Thursday, October 31, 2019

The New Syrian Mission: Let's Enumerate the Stupidity

This morning, twitter got distracted from the Nationals winning the World Series (which is what happens when the crowd boos Trump) by the announcement that the armored unit going to Syria is a National Guard unit. The basic conversation is between those saying WTF to those saying it is normal since the NG and Reserves have been rotating units to be the one squatting Kuwait, and they are the closest to the area.  Of course, this simply invokes the classic question of just because you can do something does not mean you should do it.

So, I recalled that when I was on the Joint Staff in 2001-2002, the first Reserve unit had just been deployed to Bosnia, and there was much reluctance to do the same in Kosovo since things were far less settled there.  Of course, the next 15 years of forever wars meant that the US had to send National Guard and Reserve units to Iraq and Afghanistan, but as wise folks pointed out, our current OPTEMPO (pace of operations) is not so high that we need to use reservists for this kind of stuff.

I said this was the seventh dumbest thing about this mission, so let's see if I can find six dumber aspects
  1. Most obviously, what is the mission here?  Why is the US deploying forces, particularly an armored unit to Syria?  What are the rules of engagement?  Who is to be engaged?
  2. To protect oil fields?  That is the claim, but that is just how the military folks manipulated Trump, as Syria's oil fields are hardly consequential in the grand scheme of things.
  3. That the military rolled Trump on this is also incredibly dumb.  It is problematic from a civ-mil perspective (the civilians should be controlling the military, not the other way around).  And if one is going to break the norms, do it for something that is really important, like not being used for domestic grand-standing (border troops?), not for refusing to leave an ill-conceived mission.
  4. What is the authority to do this?  The Authorization to Use Military Force from after 9/11 was not for protecting oil fields.
  5. What are the requirements to make this work?  Will the US need to threaten to shoot down Russian planes if they get too close?  There is a real risk of escalation here that no one seems to be thinking about.
  6. Is anyone in Congress asking these questions and related ones?  Any oversight deficit here is incredibly dumb since this is exactly why Congress has a role in asking pesky questions of the President, his Defense Secretary, and the senior officers.  
  7. Using reservists for such a high risk, cockamamie mission.
Did I cheat?  Did I miss any?

Maybe Obama was overly risk-averse, but I still think the mantra of "Don't do stupid shit!" is a good one.  Obviously, it has been forgotten not just by this White House but also by this Pentagon.

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