The ISIS Mission: Once Again, “The March of Folly”

March into wall

[I’m back home., and am almost finished with doing six ethics presentations in seven days in four states. I just added the photo of the Faber band marching into the wall in “Animal House”—the ultimate “march of folly”— and more importantly, fixing about ten typos in the post. I knew ttey would be there. I had an 8 AM start time for my seminar, which would end at noon, and then had to drive to Boston, ditch my rental car, and fly back to Virginia. I wanted to get the post on this topic up, but knew it would be rushed, and that I wouldn’t have time to proof it carefully until late in the day. Maybe I should do that; I don’t like posting sloppy content. I apologize for the typos, but it was either a timely post with mistakes, or a late post without.  My choice; I’ll accept your verdict.]

“The March of Folly” was historian Barbara Tuchman’s most specific exploration of the theme of many of her works. It was a cold-eyed retrospective of how supposedly brilliant people in power can follow through on destructive and objectively stupid policies; how a mission, ordered by a  leader, travels the arc from aspiration to delusion, and how the public, paralyzed by deference to authority, inertia, restraint, and irrational hope. accepts flawed premises long after the damage they are doing and will continue to do are obvious and undeniable. Tuchman calls this lethal tendency of policymakers throughout history a “process of self-hypnosis.” She concentrates on its long and bloody history using examples spanning the Trojan War,  through the British handling of the American rebellion, and the Vietnam War. In another book, she applied similar analysis to the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade. This is exactly what is going on with the ridiculous and pre-doomed Obama plan to arm the Syrian rebels to fight ISIS—but not the Syrian regime, which is who they are currently fighting. I doubt whether anyone with the necessary influence will stop it until it becomes a chapter in another historian’s sequel to Tuchman’s classic.

Because I have been in a hotel room between three ethics presentations in the Providence area, I have had a rare opportunity to watch much of the hearings on the proposed ISIS plan, as well as listen to the reaction on all of the news networks, from all sides of the political spectrum. I have also watched the President’s speeches on the subject. Seldom has something involving national policy unfolding before my eyes so clearly indicated a shocking deficit of either ethical leadership, or, in the alternative, competent leadership.

I don’t need to bombard you with links: nobody, with the possible  (and frightening) exception of President Obama, believes the proposed plan to defeat-degrade-stop-“send to the Gates of Hell” (pick your rhetoric) can possibly work as it has been described. Not the generals; not Republicans; not Democrats, not CNN’s Chris Cuomo and Carol Costello, who kept shaking their heads in amazement during the hearings, and not Fox News’ Shepard Smith, who was  hilarious as well as eloquent in his sarcasm and dead-eyed disgust while questioning various experts and pundits about what was being said on Capitol Hill.

Nobody believes that American air power and “advisors” alone can accomplish the objectives of this campaign without eventually involving combat troops. The idea is being ridiculed by anyone who knows the region, the participants, and the facts of military strategy, and who is not under orders by the President to toe the official line. (Who knows what poor John Kerry and Chuck Hagel think?Who knows if they are even thinking….) Yet it appears Congress is going to approve this born-to-fail plan anyway. Why? Well, some Republicans and Democrats believe that when the Commander-in-Chief asks for Congressional approval in a military action, he should get it. This is irresponsible. Some Republicans want an Obama military fiasco to hang around his neck, and are willing to spend billions and kill people to do it. Some Democrats would support their man in the White House if he asked them for a resolution that the moon was made of cheese. And some are undoubtedly idiots.

Is the President? No, he’s not an idiot. He is a hopelessly, tragically over-matched leader without the skills or character required for the job, making terrible choice after terrible choice and lacking the courage to forget politics and lead. He hates war–real war, not video game war, but war in which  Americans get shot, blown up and killed, and where the bad guys can’t be attacked solely from the safety of the skies, which is to say, war. His ideals in this respect are and always were completely contrary to the requirements of being the President of the United States. He is as close to a pacifist as we have ever had in that office, and pacifists do not belong there.

Sometimes, international crises and threats require American soldiers, with weapons, fighting. The President doesn’t like it? Too bad. (“I…hate…war,” said Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in one of his many memorable speeches.) The public is tired of combat? Tough. The nation still has obligations, and sometimes there are no happy choices. “I’m tired of being responsible; I’m tired of having to sacrifice; I’m tired of being part of the constant battle against chaos that is life”—none of these are rational and responsible sentiments, and a competent leader has to know when to ignore them. The Democratic Party’s progressive base is, in essence, pacifist in philosophy? Gee, sorry. Republicans have their screwballs too. This isn’t the time for politics, partisanship, or ideology unhinged to the real world.

What’s going on here?

Incredibly, it really seems to be this simple:

1. The President hates war, and swore that he would end American combat.

2. To keep this pledge, he refused to acknowledge  developments in Iraq that demanded that troops remain there, and pulled them out anyway.

