With defence budgets under pressure, we can expect a smaller army with fewer soldiers at every level of seniority. Except there’s one rank that seems completely immune – that of Armchair General.
Tooled-up with Twitter and other weapons-of-choice, the AGs are on the offensive, calling upon Barack Obama, David Cameron and the rest to show some ‘leadership’ in the Middle East.
One has to ask what exactly it is they have in mind. Is it, for instance, the leadership shown a decade ago by George W Bush and Tony Blair in Iraq? Or did they have an earlier generation of western leadership in mind, the kind that made common cause with such promising new allies as Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein?
It may be that there’s some brilliant new strategy available to us – but until armchair HQ sees fit to share the details with us, one has to assume that there isn’t.
As it happens, President Obama does have a plan of sorts, which he set out in a speech last week. Like all presidential speeches it was written and delivered to sound as leader-y as possible. But in a piece for Vox, Zack Beauchamp re-imagines it as if honesty had been the main consideration.
This how the notionally frank President might introduce the matter:
“Today, I’m here to talk to you about America’s approach to the crisis in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State, which I insist on calling ISIL even though everyone else calls it ISIS, currently controls a chunk of territory about the size of Maryland or Belgium. ISIS is an international terrorist group that was ejected from al-Qaeda for being too violent, so this is not good.”
And this how he might describe what he proposes to do about it…
“To counter the threat, I’m announcing a long-term, three step American plan for fighting ISIS. Step one is to keep doing what we’re doing: bombing ISIS targets in Iraq. Step two involves a major commitment to train and equip the Iraqi army, Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga, and possibly even Sunni tribes that might rebel against ISIS. Step three is to launch some kind of air campaign against ISIS in Syria.”
…and also what he’s not going to do about it:
“…let me be clear: this plan won’t destroy ISIS, now or possibly ever. This is just not something that we can accomplish without re-invading, and there is no way I’m going to end my presidency with a second major American occupation of Iraq. That being said, what I’m proposing has a decent shot at pushing the group out of Iraq. And right now, that’s the best we can hope for.”
Then comes the kicker:
“And that’s the good news. The bad news is Syria.
“As far as friends go, our best bet are the so-called moderate rebels, who I have personally resisted arming and supporting because I am concerned the weapons would end up going to ISIS… Our other options include arming Jabhat al-Nusra, which is a branch of al-Qaeda, or partnering with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad — who I still believe must go even though I’ve basically given up on ever making that happen.”
Yup, that’s about the long-and-short of it – a plan not to transform the Middle East but to contain its most dangerous threats.
Unflattering comparisons will be drawn with the heroic age of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and John Paul II; but let’s not forget that the fall of the Soviet Union – a more formidable enemy than ISIS will ever be – came after forty years of imperfect, yet ultimately unyielding, containment.