GOP’s Scott Walker: Pitches possible Syria War to make us Like Him

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Likely Republican presidential candidate, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, says he might favor sending US ground troops to mount a conventional war against Daesh (ISIL or ISIS) in Syria or at least wouldn’t rule it out.

Let’s see. The Bush administration invaded Iraq in 2003 on false pretenses of protecting Americans from a dire threat in the Middle East. Over 100,000 US troops were stationed in that country for 8 1/2 years and the US more or less ran that country during that period. Yet the US only succeeded in fomenting civil war and creating al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which morphed into ISIL or Daesh and then took over eastern Syria and north and western Iraq.

That is, a US military conquest in the Middle East left the region substantially more insecure and threatening to world order than it was beforehand. The US military does not for the most part know Arabic. They don’t know how to rule countries like Iraq or Syria and have no business, in international law, rampaging around invading them. The US was mostly clueless in Iraq and seldom controlled more than the land on which US troops actually stood. The 2006-2007 Sunni-Shiite civil war, which left tens of thousands dead and millions (yes) displaced and homeless, many to this day, was fought under the nose of 180,000 US troops. In many instances Iraqi political and militia leaders manipulated the US military into helping them disarm enemies (‘ those terrorists over there!’) and so aid the ethnic cleansing campaigns. The US military was helpless before the back-alley reprisals and faction-fighting.

Americans developed a myth that a temporary, minor troop escalation of 30,000 and some counter-insurgency measures worked to tamp down the violence. It is always all about us. But in fact, the ethnic cleansing of mixed neighborhoods just eventually ran out of steam. Shiite militias ran out of Sunnis to kill once most of them had fled the neighborhood for west Baghdad, Mosul or Syria and Jordan.

There is no prospect whatsoever that US ground troops could make the slightest difference to Syria’s civil war. And in fact, Daesh would gain enormous prestige by taking on the troops of the superpower on its own terrain. It would snipe them, set roadside bombs, ambush them, and capture, torture and humiliate them. And the resulting publicity (at which Daesh is very good) would attract fighters to their cause. Many Syrian rebels would rally around the newly anti-imperialist caliphate, and angry young men would flock there to take the Marines down a peg. We have seen this picture before, and have over 4,000 dead soldiers and some 30,000 more significantly injured to show for it. What we don’t have to show for it is a success in Iraq, and nor would we in Syria.

The US infantry is a blunt instrument. It can win against another conventional army. But it has seldom had much success in colonial guerrilla wars (and indeed no one has– the French lost Algeria and Vietnam, the British lost Kenya and India, the Italians lost Libya and Eritrea, etc., etc.) In an age of C4 plastic explosives, Manpads, TOW missiles, RPGs, etc., nationalist guerrillas given refuge by local populations can always take an unacceptable toll on a democratic government that undertakes a neocolonial adventure.

What is shocking is that the GOP hopefuls think that a ground war in Syria is an attractive campaign promise, the 21st century equivalent of a chicken in every pot. What will you and I gain from a Syria war launched by the leader of Wisconsin? What did we gain from the Iraq War? The latter impoverished us and made us less secure. We have a $6 trillion bill for Iraq (I thought these GOP types were fiscal conservatives who can’t find money for food stamps for half-starved American orphans; but magic, they suddenly have a $6 trillion war chest they intend to take from us in the form of taxes and curtailed services).

No doubt there are munitions firms and military sub-contractors who will make out like bandits from another war. And they are who Walker really represents (he is a notorious Koch brothers stooge). But is the American electorate really so clueless or chickenshit to fall for this nonsense yet again?


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31 Responses

  1. Hmm. Is that final sentence a purely rhetorical question? (There IS yet another Bush dynast seeking the presidency, after all. Another stooge.)

  2. Either I am misreading the American public or Walker and the other war chicken hawks in the republican party are misreading the American public and I think I may be more correct than the clown car guys.

