The 3 Conditions That Must Be Met At Home Before The US Takes More Action In Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry looks on as Secretary of Defense Ash Carter testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on behalf of the Iranian nuclear deal recently brokered by the Obama administration in Washington, July 29, 2015.
DoD Photo by Glenn Fawcett

Events of the past several weeks indicate that the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State is at a turning point: The world is weighing potential responses to the terrorist acts in Paris, reportedly up to 50 special operators will deploy to assist Kurdish forces, and Secretary of State John Kerry visited Vienna to start a concerted effort toward a political resolution to the Syrian civil war. The Obama administration’s current airpower campaign and limited security assistance to Syrian rebels has come under criticism, with many asking what more should the United States do about ISIS in Syria? Before making any further decisions, and especially before sending ground forces into Syria, three conditions must be met and held.

First, the international community must develop a viable plan for a strategic peace settlement that does ultimately removes Bashar al Assad from power. Second, that a robust international coalition, be it under NATO or United Nations auspices, hold the ultimate responsibility for enforcing the arrangement. Third, that any deployment of troops expected to see combat be authorized by an act of Congress. If and only if all three of these conditions are met should additional U.S. forces be sent to Syria with a limited mission to speed conflict to its long-awaited end.

Without a track toward a viable political settlement, no amount of U.S. blood or gold will be able to move the needle on a lasting peace. To believe otherwise is a supreme act of hubris. Current-day Iraq, and perhaps Afghanistan if Kunduz foreshadows the future, are but two examples of military efforts ultimately decoupled from enduring governance strategies. Even Russian citizens and veterans recognize the utmost importance of a viable political solution as they recall the thousands of lives lost in Afghanistan, the Soviet equivalent of the Vietnam War. While Syria is not Vietnam and analogies comparing the two are at best the refuge of the intellectually lazy, the Clausewitzian lesson of the last several U.S. wars is relevant: War is politics and vice versa. To ignore one while fighting the other is planning to fail.

Furthermore, a political solution brought by an international coalition go hand in hand. If there are any lessons to be learned from post-World War II conflicts, we could do worse than to listen the remorseful statements of the late Robert McNamara: “We are not omniscient. If we cannot persuade other nations with similar interests and similar values of the merits of the proposed use of that power, we should not proceed unilaterally except in the unlikely requirement to defend directly the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii.”

A political resolution is unlikely to be reached unless a broad coalition, likely including temporary allies, is willing to diplomatically, economically, and militarily (in that order) force the hand of Assad and Assad’s supporters. Slate’s Middle East “friendship” chart outlining the complex relations within the region point “this way to quagmire” if like-minded actors cannot be cajoled to pull in the same direction.

The final condition that must be met is an authorization on the use of military force in Syria. The Constitution states that Congress is the body with power to declare war. Yet, an authorization has yet to pass the full legislature and the Senate has resisted recent calls by senators Tim Kaine and Jeff Flake to debate the issue. An authorization should be a prerequisite for further U.S. ground force involvement in Syria since escalation will likely lead to combat. And Congress, not just the executive, should be responsible for such combat involvement. If America is to go to war in Syria, it should be owned by Americans and their legislators, not just a few select White House officials and the president. The burden is not for them to bear alone.

As to the wisdom of the current incremental approach in Syria, it might appear that the administration is falling into what Michael J. Mazarr astutely calls the “imperative trap,” the idea that America “must do” something. But you can’t lose a war you don’t fight, a lesson drawn from Eisenhower’s non-intervention in Vietnam post-Dien Bien Phu. And if America does feel compelled to do something, there are plenty of more useful avenues, such as: 1) significantly boost U.S. contributions to the U.N.-led refugee relief efforts in the Middle East and lead the world by pledging to accept one million Syrian refugees by 2020; 2) keep the mission focused on counterterrorism and continue limited strikes against groups bent on attacking the U.S. such as Khorasan; and 3) conduct targeted online interventions identifying the tiny sliver of likely ISIS recruits. Lost among the sea of horrific videos and jihad porn is that while their message reaches many, it only really appeals to a few, and wide-area counterpropagranda program, while well meaning, has been ineffective.   

To advocate for an escalation of a conflict without a political conclusion anywhere on the horizon is to do a disservice service members who are asked to carry out national policy. Politicians should only commit to using the military for missions that make sense. Going against this dictum means throwing out the hard won lessons learned from the past 50 years of U.S. overseas interventions.

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Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

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