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“WE HAVE NO SKIN IN THIS GAME”
by “Old Frank,” ©2019
(Oct. 18, 2019) — Editor’s Note: On Friday morning, an acquaintance of the author, “Old Frank,” contacted him in regard to an article published Thursday in The New York Times titled, “Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President” by Adm. William H. McRaven, USN (Ret). In response to McRaven’s contention that “our future may be in peril” under President Trump’s leadership and specifically, his decision to withdraw the remaining U.S. Special Forces from northeastern Syria, the acquaintance wrote, “I recall you writing once,’Trump is vulgar, but he has the right instincts.’ Is that enough to run the USA?”
Old Frank, who retired from the U.S. Army at the rank of O-6 as a full colonel, “with the eagle, not a silver leaf,” responded to his friend as follows:
Our special forces are the best of our best. Every one of them took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and to obey the president and the officers appointed over him/her. I took and administered that oath many times, both as an enlisted man and as an officer and upon making regular officer, and every time I reenlisted one of my men. We all understood that our military is under civilian control. We might have liked some presidents and some secretaries of defense better than others, but duty, honor, and country meant commitment to civilian control – as required by our constitution and our solemn oaths. The special forces are unique. To do their job effectively, they must work closely with the good guys in the countries our civilian leadership has decided to defend – sometimes by treaty, other times by “choice.” Working closely means forming personal, very human relationships which are difficult to give up.
Our constitution gives the Congress the responsibility to declare war, to fund the costs and to sustain our military. But the president, under the War Powers Act, can declare an emergency and move troops into harm’s way prior to getting the Congress to declare war. Trump is crass. His oral communications often lack polish, but his instincts are very good. He loves America and saw it being misled and misused by an enormous complex of professional freebooters and outright thieves in bloated bureaucracies that were largely unaccountable to us citizen-taxpayers. Among his campaign promises was to “drain the swamp” and to cease our involvement in endless wars where America has no vital interests or is not directly threatened. Of course, America has allies and we would and have defended their interests, too – when required.
“Betrayal” is not new. The Democrat Congress in the mid-70s betrayed our valiant South Vietnamese allies by absolutely denying any resupply – as promised in our treaty obligations – leaving them at the mercy of the Communist Bloc-funded and equipped forces of the North. The Aussies, the South Koreans, the New Zealanders, and of course the ARVN fought bravely with us in ‘Nam. Our NATO “allies” for their part, proudly encouraged and mollycoddled cowardly deserters from the US military. The communist threat was real and the fight to keep the Free World free was worth the effort and expense. And to allow South Asia to be bludgeoned into joining the ranks of Red China and the USSR, and the Warsaw Pact states and even parts of the Americas, would have been a terrible mistake and the American people understood that threat and supported our “hot” wars in Korea and SEA within the context of the protracted Cold War.
America (and American blood and gold) pretty-much carried this burden on its own. During my 30+ years as a direct part of all of this, I served under some very good presidents who were well-loved by most, and some not-so-good ones who made decisions that I didn’t care for, but I understood – as did all of my mates – that we were just to shut up and follow orders.
The American public decided in 2016 that they had had enough of the old “soft-on-communism” Democrats in new clothes and of military interventionism abroad. Almost daily here, one sees on TV remarkable stories of courage by young citizen soldiers of all races and both sexes, making nearly impossible recoveries from terrible wounds that cost them limbs, eyesight, hearing and such that would cripple both body and spirit of lesser men and women. The Mullahs in Iran were proud providers of ever-more-powerful IEDs to blow apart armored vehicles and the folks in them throughout the sterile and near worthless Middle East, whose only interest to the West is its rich and easily recoverable, abundant supply of oil. It also has an abundant supply of uneducated and untrainable so-called “refugees” that that region is exporting by the millions to Europe and beyond – they are even walking across our southern border with Mexico, pretending to be from Latin America. These folks bring with them a pernicious belief system that claims its superiority over all of us and insists that their beliefs be accepted by us as a holy religion, even as its “holy” books not only condone, but command its adherents to murder “non-believers” – especially Jews — who had made the “terrible mistake” of having chosen the wrong womb from which to exit.