    I just can not see the American public being at all happy with any more war draining the country of wealth and blood.

    Then there is the whole manpower (AKA cannon fodder) problem. Due to sequester and the “end” of the Iraq and Afghan wars, the number of humans in the US military has decreased. So where are we going to get the cannon fodder unless we start a draft. Even if we use mostly contractors (mercenaries) and we pay them a lot, the numbers available are actually quite small both because of the cost and the number that are willing to take the huge, well known risk. Not only were a lot of US military killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but so were a lot of “contractors.”

    On top of the cannon fodder problem there is the whole “we can’t want it more than the locals” problem. If the locals are not willing to focus on defeating ISIL, then there is nothing the USA can add.

    I have spent more time in combat zones than I have ever wanted to, but I suspect that Walker has never been to war and has no concept about what real war is like. I suspect that people that had to keep themselves alive for an extended period of time in a war zone are much less willing to start a war.

    • I pay attention to people who say “I have spent more time in combat zones than I have ever wanted to…”

      However I had a wise friend who told me in 2002 that the US would never go to war again (Iraq) because the first Iraq war was so expensive and stupid that Americans would finally recognize America could not afford more. He was wrong. Never underestimate the America’s capability for stupidity, greed, and self-defeating patriotism.

    • Spyguy,
      I have not spent any time in what was at the time a recognized combat zone. I respect that you have.
      But I think you misstate the situation, circumstances and results with regard to “quasi-military armed forces” in Iraq.
      I believe, without evidence to back it up, that there were relatively few Mercenary deaths in Iraq.
      I believe, again without data to back myself up, that Mercenaries (ground forces) inflicted far more casualties on innocent Iraqi civilians than uniformed military ground forces.
      And I don’t just mean proportionally more. For example, I looked at the activities of Zapata Engineering, a firm hired by the US Army Corps of Engineers to collect and destroy “Captured Enemy Munitions.” I believe these “engineers” killed between 180,000 to 200,000 civilians all by themselves. They certainly depopulated dozens, if not hundreds, of communities.
      My concern about this prompted me to propose to the US State Department to organize a study of deaths, injuries and property damage, with locals collecting and analyzing the data. State declined the offer.
      I wanted to show that uniformed military, under the control of NCO’s and officers, were far less of a threat to local civilians than Mercenaries. Some day, when the US Government is able to recognize the horror we wrongfully inflicted on Iraq, maybe my vision will be fulfilled.
      DAESH was created by Mercenaries.
      And I believe the Corps of Engineers bears even more responsibility than the US Army Military Policemen who sodomized Kalif al-Baghdadi and his lieutenants with their riot batons.
      War has a way of turning ordinary men into monsters.

      • First,
        that’s not my picture.

        I advertised for people to help me on contracts that I bid on to perform non-combatant services in Iraq during the occupation. That was back in 2004 – 2008.
        I am still getting CV’s from folks offering their services as PSD (personal security detail.)
        I don’t believe there is any shortage of people who are willing to serve as Mercenaries.

      • Some day, when the US Government is able to recognize the horror we wrongfully inflicted on Iraq,…

        As the old saw would put it, don’t hold your breath on that one.

  3. Is the American electorate really so clueless or chickenshit to fall for this nonsense yet again ?

    I think I know the answer.
    To them, war is, in many ways, like a professional football game.
    That electorate has just as much at stake in a war of choice as the Super Bowl. Bragging rights, and nothing more.

  4. I would have liked for Martha Raddatz to ask Walker by what authority he would send American troops to fight in Syria, a country that still has a functioning government. She is getting praise from some quarters for at least asking him to expand on his vague platitudes. But more followup was needed to get a real sense of what he is thinking.

    Of course, he is not thinking. He’s just making sounds that he thinks will resonate with GOP caucus-goers in Iowa.

