The recent US military involvements in the broader Middle East conflicts have one thing in common – it’s easy to get in but almost impossible to get out. This assertion is easily confirmed if one has a look at the recent history.
The planned partial withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is suspended. President Obama has changed his mind to have the forces out of the country till 2017. According to the plans recently announced, a residual force of 9,800 troops would remain. This presence may be increased as fighting intensifies. The conflict has been continuing for over 15 years with no solutions found and no gains to brag about. The future of the Afghan government is uncertain, especially if foreign forces leave the country. The Taliban is as strong as ever as the Afghan forces are engaged in fierce fighting in the strategically important northern city of Kunduz.
The US withdrew from Iraq in December 2011 but the involvement was not over. In June, 2014, President Obama ordered approximately 300 military personnel back to the country as a response to Islamic State (IS) advance. Since then, there has been slow-but-steady increase in American troops on the ground. The number grew to about 5 thousand, including troops on temporary assignment, as the United States and Iraq prepare to take Mosul back from IS militants.
The US is sending more trainers, as well as eight AH-64 helicopter gunships and rocket systems to Iraq to get ready for the showdown. After an eight-year occupation that killed 4,491 American troops and cost an estimated $2 trillion, US military are still involved in the battle with no end of hostilities in sight. The result of the effort – Iraq is a very much divided and unstable country with a huge part of its territory outside of its control.
There had been another conflict before the big wars in Afghanistan and Iraq the US got involved in militarily and failed.
This week marked the 23d anniversary of the Battle of Mogadishu (Oct.3-4, 1993), the deadliest firefight US forces faced since Vietnam. A special operations team was sent into the Somalian capital to arrest two top lieutenants of the warlord Mohammed Aidid, who controlled the city. The soldiers got into an ambush. In the ensuing battle 18 Americans and two troops from the supporting UN force were dead and 73 injured with two Black Hawk helicopters brought down. The incident ultimately pushed the United States out of Somalia.
Those days, President Bill Clinton said something his wife, the current Democratic presidential runner, should not forget while she calls for more aggressive military involvement abroad, especially in Syria. According to then president, it was a mistake for the United States to play the role of police officer in Somalia. And he announced a six-month plan to remove US troops from the country. The incident also had an impact on extremists, who could take advantage of the withdrawal. The lawlessness that followed the American exit created a safe haven for extremist groups and a recruiting ground for terrorist groups.
Now the US military is gradually coming back there. The drone missions flown from bases in Ethiopia and Djibouti, as well as from ships at sea are becoming routine in Somalia. Special Forces operations (SOF) are also on the rise. With Somalia’s presidential and legislative elections coming up later in 2016, many more American military could be sent to Somalia.
In 2011, the Obama’s intervention in Libya was an utter debacle, Libya has not only failed to evolve into a democracy; it has devolved into a failed state. Today the US is getting deeply involved in the conflict.
In addition to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, yet another military intervention is in shambles: the US drone war against al Qaeda’s most potent regional affiliate – al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen – is going awry.
The US-assisted Saudi intervention has not only not halted the Houthi offensive on the ground, but has increased chaos and suffering in the country.
All the examples mentioned above demonstrate how easy it is to launch an intervention with no prospects for putting an end to it. It’s like Hotel California by the Eagles – «You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave!» With money spent, human and material losses suffered and international standing undermined, the US gets involved in the conflicts without strictly defined goals, definite plans of actions, no prospects for creating proper conditions for stability and no explanations how those faraway wars are related to US national security and interests of common Americans. No US military intervention has produced something resembling a stable democracy. There's not a single success story but the lessons seem to be unlearned.
Today, the US administration is considering options offered by its «Plan B» in Syria, including the establishment of «no-fly» and «safe» zones, striking Syrian government forces and supplying rebels – the people the US government does know anything about – with weapons paid for by America’s taxpayers.
The administration is ready to give a green light to partners in the region, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, to provide the rebels with US-made weapons unilaterally. The United States already has SOF teams operating on the ground.
It brings up a number of questions. Is it worth to do all these things and to push the relations with Russia to the brink of military confrontation? Is it worth to implement Plan B and get entangled in the quagmire of never ending conflict that cannot be solved without an international effort with all pertinent actors involved? Is it worth to launch an intervention that can create a number of problems for the United States, including a rise in anti-American sentiment, diminished American credibility if the mission fails (and it, probably, will), domestic discontent at the time of presidential election?
The involvement will intensify smaller countries’ fears of US hegemonic intentions. Militarily, the United States is ill-suited to reach success in a conflict, in which warring forces rely on guerrilla warfare, street fighting, and other tactics that are not met by America's high-tech war machine. Why get mired in a conflict that does not represent an intrinsic threat to America's national security? A lot of US escalating debt for military expenditures is attributable to the Middle East.
Even if the military operations there were achieving their objectives — which they are not — they are fiscally unsustainable in the long term. The activities according to «Plan B» will benefit Islamic State as there will be nothing like a united front against it. Why do it again and again, if so far all US military interventions in the greater Middle East have been both unproductive and counterproductive?
The suspension of the Russia-US agreement on Syria is a sad thing but it’s not a reason for a military intervention with unpredictable consequences. If the «Plan B» is implemented, there will be no return to diplomacy and international crisis management efforts.
The suspension is not the end. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the situation in Syria in a telephone call on October 5; just two days after Washington said it was breaking off bilateral diplomacy with Moscow on the situation in Syria. «What we talked about the other day was bilateral engagement with regard to Syria», State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a briefing. «That remains suspended, but it certainly doesn't preclude the… secretary of state and Foreign Minister Lavrov from talking».
Multilateral diplomacy in conjunction with other countries that belong to the International Syria Support Group is not suspended. There is a venue for a dialogue between the actors involved in the conflict facing the common enemy – Islamic State and other terrorist groups. It’s up to the US to choose: Plan B or further crisis management efforts.