If you are a military history buff, as I am, you have to love the Obama Administration’s latest move in Iraq. It’s John F. Kennedy and Vietnam, 1963. President Obama has decided to send up to 300 “military advisors” to Iraq. The President says our goals are first, to prevent a civil war in Iraq that could destabilize the region and, second, prevent creation of a terrorist safe haven in northern Iraq and neighboring Syria from which U.S. enemies could plan and launch attacks against American interests. We cannot let an ally fall to the enemy but have no confidence in its ability either to defend itself or, more important, unify the country. So, we send in advisors. To do what exactly? According to the President, it is to gauge the strengths, weaknesses and cohesiveness of Iraq’s security forces. Isn’t this why we built and staffed the world’s largest embassy in Baghdad, among other things, to keep close tabs on the Iraqi security forces?
In another deja vu moment, the President also hints at the possibility of air strikes while again promising no American boots on the ground. He also called on the Maliki government to institute political reforms, be more inclusive or resign. Look how well that worked out when Kennedy withdrew support for the Diem government in Saigon. But even if it goes well, why does the President think any other government in faction-torn Iraq will be better?
For those who lay the blame for all this at the feet of former President George W. Bush, I can only say get over it; move on. Yes, President Bush may have instigated the current mess when he invaded Iraq eleven years ago, just as President Eisenhower may have lit the fuse for the Vietnam conflict by supporting cancellation of the referendum on unification. But President Obama’s decisions over the past five years, just like those taken by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, are his own. If he gets it wrong, ISIS wins, the region is destabilized and Americans die; it won’t matter much that President Bush started it.
Some may see the President’s decision as showing caution and wisdom. Others, particularly the terrorists, are likely to see it as weak and indecisive. One thing is certain: 300 advisors are not enough do anything meaningful, but just enough to make the current crisis an American problem. Haven’t we tried deliberate escalation often enough to know it doesn’t work?
So how about taking a bolder step, one that serves two purposes? I recommend sending in the A-10s. I mean the entire fleet, all 288 of them. The Air Force recommended eliminating the entire fleet as a budget saving measure, arguing that there were lots of other ways of performing the same mission. Those who want to preserve the A-10 force, particularly certain members of Congress, have been adamant that we cannot retire the A-10s precisely because they are the nation’s premier ground attack force. Such a move would not only be a bold and very forceful show of support for the Baghdad government, but also address the concerns of A-10 supporters that the Pentagon is making a mistake by seeking to retire the fleet.
So, let’s give them a chance. It is unlikely that American forces will soon have another conflict environment as supportive of the A-10s unique attributes: a totally, permissive air defense environment, relatively flat and open terrain, a limited road network and an adversary who likes to go around in convoys of pickup trucks festooned with banners. The A-10’s 30mm cannon should make quite an impression on the ISIS fighters. 288 A-10s would allow for the establishment of near-continuous air patrols over terrorist-held territory. If Congress does agree to retire the A-10 fleet, at least it can go out with a bang, or 2,100 of them a minute.
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