Conflict vs. War – Published in the Providence Journal

BY JIM RAFTUS
Now we are dropping bombs and exploding missiles in Syria to diminish the radical group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Thirteen years after 9/11, we have entered a new area of the Mideast quagmire.
The American public must come to some harsh realizations.
There will be no newspaper photograph of a celebratory Times Square kiss between a jubilant Navy corpsman and an unsuspecting, but willing, young lady to signal a victory over ISIL. There will be none of the pomp and circumstance of the June 28, 1919, signing of the Treaty of Versailles hailing the end of hostilities.
A true war requires an opponent that has defined borders, a citizen army and a known hierarchy of evil leaders. ISIL has none of these. It is an evil, amorphous, growing snake that abhors the West and has no concerns about the rules of engagement such as those in the Geneva Convention.
The United States, and a few allies, are engaged in mortal combat, not a war. We will never be able to truthfully unfurl another banner claiming “Mission Accomplished” in this fight against extremist terrorism.
Successive generations of Americans have been brought up with Hollywood versions of great American victories, from Audie Murphy (who was an actual war hero) to John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone and Matt Damon.
Too many of us retain the dangerous illusion that, given enough time, money, troops and munitions, democracy will bloom in the Middle East, tribal differences will disappear and the women will shed their hijabs while attending schools in their Guess jeans. This will not happen. They, and not we, will determine their culture.
The failures in Vietnam and the frustrations in the Mideast have somewhat tempered America’s jingoistic hubris, but ours is still a victory-driven mindset.
Am I saying that we should be isolationist?
No, we cannot stand idly by. ISIL is beheading civilians. If their captured enemies do not instantly convert to their brand of radical Sunni Islam they are summarily executed. They are recruiting disenfranchised Westerners. Splinter al-Qaida cells, such as the Khorasan Group, are plotting direct attacks on the West (they were also targeted in the initial bombing attacks in Syria). Radical groups such as these must be contained.
But, while this is a major global problem, the immediate threats are to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
My visceral response mechanism wants to believe President Obama when he declares that there will be no American boots on the ground. Still, because I feel this problem will never have a complete resolution, I consider it never-ending combat, not a war. Therefore, I also think Obama’s strategy is too vague and extends too far into the future.
I would immediately announce four actions:
•The current bombing of ISIL, and other targeted factions, will continue unabated for six months at which time it will cease. While we will do our utmost to limit civilian casualties, such losses will, unfortunately, occur. (I refuse to sanitize this by calling it “collateral damage.”)
•The United States will spend six months training moderate troops from all our allies in the Middle East to prepare for battle. We expect all such allies, including Turkey, with its million conscripted soldiers, to participate as boots on the ground. It is their region and, in the end, their fight. Obama’s one-year schedule is too long and too open-ended.
•If needed, units from the Joint Special Operations Command, such as Navy Seal Team Six, will eliminate specific radical leader targets. Let well-trained volunteers who crave such action do the needed chores, not my pharmacist or postman on his fourth rotation.
•Implement a vigorous, thorough vetting of all travelers going to, or coming from, Middle Eastern countries. If there is a scintilla of vagueness about the purpose of their trip they should be denied their travel. On Sept. 24, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution requiring member countries to enact laws barring suspected militants from traveling abroad. A good start, but let’s put some real teeth and firm implementation into these regulations.
We face, unfortunately, endless combat against radical terrorism. It is the new reality. We must do all we can to protect our homeland with a minimal erosion of personal individual rights. We will remain a great, but more diligent, nation.
The “war” we must win is one over an illusionary mindset that victory is only possible with a defined end and a completely vanquished enemy.
Jim Raftus (jraftus@ aol.com) is a retired marketing executive who lives in Cumberland. He served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971.

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