The Muslims are NOT at peace with one another and never have been. And even before Mohammed, there were tribes and hatred and vendettas and thieves and rapists and slaveholders. Over the past two millennia, little has changed, despite the massive wealth that came from the exploitation of oil – the lifeblood of the world’s economy.
Back to Trump and the pullout. Syria was a dictatorship, and Muslim dictatorships are no nicer than any other kind. There was cruelty aplenty, and there were scores to be settled, but Syria was relatively peaceful. It escaped the Iraq war by playing sort-of “neutral,” although its citizens were permitted to join the fight against the Americans who were ridding their Iraqi neighbor of its dictator – a guy who proudly (and convincingly) claimed to possess weapons of mass destruction and who had actually used poison gas on his Kurdish subjects. As the slog in the sand dragged on, Americans wanted a way out and changed parties in 2008.
Obama, at first, was enthralled by the Assad government but later soured on Syria especially when Syria’s neighbors decided that his Allawite Sect government had to go. The Russians had made deals with the Assad regime and got an airfield and water port and access – they wanted to protect those at all costs. Turkey’s Erdogan has a swelled head and self-assumed the role of protector and purism-enforcer of Sunni Islam and used elections to become a virtual dictator, if not quite yet a “Sultan.” And the Turks and Kurds have been at each-other’s throats for half a century and longer. The Iranian Mullahs have dreams of restoring the Persian Empire – but under Shia Muslim management — and seek to extend their influence and destroy the “Great Satan” and the plain old “Satan’ – the USA and Israel — using nuclear weapons and/or threats as soon as they can cheat and lie their way to obtaining them – aided by the insane “Joint Agreement” concocted by the worst president in American history – Obama — and sold to our European allies as some sort of “good deal?” The Iranians used the billions in cold cash (US currency!) to pay their surrogates in Lebanon, which they now control, and to make mischief against Sunni Muslims on the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen, et al).
The Kurds (PKK) killed US servicemen in Turkey since the 1950s – I know, I was there in the ’60s and back again, part-time, and in the ’70s, too. They are seeking a homeland of their own and wish to extend the one they were able to carve out of Northern Iraq.
So now the BIG question for Admiral McRaven – a courageous man whom I admire greatly – is, “If our small force stayed in the cauldron of chaos that once was Syria, what would be our mission?” What would be the rules of engagement? (ROE) Whom could we fire upon, and under what circumstances? Is our small presence to be a “blocking force?” Precisely how, and with what weaponry? How many men do we need? Where will their resupply come from? Where are the safe havens? Best of all, what is our mission and WHO IS THE ENEMY? What is victory? When does this “commitment” end? How? And – if I were in command of these troops, what would my orders be? How do I explain it?
Look, the Turks want to punish the Kurds for the 60,000 of their countrymen who have lost their lives over the years in attacks by Kurds in Turkey. The Kurds helped us rid the area of ISIS, but are we to fire upon our NATO allies’ forces to protect the Kurds? What if the Russians interfere? How about the Mullahs? What about remnants of Assad’s forces? ISIS?
Finally, one thing I learned in my years in the Pentagon with the Air Staff and later as a Division Chief in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is that even on humanitarian missions – such as Mogadishu – American servicemen who deliver life-saving materials in conjunction with State Department and international aid organizations are prized TARGETS of local troublemakers — an American soldier’s scalp on their wall means they are “heroes” among their own kind, even if, as was usually the case, our guys were not in the fight and even unarmed and murdered in ambush. I would hate to see our best and most worthy fall prey to such treachery. A small force, with no mission, whose hands are tied by impossible rules of engagement, is an invitation for body bags and sad ceremonies at Dover Air Force Base where the coffins of our dead arrive.
Trump’s instincts are spot-on. This is the time to withdraw. We have no skin in this game, and no dog in the fight.
Your Old Friend, Frank