Just over a week into his administration, President Donald Trump issued an executive order giving Defense Secretary James Mattis 30 days to come up with a plan to defeat ISIS. According to the order, the plan should make recommendations on military actions, diplomatic actions, partners, strategies and how to pay for the operation.
As we approach Trump’s deadline, it looks like the military is going to present him with a plan to do a whole lot more of what we’ve been doing and somehow expect different results.
Proving the old saying that when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail, we are hearing increasing reports that the military will recommend sending thousands of U.S. troops into Syria and Iraq.
This would be a significant escalation in both countries, as currently there are about 5,000 U.S. troops still fighting our 13-year war in Iraq, and some 500 special forces soldiers operating in Syria.
The current Syria cease-fire, brokered without U.S. involvement at the end of 2016, is producing positive results, and the opposing groups are talking with each other under Russian and Iranian sponsorship. Does anyone think sending thousands of U.S. troops into a situation that is already being resolved without us is a good idea?
In language reminiscent of his plans to build a wall on the Mexican border, Trump told a political rally in Florida over the weekend that he was going to set up “safe zones” in Syria and would make the gulf states pay for them. There are several problems with this plan.
First, any “safe zone” set up inside Syria, especially if protected by U.S. troops, would amount to a massive U.S. invasion of the country, unless President Bashar al-Assad approves them. Does Trump want to begin his presidency with an illegal invasion of a sovereign country?
Second, there is the little problem of the Russians, who are partners with the Assad government in its efforts to rid the country of ISIS and al-Qaeda. ISIS is already losing territory on a daily basis. Is Trump willing to risk a military escalation with Russia to protect armed regime-change forces in Syria?
Third, the gulf states are the major backers of al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria — as Trump’s own recently resigned national security adviser, Michael Flynn, revealed in a 2015 interview. Unless these safe zones are being set up to keep al-Qaeda and ISIS safe, it doesn’t make any sense to involve the gulf states.
Many will say we should not be surprised at these latest moves. As a candidate, Trump vowed to defeat ISIS once and for all.
However, does anyone really believe that continuing the same strategy we have followed for the past 16 years will produce different results this time? If what you are hammering is not a nail, will hammering it harder get it nailed in?
Washington cannot handle the truth: solving the ISIS problem must involve a whole lot less U.S. activity in the Middle East, not a whole lot more.
Until that is understood, we will continue to waste trillions of dollars and untold lives in a losing endeavor.
— Ron Paul is a retired congressman, former presidential candidate, and founder and chairman of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace & Prosperity. Click here to contact him, follow him on Twitter: @RonPaul, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.