War is ugly.
It is messy, dangerous, and barbaric - and when it ceases to be those things, it ceases also to be war. Over the years, technology has allowed for smaller and smaller numbers of soldiers to be involved in down-and-dirty hand-to-hand combat situations, but it cannot eliminate entirely the need for some soldiers to come face to face with the enemy on the battlefield.
For that reason, soldiers - although nothing can ever truly prepare them for the brutality of battle - are trained to deal with the unfathomable.
Iraqi army troops chant slogans against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as they recruit volunteers to join the fight against a major offensive by the jihadist group in northern Iraq, outside a recruiting centre in the capital Baghdad on June 13, 2014. Iraqi forces clashed with militants advancing on the city of Baquba, just 60 kilometres (40 miles) north of Baghdad, as an offensive spearheaded by jihadists drew closer to the capital. AFP PHOTO / ALI AL-SAADI ALI AL-SAADI
Technology has also created problems, however. It has brought civilians closer and closer to the horrors of war, and as they are largely untrained for exposure to such violence, they naturally find it abhorrent. Mikel Lemons, E5 (Avionics Technician 2) United States Navy 1988-1997 described this phenomenon:
“The real face of War should never be revealed to the general public, otherwise the military instantly loses the backing of the country to do what must be done to achieve decisive progress. There is no room in armed conflict for human decency and morals. We have lost the greatest lessons learned from WWII, that a decisive strike is the best way to end the conflict.”
Thus enter the new military Rules of Engagement.
Welcome to a battlefield that will get bloody, mark my words, but not until daddy gives permission for the first shot to be fired. Noted Monique Rivera, a current U.S. Army wife, “your grandfathers (who served during World War II) had the luxury of being able to shoot first and ask questions later. In the current war, soldiers ask first and then see if they survive the wait for the ok to shoot.”
So what can the current military do? Public opinion, especially since Vietnam, has demanded that the military minimize civilian casualty, and that is certainly a worthy goal. But the defense of American sovereignty and interests is supposed to be the primary goal of the United States military.
As the Biblical saying goes, “No man can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). It was intended to mean that man cannot serve both God and money, but the concept applies here as well. The American military is being forced to serve two masters. The first is the nation’s sovereignty and interests – war. The second is the humanitarian greater good – minimizing civilian casualties and nation-building.
[sharequote align="center"]The American military is being forced to serve two masters.[/sharequote]
As long as the first mission is the only – or at least the primary – objective, America can successfully wage (and win) wars. When the second mission begins to carry equal or greater weight, the lives of enemy civilians become more valuable than the lives of American soldiers. At that point, America can only hope to tread water or lose ground. And bodies.
Since Vietnam, the public emphasis has been on that second mission. Politicians who valued their jobs and legacies more highly than their nation allowed that shift in focus to affect strategy and the new Rules of Engagement.
In 2008, then Sen. Barack Obama based much of his presidential campaign on his promise to end the war in Iraq. And with the removal of all combat troops over the last few years, he claimed to have made good on that promise. The problem is that despite the less-than-favorable outcomes in Vietnam and even Korea and the public’s emphasis on more “humane” combat tactics, the public also still expects American victory. And when President Obama promised to end the war in Iraq, the one thing he did not promise was decisive victory.
President Barack Obama. (Getty Images)
Given the new Rules of Engagement, it is not likely that a decisive victory was something a freshly hamstringed military would have been capable of delivering. Retired Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Blomgren, U.S. Army Combat Medic and Licensed Practical Nurse (68WM) 1994-2011 said:
“The implementation of the new ROE at the end of the Iraq war kept us from killing as many of the enemy as we could. The U.S. military is not a police force, we are a war-making machine. Our job is not to patrol the streets and win hearts and minds, it is to find and destroy the enemy with extreme prejudice.”
Despite the utter failure of “Vietnamization” under President Richard Nixon, President Obama essentially adopted the same policy in Iraq. As United States fighting forces were withdrawn from Iraq, locals were trained as peace-keeping forces. Americans remained in the country only to help them build and train their own police forces and maintain order as they prepared for elections. But that effort was destined to fail according to John Bloomer, United States Navy 1994-2001:
“Because current military doctrine has not evolved to address the fundamental shift in the way that ‘war’ is conducted. We have the technology and training to dominate in a stand-up fight, so nobody wants to stand up and fight. We are politically hampered from winning, so we take and hold ground. Then we train locals who have shown equal likelihood of running at first contact, shooting the trainers in the back, or fighting to preserve their new way of life.”
All things considered, the politics that prevented the United States from decisive victory in Iraq most likely also facilitated the resurgence of terrorist activity that is currently taking place.
“It is a slap in the face to veterans who served there, to those who lost friends and family members, to those who gave all,” said Blomgren.
"I'm frustrated with the upper echelons of the chain of command," added former Navy Seal and Congressional candidate Martin Baker of St. Louis, Missouri. "They basically are flipping off the memories of the over 3,000 fellow citizens who gave their lives to defend American principles."
The unfortunate thing for President Obama is that because of the way he “ended” the war in Iraq, in order to even maintain the status quo in the Middle East he must engage and fight the same war all over again.
Virginia Kruta holds a dual BS in Political Science and History from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, and writes from her home in the People's Republic of Illinois. Find her on Twitter @VAKruta or reach her by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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