By Maj. Gen. Jerry R. Curry, US Army, Ret.
No one in the American government seems certain as to what our goal in the Middle-East is, including the President. If our military forces don’t know what the nation’s goal is they can’t succeed in accomplishing it, in crafting the necessary military plans to implement it, in building up the necessary provisioning to support their actions, and in enlisting the assistance of our allies in helping support our efforts to defeat the enemy. To put it bluntly, if you don’t know what the goal is you can’t meet it nor can you know whether you’re winning or losing. As President Bush, the younger, is believed to have once said, “If we’re not there to win, why are we there?”
During one of my Vietnam War tours I spent a year as an advisor to the South Vietnamese military, local Vietnamese villagers and to tribal governments. This included helping the South Vietnamese military in training the nation’s young men in how to fight the North Vietnamese who from time to time infiltrated south into the Second Corps area from up north of the Demilitarized Zone. It was much like today’s situation in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. But fortunately the Vietnamese did not comingle the religious with the political as Muslims do.
The goal was not to train the South Vietnamese military to be as good in combat as US Forces, but for them to be good enough to defeat the North Vietnamese, good enough to win a battle against them. It is important to recognize that combat is training; in fact, it is the best on-the-job training available for the making of a soldier. If a new recruit from one of the local villages joined a South Vietnamese Army unit and six weeks later was still alive, in the long run he turned out to be a fairly good soldier. The Patriots who fought at Lexington and Concord at the beginning of our Revolutionary War didn’t have the luxury of a year’s military training to get them ready for battle.
Is America’s goal in the Middle-East to defeat the Islamic State and the hodge-podge of terrorists and irregular forces cooperating with them, or is it just to contain them? If our forces are simply fighting for containment the death of every American soldier killed there dies in vain. It is meaningless, and our government leaders don’t seem to care.
If they do care, why doesn’t the Congressional leadership, both Democrat and Republican, take immediate action to force the President to assign a goal of winning to our military plans and actions in the Middle-East or to bring about an abrupt halt to the current carnage that is going on over there? An appeal to the President would be pointless because he has made it clear that he has little interest in winning this fight with the Islamic State, he only wants it contained.
As is the case with the Arabs in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria the loyalty of the South Vietnamese people was to their families, villages and tribes. Nationhood was a principle they neither accepted nor seemed to much care about. Concepts like “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” were meaningless to them. In the Middle-East these concepts give way to the stateless precepts of the Koran and Islam.
This statelessness is a void that desperately needs to be filled. Historically in Muslim nations it has been filled by Allah and the Koran. In Islamic countries these two entities play the role of God and Pope, of King and Emperor, of Supreme Court Judges, and of Prime Minister, all at the same time. And religion and politics merge into a single constraint: one faith, one ideology, one sovereignty, and one empire. At least that is the concept the Islamic State is attempting to install in the Middle-East.
Supposedly, the Imams know the Koran so well that they have no trouble divining or translating the will of Allah into clear directives for the people to follow. But the true facts are that the Koran, the Muslim Bible, is so ambiguous that it can mean whatever its interpreter wishes it to mean or say at any given time.
In Islam because all religious and governmental power is overly centralized, there is no serious system of checks and balances such as those defined in the US Constitution. So when an Islamic government does something wrong or stupid, and from time to time all governments do wrong or stupid things, they cannot easily be corrected and the worst case usually applies.
That is why the bypassing of constitutionally mandated congressional checks and balances by the Obama Administration is so dangerous. Until the US Government establishes and implements clear, constitutionally sanctioned directives as to what it wants the military to accomplish in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, it can’t know whether it is winning or losing the war.
Unless someone clearly spells out what the goal is, no matter how good the US military training may be the Middle-Eastern Muslim countries won’t be able to implement it; it just won’t work. That is why there must be American advisors on the ground to make judgments as to whether they are properly doing what they have been taught, no matter what the President or Secretary of Defense says.
Jerry Curry is a retired Army Major General, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Carter administration; Acting Press Secretary to the Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration; and Administrator of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration in the Bush Sr. administration.