We no longer have the luxury of forming fledgling democracies. It’s time to embrace the savage.
This past weekend, Iraqi Security Forces began to leak word to Western outlets they were ordered to stand down and not engage militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, lest it jeopardize their lives and the lives of their commanders. Now — by their own admission — this makes the Iraqi Security Force’s political utility exactly useless. The ISF, as the name suggests, are supposed to provide security as a unified force for Iraq. If they choose not to do so on their own volition, because of fear or any other ancillary concern, their utility becomes less and less apparent.
If a partnered force cannot demonstrate utility, it by extension becomes somewhat difficult to demonstrate political utility to the National Command Authority. Therefore, it is imperative malleable partnered forces that exhibit maximum political utility are trained and equipped expeditiously.
The United States is not limited by the contours of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, and Presidents present or future have a range of options under Article II of the Constitution and Titles 10, 22, and 50 of the U.S. Code. It is far past time senior leaders, their staffs, and junior officers come to terms with the political — indeed the geopolitical — nature of the next two decades. Just as the flag and general officers of today did with Desert Storm and Anaconda, today’s generation of officers will predicate their decisions on their experiences and the political climate of the time.
By necessity, this will usually be given greater consideration than direction from higher. That is not to imply or suggest insubordination or a perceived rupture in civil military relations. Instead, it suggests the more politically expedient option—training and equipping the nastiest on the block, not the nicest guys that share our rhetorical values. Even if that means they would ordinarily be rejected from inclusion in the Afghan Local Police, for example. Regardless of their relative moral stature or ambivalence to codes of conduct that are understandably foreign, if they present demonstrable political utility, it makes them the superior partnered force. Nay—the only partnered force. This holds true in Nigeria, Colombia, the Levant, and every other part of the globe the U.S. has interests it can support through a partner force.
I am not arguing professional military advice that senior leaders furnish to the National Command Authority be politicized; rather, I would urge the U.S. Armed Forces to simply acknowledge the application of tools in the furtherance of foreign policy is an inherently political process, time immemorial. Many other professional militaries predate our own and they all struggled internally over the politically expedient versus the strategically and tactically sound. Most are still around and, in the case of what can still colloquially be referred to as the Persian army, they have learned in a disciplined and measured way from their mistakes and incorporated those lessons learned into their force structure and tactics, techniques and procedures to spectacular effect.
Victory takes primacy over all else. As our national security commitments necessitate truly covert action—not faux covert, with everyone winking about remotely piloted aircraft emblazoned with logos and emblems that are unquestionably American—the United States will need to turn to a favored tool of the past to meet the security challenges of the present. Namely, training and equipping—and ultimately embracing—unsavory actors. You can bet on it.
This post was provided by Robert Caruso. The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not reflect those of the Department of Defense or any other organization of the U.S. Government.
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Header Image: Contra soldiers training in the Honduras. (Jason Bleibtrew|Sygma)