They’d rather blame Obama for his inaction. It makes for a terrific talking point as the 2016 elections approach.
What’s lost in all of this political posturing and cowardice is that, at heart, this is not our war to fight. It is Islam's war, and the Allah-fearing Islamic nations must be the ones to take on radical Islamists who espouse a perverted interpretation of the Quran. Our friends in the Middle East can’t say they are ill-prepared. Over the years, we have given them billions of dollars in equipment and training. Now is the time to use it. I want no more G.I.s killed to save their land, culture, and oil. These so-called allies must not stand back and watch, as they did in the first Gulf War when only Egypt and Saudi Arabia contributed token forces to thwart Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.
According to retired Colonel Jack Jacobs, now serving as a military analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, “Turkey has the ninth largest air force in the world. Iran has a half a million man army. Egypt has the eighth largest air force in the world. Saudi Arabia's army is larger than the French army. These powers are doing very little.” The planned ISIS caliphate is more of a threat to these nations than to the U.S. The simple fact is that they need to “man up” and do what’s required. This isn’t big brother’s fight.
Frank Batavick is a graduate of Gloucester Catholic (‘63) and La Salle University ('67) with over 40 years of experience as a television writer/producer/director for public TV and media companies in IN and NJ. He has also served as adjunct faculty and visiting professor in Communications at colleges and universities in NY and MD. Frank now lives in MD with his wife Dori (GCHS, ‘63), where he is the vice chair of the Historical Society of Carroll County’s board of trustees, editor of the Carroll History Journal, and a weekly columnist and occasional feature writer for the Carroll County Times.