On Point: Gradual Escalation: A Vietnam Shadow Falls on Obama's Iraq

by Austin Bay
May 10, 2016

The emerging policy shaping the Obama Administration's slow war against ISIS stirs very bad memories for the U.S. military -- Vietnam memories.

That policy is "gradual escalation." The Obama Administration does not use the term, but that is what we witness.

Gradual escalation proved to be the strategic curse of the Johnson Administration, an error in judgment that, at the time in late 1964, looked so reasonable -- and convenient -- to President Lyndon Baines Johnson. He envisioned leaving America with a transformative legacy, a victory in The War on Poverty.

I don't expect the White House press corps to give this Obama Iraq-Vietnam LBJ comparison more than passing notice. Despite a year of gradually expanding U.S. military engagement in Iraq, it has failed to do more than that. This failure reveals one of the biggest strategic weaknesses in the U.S. system: a biased media.

Here's some backup for my assertion: Apparently not a single member of the White House press corps is a registered Republican. Politico reported in April that 60 percent of White House reporters have no registered party affiliation, but a quarter are registered Democrats. Not a single one is a registered Republican. You'd think at least one maverick would be a public Republican, but no, nada.

Intelligence agencies would call this an indication of behavioral susceptibilities.

The Obama Administration knows the national media will serve as a spin chamber to favor Democrats, even to the point of obscuring serious national security issues.

Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications, Ben Rhodes, recently gave the New York Times a gloating report on his sophisticated information warfare victory over the White House press corps and the national media (the press "blob" as Rhodes called it). Rhodes all but admits to lying about the Iran nuclear deal. He used "handpicked Beltway insiders" to "retail the administration's narrative."

One strand of the narrative was: it's either Obama's treaty or nuclear war.

Baloney, Mr. Rhodes. Your choice was stage drama, not state craft. At least a dozen other alternative policies exist that could have denied Iran's theocratic dictators nuclear weapons. The most promising involve utilize coercive diplomacy backed by military power.

But try and detail a policy requiring complex operations sustained by persevering leadership to a press corps spin drunk on giving Obama an arms control legacy. That -- the legacy `-- was the denouement of Rhodes melodrama. Remember, in 2008, candidate Barack Obama promised Iran unconditional negotiations. He sure delivered.

With every passing week, the Pentagon announces -- sotto voce -- a troop increase in Iraq. We also learn, indirectly, that more U.S. military personnel are operating in Syria. Syrian deployments consist of special operations troops (likely U.S. Army Green Berets) acting as advisers in "limited roles."

It is very difficult to determine the exact number of U.S. combat troops currently in Iraq. Yes, I wrote that correctly, combat troops. The Pentagon says around 3,600. But in February, a U.S. military spokesman in Iraq admitted "it's fair to say" on a daily basis the number exceeded 4,000.

I'll wager it's over 5,000, on a 24/7 basis, given the operations involved.

On May 4, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told Iraqi leaders the U.S. would deploy attack helicopters to Iraq to support the attack on Mosul. More Marines will deploy.

U.S. Marine units have already suffered casualties in engagements with ISIS combatants near Mosul. Yet the White House insists that the U.S. has "no boots on the ground," an echo of the Wizard of Oz ordering Dorothy to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

In Fall 2011, we had Iraq won. Joe Biden touted Iraq as an Obama Administration success. Former CENTCOM commander General Lloyd Austin wanted to keep a residual U.S. force of 23,000 in Iraq , a "presence" to reassure Iraqis and deter Iranian finagling. He also indicated that 10,000 to 15,000 might suffice.

When will Obama's gradual escalation exceed 10,000?

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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