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Doing something is not always best

Terry Garlock's picture

Sometimes, doing nothing is wise, as I was reminded by the news from Iraq. You may think this hawk is sprouting the wings of a dove, but the murdering army of Islamic lunatics raging across Iraq is no reason for the U.S. to dive into that snake pit again.

If you wonder whether President Obama makes military decisions based on domestic political polls, just chew for a moment on his bifurcated announcement he is sending 300 advisors to Iraq, while quickly adding in self-defense for all the world to hear that America will not send troops to put boots on the ground in Iraq.

Once again, he advertises to our enemies America’s weakness, which is our fear of getting involved in another prolonged fight. In my case I fear getting involved in a fight we might lose.

Last time I looked, the Sunnis and Shias have been killing each other for hundreds of years for reasons that make westerners ask, “Can you explain that to me one more time?” However many more centuries they kill each other, I don’t think the concept of democracy or republic has ever been remotely involved. Spreading democracy in the Middle East through our goodwill is a nice, and painfully naive, policy.

I’ll leave aside the argument on blame for departing Iraq prematurely after failing to negotiate a status-of-forces agreement and an adequate residual force (20,000) to serve as a speed-bump, as we have for many years in Germany, Japan and South Korea. I’ll even leave aside my argument we never should have pulled the trigger on Iraq in the first place in 2003; apparently President Bush didn’t hear my yelling at the TV. But for Pete’s sake, didn’t we learn anything in nearly nine years of war?

Maybe it is time to look further back in history to review at least one lesson from Vietnam. I believe that was a war worth fighting against the spread of Communism even though we screwed it up. I do acknowledge there is room for honest and informed people to disagree whether we should have been in Vietnam at all, but be careful of those words “honest” and “informed.”

Maybe Iraq veterans feel the same way about their war, but when I see talking heads on TV comparing current situations to Vietnam, I know I am about to hear something stupid, because the lessons learned were the wrong ones while the real lessons are still tangled up in myths and politics.

For example, TV talking heads learned from Vietnam that we must advertise to our enemies our exit strategy before getting involved in conflict, but any seventh grader could explain why that isn’t such a good idea unless victory is the exit strategy. Here is one real lesson from Vietnam. America had to win that war, but our enemy didn’t have to defeat us, they only had to not lose. We killed so many of the enemy that it should have been a pyrrhic victory for them by our standards, but we lost.

However we square off against the present Islamic lunatic force in Iraq, however we define the enemy, we have to win, and they only have to not lose.

Looking back further in our history, in 1776 George Washington still basked in the glow of public adulation over his Continental Army forcing the British to vacate Boston with a ruse and without firing a shot. Nevertheless, he knew public confidence in the Continental Army was dead wrong since those troops were inexperienced, unhealthy, ill-equipped, unpaid, untrained, dwindling with desertions and expiring one year enlistments, and outnumbered once the massive British force arrived in New York harbor.

Knowing New York could not be defended since British warships could pound it from three sides, Washington moved the Continental Army to New York anyway. In the first battle on Long Island he suffered a humiliating defeat and was blessed with the miraculous combination of inattentive British warships and a fortuitous thick fog to cover a difficult retreat across the East River to Manhattan.

Later, after the Continental Army withdrew to White Plains and the Congress in Philadelphia was suffering doubts, John Adams assured others in Congress they should be patient. He argued the British had to win, but our Continental Army needed only to not lose, that ultimately the British would quit the fight in exhaustion after chasing Washington around America’s vast territory.

From my reading, I think Adams came to that realization before Washington did, especially since Washington was consumed with the period’s notion of battlefield honor — like sitting tall in the saddle while the enemy was shooting at him — and he instinctively despised the tactic of retreat or withdrawal. He came to realize, though, that he had to preserve his forces to fight another day, and that while the British had to win, he had only to not lose.

In recent decades, our enemies have had little chance of defeating the American military machine, but we have given them too many opportunities to not lose since our country’s greatest fear seems to be criticism.

I wonder if Obama or our geniuses in the Pentagon realize those 300 advisors will immediately become a bevy of targets for killing or kidnapping, because no matter how many of the Islamic lunatics are killed, they only have to put one American captive on TV news to spread their terror into your home and pull the strings of American Politics when the country tears itself apart with finger-pointing. We can deal with casualties coming home in flag-draped coffins, but when one is alive, in enemy hands and on TV, we become helpless children and our enemies know it.

There is another soft-bellied target in Iraq. In 2009, the largest U.S. embassy in the world opened in Baghdad at a staggering cost of $750 million. Thousands are now employed there, including diplomats, employees and contractors. Does anyone else share my tingling antennae alert that this target might be a bit too delicious to the lunatics, that the built-in security measures may prove inadequate, that our military should be preparing evacuation and rescue operations?

I can almost hear Democrat and Republican critics asking, “So, what would you do?”

Well, doing something is not always the answer. In fact, doing nothing might sometimes be far better. Maybe we should shift our world policeman gears into neutral and remain uninvolved unless and until U.S. security is directly threatened; I said “directly.” Imagine in today’s over-sensitized world that I am in charge with my old-fashioned belief that fear of the unpredictable can be a very useful thing.

For our enemies I would not define any parameters, I wouldn’t draw any public red lines, I wouldn’t provide any warnings. When we determine our national security line has been crossed, the air strikes would begin in complete surprise.

No nation-building. No rules of engagement putting our troops at risk to protect natives. No advertised mission objectives. No public exit strategy. No petitioning for UN approval. No using the U.S. armed forces for social experiments. No sword-rattling warning to dictators or terrorists on TV.

Just a promise that if you piss us off, we will squash you like a bug at a time and place you cannot predict, an unexpected lethal attack where and when we believe it is warranted to protect our interest.

Would that help the current crisis in Iraq? I confess I don’t know. But I’d love to see Achmed’s bearded expression when, absent warning of any type, suddenly bombs fall and a whole bunch of bad guys and their assets are destroyed.

After that happened a few times, maybe the world would return to those days when our enemies whispered to each other, “Whatever you do, don’t provoke the crazy Americans!” Then we will be back on track since fear tends to keep terrorist cockroaches under their rock.

When our allies learn to respect us again, they might agree with the bad guys this far: “The Americans might be crazy, but they are our crazy friends so step carefully!”

Of course this is only my dream. The reality is we do have prospective hostages and casualties on their way to Iraq, to do ... something. I don’t expect a good outcome, and I hope I am wrong.

[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. His email is]


An honest presentation of your point of view - IMO based on experience, common sense, and a sincere concern for mankind. It will be interesting to see how some here react to your dream. I too hope you are wrong on the outcome of your 'dream'.

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