  5. American Sniper is the highest grossing war movie of all time passing Saving Private Ryan last weekend. The public’s amazing reaction to this movie indicate Americans have put the war in Iraq behind them. The same thing happened after the Vietnam war. Antiwar movements in this country are only temporary.

    For the past few months ISIS has been played up by the politicians and media as the new and greatest threat to the national security of the HOMELAND. Americans look at ISIS like they did Saddam Hussein after 9/11. Many Americans see war as the best option. It’s a chicken or egg question.

    • “The public’s amazing reaction to this movie………..”

      “Patton”, which largely glorified the late general, was released in 1970 during the height of the Vietnam War and won an Oscar as well as being a box office hit. It inspired President Nixon to launch a tank invasion into Cambodia on April 30, 1970.

      Americans largely respect and admire their military servicemen no matter how controversial they may be.

  6. omid safi

    So sad to have a governor who never finished college deciding fate of American higher ed, & opining on complicated foreign affairs.

    • U.S. Secretary of State James Byrnes, who served in 1945-47 under Pres. Truman, dropped out of school at age 14 and never went further.

      He engineered the U.S. Cold War foreign policy and the rebuilding of post-war industry in Germany. He also previously had been appointed by FDR as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court despite never attending law school.

  7. “What is shocking is that the GOP hopefuls think that a ground war in Syria is an attractive campaign promise, the 21st century equivalent of a chicken in every pot. What will you and I gain from a Syria war launched by the leader of Wisconsin? What did we gain from the Iraq War?”

    Um, no, it is not shocking Juan. You are treating war as though it were a bug and not a feature of the GOP platform (and frankly, can we expect much more from the soon-to-be-coronated Hillary?) At this late date, there are some pretty standard operating procedures on this score: Frighten the hell out of them with the imagined “impending invasion of America du jour” (hey, take your pick, use Commies, Sandanistas, Grenada as the latest fortress around poor little besieged America, Saddam “Mushroom Cloud” Hussein), shovel gobs of money to the virtually unaccountable black-holes that are the Pentagon, CIA, The Auchtung Department (euphemistically called the Department of Homeland Security), enrich creatures in the private sector such as the Aryanesque Eric Prince (aka the Dark Prince of Blackwater alias Xe), give a platform to haters left and right (from Bill Maher to Rush Limbaugh), and release “feel good snuff flicks” (for that is what they are) such as American Sniper (ah, the socio-path with a heart of gold – how cuddly!), and fiercely militarize every aspect of American life (it’s one of the key reasons I’ve come to loathe all sporting events in this country).

    As I said, it is a feature not a bug: in the process resources get shifted on just about everything from cancer research to childhood hunger to investment in new energy technologies. It is our 21st century version of the Dance of Death. It’s not about what is to be gained for us, it is about what is to be gained for the ruling elites in this country and frankly elsewhere. We don’t count or matter. Perpetuation of the military machine through interference throughout the world, which in turn enrages some people who might (and only might) attack us, is, in fact, the intent.

    It is not about what “we” gained from the Iraq War part II, it is about the continuation of GOP and elite power and they use war to maintain it. After the lies of Johnson, of Nixon, of Reagan, of Bush I and II, of Clinton, and the disappointing policies of Obama, honestly where is the emotional space for any sort of “shock”. It is the perfect opportunity to argue we have no money for children, health care, or alternative clean energy sources that might protect our environment. What is truly disappointing is how many young people there are who have now come to adulthood in the obscene atmosphere in this country over the last 40 years – it has spawned creatures such as Walker who love torture and war but hate healthcare.

    As I stated above, Feature, not Bug!

  8. It’s very sad to see U.S. politicians attempting to express their manhood by endangering and killing the well-meaning offspring of others for political gain.

  9. I think Walker is appealing to that segment of the voters that are more comforted by perpetual military punishment of “Islamic Extremists” than by winning or losing wars. And in the Middle East that could be anyone we choose to label as such. No questions asked.

