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They Are Only Advisers!
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They Are Only Advisers!

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Where have we heard that before?

In the early stages of escalation in the Viet-Nam War in the mid-Fifties, Eisenhower sent between 750-1000 advisers into Viet-Nam to help train the South Vietnamese military. This subsequently was followed by Kennedy’s dispatching 400 Green Berets in May 1961. Before he was assassinated in November 1963 there were 16,000 U.S. troops in the country. Johnson would increase the numbers rapidly especially after congressional passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August 1964.  Syria is not Viet-Nam and Assad is neither Ngo Dinh Diem nor Ngo Dinh Nhu and ISIS is not the Viet Cong; but the language is the same and regime change is also the goal.

The problem here as it was in South East Asia is not U.S. intentions but the viability and reasonableness of the strategy; to say nothing of the extremely confused tactics. Obama may well have a plan in mind but he certainly appears to be acting in a totally random manner with a dubious idea as to what to do, where it reasonably might lead, and how to avoid another quagmire. Having duped the world into believing that red lines in the sand–which he drew in August 2012 and which Syria violated one year later–would actually hold, he waffled out of this first approach to dealing with the Assad regime.

Now, having promised that the U.S. would not put boots on the ground and would only use air power in Syria, the Administration has decided to dispatch advisers to help the rebel forces fighting Assad and ISIS in Syria. As if this in of itself was not sufficiently complicated, the best anti-regime fighters and anti-ISIS forces appear to be the Kurdish militias which largely are anathema to the other rebel forces.

The really distressing part of the Syrian tragedy is that the Obama Administration continues to fail to offer an intelligent plan of action which it seeks to employ in addressing ISIS, the Assad regime, and Russia’s own mischief-making in Syria. Most analysts understand that policies can change and the Obama Administration is seeking to react to the on-going political, military, and humanitarian crisis in Iran, Iraq, and throughout the region. The difficulty that many have is the lack of forthrightness and clarity from the White House as it legitimately struggles with the war in Syria.

Surely many of the President’s advisers and U.S. intelligence have understood from the beginning that this situation could escalate; without perhaps even knowing in what direction. Strong leadership in the White House would have not only expressed the hope for the best case scenario outcome, but demonstrated an understanding for what other options might be forthcoming. 

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