By Daniel L. Davis
British academic Dr. Kimberly Wade published research last Friday that revealed an astounding 50% of people in a study remembered events that never actually happened. Apparently senior foreign policy officials in the US Administration are among the half that remember events that never actually occurred. Incorrectly believing that policies produced positive results in the past is almost the only explanation for why otherwise rational and educated human beings would continually repeat disastrously failed policies.
Saturday’s news about the US deploying an additional 200 Special Operations troops to fight in Raqqa is the latest evidence of rampant flawed thinking among Washington’s mandarins.
On Saturday at a security conference in Bahrain, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said “These uniquely skilled operators will join the 300 U.S. special operations forces already in Syria, to continue organizing, training, equipping, and otherwise enabling capable, motivated, local forces to take the fight to ISIL." Pointedly, however, Carter did not explain what these troops were expected to accomplish, he merely stated what they would do. If one were to reinforce existing operations, the reasonable man would expect to find that the initial effort was bearing fruit and thus expanding the mission would achieve even more success. The reality, unfortunately, is something close to the exact opposite.
Even while initially denying it publicly, the Administration was covertly supplying arms to rebel groups in Syria in 2012. When this effort proved ineffective, the President ordered the overt support of rebel groups by spending half a billion dollars on a train-and-equip program. The effort failed spectacularly, as literally XXX fighters were ever validated as being trained despite the enormous price tag. Then a second attempt was made to train large numbers of fighters, but nothing materialized as it proved impossible to differentiate the “good” rebels from the “bad” ones. Then matters got worse.
The weapons and ammunition that the US did provide started showing up in the hands of al-Qaeda supported groups, which have an unequivocal anti-American ideology. Undeterred by this unbroken string of failure to achieve any American objectives, however, the Administration decided that instead of sending arms and training support, they would deploy US service members directly into the combat zone. This, too, did nothing to achieve American security objectives.
Meanwhile, as American attempts to tilt the battlefield in Syria towards outcomes favorable to US interest, the Russians and Iranians provided direct military assistance to the Syrian regime and the results have been clear and positive from Assad’s perspective. After many years of stalemate, regime-backed forces have almost completed the recapture of Aleppo. The rebel groups – including those the US considers moderate as well as the al-Qaeda backed groups – are in general retreat. If the Syrian troops are able to complete the capture of Aleppo, they will turn their forces to recapture additional rebel-held territory, and that will eventually include Raqqa.
Why, after a record of near-total failure, would the United States decide to send in another small increment of US troops to aid a rebel force in Raqqa that is losing nearly everywhere else in Syria? Why are we asking American service personnel to risk their lives by aligning them with a patchwork of militarily inadequate fighters that are currently on the run? And whatever battlefield effect these new US troops may have, what will Washington do if Syrian troops move to retake Raqqa later this year, along with Russian fighter jets and Iranian ground troops? What American national security interests in Syria are worth sparking a clash with three independent nations, one of which is a nuclear power?
What has come to be known as the “foreign policy elite” in America today – composed of those single-minded “experts” from both parties – has thus far been unwilling, or unable, to follow the rational path. Instead of acknowledging what hasn’t worked, they bull-headedly shove through the same failed tactics, only they do so harder, bigger, faster, and more expensively. The results are as predictable as they are painful: a harder, bigger, faster, and more expensive failure.
The time has come for a renaissance in American foreign policy thinking. The ultimate goal of producing outcomes beneficial to the United States will remain unchanged. But instead of religiously applying methods that have been thoroughly proven to fail, this new way of thinking would admit what’s not working and use intelligent analysis and creative, innovative thinking to find effective solutions. A good start would be to constrain the use of military power and, as Gordon Adams explains, we would use “diplomacy (not invasion) to help bring an end to this dreadful civil war,” and that would be “an act of courage and leadership.”
What must be avoided at all costs, however, is for the new Administration to enter with the same stable of discredited foreign policy elites who have authored most of the failed policies of the past 15 years. The continued viability of our Republic might come into question without such changes.
Daniel L. Davis is a retired U.S. Army colonel who served multiple tours in Afghanistan. He is a senior fellow with Defense Priorities.
This piece was originally published by The Hill on December 22, 2016. Read more HERE.