Are 50 troops committed to the Syrian and ISIL conflicts a “slippery slope?” Are we returning to a war footing in the region? Is 50 too small a number to accomplish the mission? Is it all a game of “gotcha” over troop withdrawals?
I suspect a large part of it is “gotcha” but the other two possibilities are “known unknowns” for either side. One thing is known about combat involvement; there is no return to the status quo ante, absent abandonment, a total “reset.” We abandoned South Vietnam and now have constructive relations with the whole of Vietnam. The ideology behind the 9/11 attacks has roots in numbers of people in the Middle-East. The roots will grow if we just leave and “reset.” “Abandonment” is not an option.
The Middle-East is our “tar baby”* (That is not a racial slur although may now be if used about Muslims.) It is a condition from which we cannot escape. If complete withdrawal is not possible, we are there in some sense for self-defense. No matter how we move, toward more or fewer troops, our problems become “stickier.”
Criticisms of “improvisation” in current conditions mistake our options. No one knows what to do in this fluid situation. “Not again” or “too little” aren’t strategies.
What helps one country or group conflicts with the interests of others. Our interests are in conflict because many are allied, formally or informally to us. There is no “Middle-East” except on the map.
“Improvisation” is all we can do. It means taking each situation, group’s, ally’s, or enemy’s action into account before acting. Since when is that bad advice?
No one is going to “destroy ISIL” as long as it promotes an appealing ideology for some number of people.
No Middle-East focus will win our open-ended “war on terror.” We have domestic “terrorists” who probably couldn’t find the Middle-East on a map.
Assad’s leaving office guarantees nothing better. (Note our Iraq experience with Maliki or Egypt’s with its general.)
Putin pursues Russian interests in the Levant dating back centuries as we should know (but mostly don’t).
Notice I make no mention of our ally Israel. It is not unimportant, but we have made ourselves central in Middle-East conflict. We’d be there if there were no Israel.
In sum, we have hold of a “tar baby” and we are likely to be stuck with every action we take making things worse.
“Improvisation” is the best “strategy” available. Get over it!
Interesting history of the term “tar baby” here: