What’s In A Name: No Name For Iraq Operation Sends Wrong Message
In September, U.S. military personnel were dispatched to Africa to assist in the fight against the Ebola virus under the banner of “Operation United Assistance.”
Nearly a month earlier, some 1,700 U.S. military “advisors” were sent to Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS) militants. But while those troops find themselves in harm’s way, the Obama administration has so far declined to give the operation a name, as has been done with virtually every U.S. military undertaking for decades.
The omission is one more example of how the Obama administration is being dishonest with the American people about the fight against ISIS.
For months, Obama has engaged in a strange form of declaring war on ISIS without actually declaring war. Rather than taking decisive action, the president has crab-walked his way back into Iraq, hedging each step with denials and evasions.
The failure to give a proper operational name to the military’s combat activities in Iraq and Syria — and make no mistake about it, we have troops in Iraq and they are in a combat situation — implies a lack of seriousness. And the consequences of that failure are more significant than you may expect.
Defense experts interviewed in a recent Wall Street Journal article suggest that giving an operational name to the war on ISIS is important to show ownership of the operation and its results – something President Obama seems to want to avoid.
Military historian Peter Mansoor of Ohio State University puts it succinctly: “What’s in a name is important to show our allies and regional partners that the United States is committed,” Mansoor tells the Journal. “They should give this campaign a name.”
Moreover, declining to name a military operation has implications for the military personnel who are risking their lives on the ground and in the skies above Iraq. Certain medals cannot be awarded to these men and women for an unnamed operation — a sign of fundamental disregard for their service.
Let’s be clear: members of the armed services don’t go into combat for the sake of campaign medals, ribbons or other external honors. They serve for love of country, a sense of duty, a belief in the mission and a deep commitment to their comrades in arms.
But the essential recognition of a service members’ contribution, as designated by campaign medals, is a source of pride and a boost to morale. Those medals are one way our nation shows its appreciation and recognition.
That recognition carries its own significance. As of this writing, one U.S. Marine has already died in support of the military operations in Iraq and Syria. Will he receive the proper recognition for dying in support of a combat operation? Or will his death simply go on the books as a random accident of service?
Questioned by veterans and military advocacy organizations on the medals question, the Department of Defense under this administration has avoided making a decision.
Pentagon officials said on October 1 that the troops currently serving in Iraq would not be eligible for campaign medals. A day later, they changed course, announcing that those in Iraq would be eligible for the Global War on Terror Expeditionary medal. By October 7, the Pentagon had backtracked on that decision. At this point, no military personnel in Iraq are eligible to receive campaign medals in recognition of their service and sacrifice.
To those who have never served in the military, the dispute over medals may seem like a sideshow. But the uncertainty and misdirection from the Pentagon on the question of naming this war is a reflection of the dishonesty and indecision that has encompassed the entire course of this military operation. Rather than take ownership of the fact that we’re now at war in Iraq and Syria, the Obama administration hedges, spins and misleads.
If President Obama and his team are serious about this mission, it’s time to show commitment. Give this war a name, designate a campaign medal for those fighting on our behalf — and start being honest about the fact that we as a nation are yet again at war.
Dan Caldwell is a Marine Corps veteran and currently serves as the Issue and Legislative Campaign Manager for Concerned Veterans for America. Dan served in Operation Iraqi Freedom with the 1st Marine Division.