President Obama has thrown a Hail Mary pass to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He should cease the folly and withdraw American forces from the fight. For the president to risk American lives on a hope and a prayer is obscene.
Mr. Obama’s play book against ISIS features the training and arming of 5,000 Syrian Sunni opponents of ISIS per year in Saudi Arabia. The foreign trainees are to provide the ground forces that Mr. Obama himself and his military gurus have acknowledged are indispensable to victory. Bombing, without more, will never destroy ISIS as each day confirms.
But according to Wednesday’s New York Times, an internal CIA still-classified study in 2012 and 2013 found that the military strategy Mr. Obama has embraced seldom if ever works.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy attempted the overthrow of Fidel Castro with CIA-trained Cuban guerrillas, which resulted in the Bay of Pigs debacle.
A virtual re-run of the Bay of Pigs took place under President Ronald Reagan in his authorization of the CIA to arm and train Nicaraguan guerrillas fighting the Sandinista government.
In 2006, the CIA inaugurated a gunrunning operation to assist a group of Somali warlords who united under the euphemism the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism. That endeavor boomeranged. It strengthened the Al-Shabab Islamic radicals that the CIA hoped to crush.
An arguable success story was the CIA’s arming and training of Mujahideen rebels in Afghanistan to oust the Soviet invaders in 1989. But then came the surprise O Henry ending. The recipients of the aid formed the core of al Qaeda, which used Afghanistan to plot and engineer the 9/11 abominations. With victories like that, we cannot afford any defeats.
Mr. Obama’s Hail Mary training program for Syrian rebels to destroy ISIS is even less promising than the Bay of Pigs and could yield blowback as with the Afghan Mujahideen. The trainees and ISIS are Sunnis. They generally fear death, persecution or oppression by Shiites — including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah, and Iran — more than they do fellow Sunnis. And their destruction of ISIS would strengthen all three of their Shiite opponents. Syrian Sunni trainees are virtually certain to divert their attention from ISIS toward the dictatorial Shiite regime of Mr. Assad.
We are currently witnessing a variation of that dynamic in Turkey, a Sunni Muslim country. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fears the PKK terrorist organization and its alliance with Syrian Kurds more than he does ISIS. He has refused to assist the Syrian Kurds in the border town of Kobani against ISIS to weaken his PKK antagonists. And Mr. Erdogan is insisting that the Shiite regime of Mr. Assad be given at least co-billing with ISIS as the target of any military gambit. Mr. Obama’s schoolmarm-like exhortations to rally against ISIS will never defeat the self-interests of other nations or groups.
In addition, the Syrian trainees are splintered among 10 or more Sunni rebel groups that resemble more personality cults than cohesive political blocks. The ability to unify them under a single command is thus doubtful. But as Napoleon understood, unity of command is indispensable in warfare: “Better one bad general than two good ones.”
Finally, Syria’s Sunni rebels were provoked to take up arms by their persecution at the hands of Shiite President Assad, not because of ISIS. They have endured extreme hardships to accomplish Mr. Assad’s overthrow, and will not readily undermine that goal by seeking to destroy ISIS, which shares their anti-Assad ambitions. The trainees’ morale in fighting ISIS will thus be deflated, a formula for defeat. The words of Napoleon are again authoritative: “In war everything depends on morale; morale and public opinion comprise the better part of reality.”
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel should inform Mr. Obama that Hail Mary passes are not an acceptable strategy for war. He should resign if necessary. He should not wait for a memoir to protest.
For more information on Bruce Fein, visit brucefeinlaw.