Earlier this week President Obama announced plans for a new military base in Anbar Province in Iraq to train and advise Iraqi troops in the fight against ISIS. The administration is also now considering creating a network of bases in Iraq, which Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey describes as “lily pads.”
The Administration is hoping that extra bases will help to empower the Iraqi government to beat back ISIS militarily, and to better engage Sunni tribes fed up with life under the Islamic State’s brutal rule. General Dempsey suggested that if more bases aren’t the answer, then the administration is prepared to try something different.“If we reach a point where we don’t think those game changers are successful,” he added, “then we will have to look for other avenues to maintain pressure on ISIL, and we will have to look at other partners.”
All of this calls to mind another liberal Administration, staffed with the best and brightest, which vowed to proceed along pragmatic, even scientifically guided lines, but found itself increasingly and incrementally committed to a divided country without a complete strategy in place. As the President of the CFR tweeted:
— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) June 12, 2015
One has to be careful with Vietnam analogies, of course. But when discussing the increased deployment of advisors in place of, rather than as part of, a strategy, it seems appropriate to consider. (Incidentally, in another parallel, many of those first adviser units in Vietnam were sent to work with local tribes of Montagnards.)
For much of the early course of the Vietnam War, opponents of U.S. policy were demanding more involvement, not less. Jacksonian America does not relish getting involved in minor countries that haven’t directly attacked the U.S., but it cares even less for fighting wars with half measures. With more boots on the ground, casualties are likely; if casualties grow, so too will calls for more aggressive action. If an overall strategy has not been decided upon, this increased momentum could lead into blind alleys and disaster.
For a whole host of reasons, Iraq is not literally going to be Vietnam. But the increased resemblance of our planning process to a remake of The Fog of War should give those making the decisions in D.C. pause.