    In the last five months of 2014 US air strikes released almost 6,000 weapons on Daesh targets, and who is clamoring to know if we are winning or losing. The GOP candidates may talk of ultimate victory, but they know that there are lots of voters that will be satisfied with punishment and the notion of 9/11 blood revenge.

    • I think you have hit upon something important about the American mentality. Whereas much of America becomes resigned to eternal punishment as the only way to hold “them” off for another five minutes, for the conservative movement the whole purpose of government is to punish, and nothing more. A government that only wages war on foreign lands, and on miscreants, nonconformists and dissenters at home is their very definition of limited government. Punishment presupposes one has not only power but actual presiding status over the punished, as if ordained by God. Thus the US doesn’t “use its power”, the US “carries out God’s commission”. So no room for soft power, foreign aid, diplomacy, negotiation, compromise, or consensus.

      I first thought about this when right-wingers were screaming about money for “midnight basketball” programs to keep ghetto youth from committing crimes. Their attitude was that if the youth didn’t love obeying the Master Race, the government shouldn’t distract them from attempting crime and then getting their just punishment, a cop’s bullet. It was offensive to them that ghetto kids get bribed instead of punished for having such ungrateful thoughts.

      • At the very least, forcing the Kochs to square their supposed libertarianism with the words of their favorite pet governor would be very educational.

  10. If the plutocratic and political oligarchs behind the curtain can get this empty suit elected they’ll be in seventh heaven and millions of people will be heading towards the gates of hell.

  11. Boots on the ground in Syria? To borrow from Nancy Sinatra, “these boots aren’t made for Walkers” A long history of chickenhawkery. – wondering if he is encouraging his two sons to become infantrymen?

  12. Most of the American people believed that Saddam was responsible for 9/11. They have the memory and attention span of a gnat. Mix this with the bloodthirstiness of ISIS (and radical Muslims in general) and you have the makings of endless wars – all to the delight of military-industrial complex, whic Ike warned as about. We can only hope that somewhere along the way the impoverishment of our society will wake them up!

  13. Daesh put the Jordanian pilot in a cage, doused him with petrol and burned him up. Jordan vowed REVENGE. A few days ago, Japan vowed REVENGE for the Daesh beheadings on their two citizens. Daesh still holds an American woman captured in Syria last year. They could burn her. Invading Iraq after 9/11 was all about American REVENGE. The Republicans know how to play that card.

  14. Since 2001, the US has been at war continually, broken several countries beyond repair, and accomplished little beyond hundreds of thousands of deaths, maimings, and creating thousands of new enemies. Maybe, just maybe, these wars aren’t such a brilliant idea? Not that anyone gets elected in the US saying such things in the face of psychopathic worship of “heroes” like professional assassins (snipers).

    • Can you imagine another country attacking so many countries for no reason and getting away with all its wars? Let’s say Russia conducted all those wars… What would have the US say to blame Russia: war mongering, oil control by war, fight on capitalism, foreigh military base expansion, maintaining a super strong military industrial complex?…

      • We get away with it entirely because Saudi Arabia, China, and Japan offset our deficits by buying US debt. We do not know why they prefer this course of action or what it would take to get them to change it. But they would be playing chicken with us by threatening to stop buying more debt, since the resulting collapse of the US $ would wipe out the value of the debts they already hold.

        The other possibility is that they prefer our hegemony to do the dirty work of keeping the world capitalist for their businessmen. In that case, Saudi appears to be changing its mind by bankrolling jihadi takeovers across the Middle East.

  15. In 2003 the GOP really was demanding war as if it were an economic promise. Iraq seemed a lucrative prize. Now there are no illusions among even cynical Americans that their country can steal any oil in this chaos. Yet the idea that our soldiers can magically solve our country’s long-term, speculative capitalist decline persists. Is it magical thinking, Biblical thinking, or something more ugly? Is the conservative movement preparing to forestall the loss of white majority power by building up the military decade after decade to threaten coups and acquire a veto power over democracy?

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