Did you hear Barack Obama say last week that the U.S. would "not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq"? You may think that precludes U.S. foot troops from potentially leading Kurds and Iraqis in direct combat with Islamic State fighters. Don't think that.
America's top uniformed military officer wants to make clear that now that 1,600-plus U.S. service members are on the ground in Iraq, and aerial bombs are flying, and the stubborn Islamic State isn't giving up much ground to the stubbornly inept Iraqi army, things might escalate a tad:
A day after US warplanes expanded the war south-west of Baghdad, Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate armed services committee that he could see himself recommending the use of some US military forces now in Iraq to embed within Iraqi and Kurdish units to take territory away from Isis.
"If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [Isis] targets, I will recommend that to the president," Dempsey said, preferring the term "close combat advising".
This possibility has been publicly raised by Dempsey because it is likely to happen. Kurdish forces are professional, but small and underequipped. Iraqi forces are a disorganized mess. Both armies will probably need U.S. tactical guidance.
Once U.S. "advisers" embark on combat missions with their counterparts in Iraq, many things may happen. But they fall broadly into two categories. On one hand, U.S.-led forces may rout Islamists. But then, those U.S. led forces will have to return to the pacification, reconciliation, and military-training roles they'd done the first time around in Iraq. So they won't leave, and will in fact probably increase in numbers on the ground as the effort to re-"pacify" Iraq grows.
On the other hand, maybe things will go badly, or friction will happen, as the military strategists say, and one or more of these U.S. advisers will be killed or maimed or captured by the small horde of idiots we now call "enemy." Such a tragedy is likely to escalate, rather than deter, an American ground buildup. Particularly if it's a prisoner situation. The public reaction to videos of killings of American prisoners is largely what set us on the current course.
If you not only hate the Islamic State but want to see something done about it, fine. But there is no way to do something about the Islamic State that really is something, and to avoid involvement a "ground war." And there is no way to predict that war's outcome.
So let's have a conversation we never had seriously or honestly in 2003, a conversation about whether the status quo is really worse than what a ground war, however small, might bring to America and the Middle East. I don't have a definite answer to that question. But I would rather that we ponder it and own the consequences of our national decisions than pretend, as we did with the last Iraq War, that we're all a bunch of easily misled dumbasses who just got hornswoggled by bad intelligence and politicians.
[Photo credit: AP Images]