3. This led directly to the disintegration of that nation, and the rise of ISIS there.

4. Polls show that the public now believes that the U.S. is endangered by Islamic terrorism, perhaps because Islamic terrorists have been sawing off American heads on TV and swearing that they are coming.

5. Midterm elections are coming, as if this should ever drive any decisions involving the military.

6. The President’s poll numbers are desperately low, and he is widely regarded as a weak and ineffectual leader, which he is. This threatens Democrats at the polls.

7.  Thus it has been decided among the President’s politically-driven advisors that he has to do something.

8. That something cannot include “boots on the ground,” because the President will stomp his feet and hold his breath til he turns blue not to send combat soldiers to Iraq,  even if the mission will fail without them.

9. Thus, to be perceived as doing “something,” because the public that doesn’t want combat wants something done about ISIS, the President is pursuing a half-baked strategy to defeat-degrade-stop-“send to the Gates of Hell”  that doesn’t include combat troops.

10. Either he knows that this cannot succeed and is thus lying to the American people by claiming it can, or..

11. He is so deluded (a.k.a. incompetent) that he thinks it can work, even though his non-political, nmilitarily astute advisors, are telling him it can’t. (His political advisors don’t know or care.).

12. Either Obama is putting imaginary, pie-in-the-sky views of international realities ahead of hard truth because he does not have the character, courage or sense to abandon an ideal when that ideal no longer applies, or he is deliberately following a plan that cannot work.

“The March of Folly.”

It is obvious, or should be, that the two choices available to the President and the nation are to either commit to doing whatever it takes to end the ISIS threat, or not commit any substantial resources because the threat doesn’t justify it. To say that ISIS MUST be destroyed, and simultaneously state that we will refuse to do what may be necessary to destroy it, is either incompetent, or dishonest.

Since President Obama has already shown that he is both, it is difficult to know which.

30 thoughts on “The ISIS Mission: Once Again, “The March of Folly”

  1. 13. He is trying to look like he is doing something without doing anything, in order to keep the polls from crumbling too badly before November.

    The bottom line is that after November I think the President will declare the mission a failure and end it, leaving the area to disintegrate and simmer just like Europe and the ME in the twenty years’ crisis.

    • I don’t think this president would ever declare something a failure that has his prints on it. More likely, he’ll declare another victory or “sufficient margin of victory” (with “degradation” being accomplished to some extent), so that he can declare a need for “adjustment of focus.” Those terms are vague enough so that anything he does or doesn’t do will score points.

  2. What is the mission? I can see the President trying to avoid getting involved in a quagmire with no definable resolution or end, also known as that sinkhole, the Middle East. ISIS isn’t really a state, there isn’t anyone to sign a peace treaty with, and most of the combatants can safely fade into the population when the going gets too tough, only to reemerge whenever we leave. If we manage to somehow kill enough of them off so they are no longer a threat, that only means some other nightmare group will then appear. Lather, rinse, repeat. Unless we are somehow willing to make colonies, which I don’t think we have the stomach for, I don’t see any good solutions.

    • My guess would be that he is working on a series of targeted assassinations, going after some of the identified leaders, but since that isn’t exactly approved under international law, he can hardly be forthright about it.

      • That (targeted assassinations) would be a fitting continuous mission that training of indigenous third parties might enable. Of course, Murphy’s Law includes, “Whatever can backfire, will backfire.” The trained and practiced assassins could operate effectively within the U.S. as well as in the Middle East, to the greater detriment of many people in this part of the world.

      • International Law?

        If we are at war with them – which we are, now that Congress approved military action against them – then Obama killing every last one of them (which includes their leaders) is an extremely LEGAL act.

    • Deery
      The only reason we get caught in quagmires is that we are not resolute to the mission of winning. We have not done so since WW2.

      We have rules of engagement. They do not. We avoid civilian casualties. They couldn’t care less about civilians. We abhor barbarity. They embrace it as a weapon.

      There is a definable resolution: every Jihadist is dead or goes so deep into hiding that they are unable to regain any strength. We do not need to sign a peace treaty so that point is moot. The suggestion that we should negotiate a peace treaty with such animals confers legitimacy upon them. Would you negotiate with a child rapist? A man that kills your male children because they might be a threat later? I hope not.

      The peoples of the middle east respect only one thing – strength and resolve. They take the side of whoever they think will come out on top. To win we must be willing to do whatever it takes to do so – even if it sickens some of us. If ISIS can fade into the population then we must assume the population supports what they are doing and thus complicit in the acts of barbarity. They cannot be given civilian status if they offer aid and comfort to the enemy. They need to know that we are willing to sacrifice many of them to get to the few they harbor. If they think we have the resolve to annihilate the enemy (ISIS and Al Qaeda) then more of them will support our cause which will benefit them. It is no wonder that the Iraqi army that we trained jumped ship. They made a rational calculation based on an understanding of our behavior in these matters on which side would prevail. It was a vote of no confidence in our leadership and resolve.

      We do not have to create colonies if the UN had a backbone and confronted the atrocities perpetrated by men that wish to subjugate everyone and the women that support them.

      These people are a plague on all civil society which needs to be eradicated as completely as possible. Taking out the leadership piecemeal will not work because another will step into his place and surviving a limited American attack gives them propaganda value. If you target and obliterate the cities that they hold you will get both the leaders and the followers. You must destroy everyone that proselytizes such an ideology. If you do not, then you make yourself susceptible to becoming a victim of this plague.

      They brought this fight onto them we did not seek it out. They have made it our job to protect that which serves as the foundation of civil society.

  3. I never heard anybody openly say pacifism was a disqualifier from high office, but, like it or not, it is, unless you are going to be president of Costa Rica.

      • In Switzerland everyone is a member of the militia and warplanes can deploy from mountains. Theirs is a tradition of armed neutrality, not complete lack of a military, which, btw, almost led to what would have been a very messy and costly invasion of Costa Rica by Nicaragua following abolition. But for the intervention of the CIA and State Department Costa Rica might not exist now.

        They may be peaceful, but I am not sure they grasp that they are also lucky to have a powerful neighbor nearby who has a vested interest in keeping peace and order as best can be done. They also have a slight tinge of arrogance that goes with an assumption of moral superiority, mottoes like “happy is the Costa Rican mother who gives birth to a son, knowing he will never be a soldier,” and rulings from their highest court that “a peaceful life” is a constitutional right, meaning any Tico has standing to bring a suit to prevent an “artillery ship” (frigate or larger) from another nation docking, lest their little paradise be disturbed by the site of those icky weapons and a reminder that the rest of the world exists.

  4. Maybe a glimpse of the obvious, but Obama and his like are the inevitable outcome of the democratic process. There are more than enough voters of limited intelligence / education to stamp, cheer and ultimately vote for a slogan – ‘Yes we can!’ in this instance.
    And the saddest part? All so far devised alternatives, incredibly enough, are worse.

    • I think Obama and his like are the inevitable outcome of the Democrat’s Ideology. Eventually you will get a paragon that encapsulates Leftism to a tee.

      This should be a wake up call to Leftists that their policies are colossally dismal. But it won’t be, they’ll hang the failures of Leftism on Obama, not on the ideology.

      • But…but…didn’t you say above that the left will hang the failures of leftism on…the fact that there is not enough leftism, i.e., the reason for same, the root of blame, namely, Republicans and conservatives?

          • Maybe not necessarily (I am not as clever as you), but yes, contradictory, unless you want to say that hanging leftism’s failures on Obama and hanging leftism’s failures on non-leftists are the same things.

            • Leftism will always find something to hang failures on rather than leftism. If an election went against them, the righties tricked the people into pulling their support before they could finish their work (i.e. Al Gore), or the people are just plain stupid (i.e. when gay marriage was put to a vote 31 times in a row and lost). If they had to deal with divided government, then there were just enough righties in power to stymie their well-intentioned efforts. (i.e. Harry Reid). If they had complete power and still failed, it wasn’t the ideology, it’s that their leaders weren’t pure enough or competent enough (i.e. Carter, Obama). Leftism will never admit that some of its ideas are just plain bad ideas.

            • I said Obama will blame the GOP. Unsaid the Left in general will quietly blame Obama… but should have been more clear that that will occur only when it is obvious Obama can’t blame anyone anymore.

  5. I just noticed that Obama apparently intends to take a “personal hand” in military operations against ISIS. I can only interpret this as meaning he intends to play armchair general (LBJ style) in order to co-ordinate his political motives with military objectives. If that isn’t a proven formula for a drawn out and ultimately unsuccessful campaign, I don’t know what is. At least Johnson had SOME experience as a naval officer… which was never utilized, as it never was with Carter. Obama lacks even that. A wise president understands that it is for the Chief Executive to define the mission- with the approval of Congress. It is NOT is job to prosecute the war. That’s for the professionals who wear the stars on their shoulders. But Obama is not a wise president, either.

    • “I just noticed that Obama apparently intends to take a “personal hand” in military operations against ISIS. I can only interpret this as meaning he intends to play armchair general (LBJ style) in order to co-ordinate his political motives with military objectives.”

      Let’s hold out hope! Maybe he means he’ll take a more Richard the Lion-Heart hands on approach and lead the men into the fray! Huzzah!

    • Obama is like the Alot: he’s better than you at everything.

      You scoff, but you you have no idea. At this very moment he’s on his way to a golf course somewhere in the Middle East, where he will show the Army Rangers how the suppression of nascent terrorist states is really done.

      And no, there won’t be any American boots on the ground. The president doesn’t wear boots. He will don his customary casual loafers. And when this little jaunt is over, he will deliver a rousing victory speech appropriately shod in leather dress shoes (and wearing a dark suit, because that little experiment with the tan suit did *not* poll well).

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