“It’s deja vu, all over again,” the great Yogi Berra once observed. And the quote would be appropriate nowadays as President Barack Obama announced last week that U.S. troops were on their way to Syria. These 50 soldiers, Obama said, are going in an advisory capacity. These words are what we heard decades ago from another president about advisors going into Vietnam.
According to White House spokesperson Josh Earnest, the U.S. will be deploying fewer than 50 Special Operations forces to the Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria. “The president does expect that they can have an impact in intensifying our strategy for building capacity of local forces inside of Syria for taking the fight on the ground to ISIL in their own country,” he told reporters. “That has been the core element of the military component of our strategy from the beginning: building the capacity of local forces on the ground.”
He further noted that the forces would “not have a combat mission,” though it’s hard to understand the difference between advising and combat.
At the moment there are few details about the operation and use of the troops, and this lack of details is a point of discussion for both Democrats and Republicans.
“This commitment of U.S. forces must come with a coherent strategy to defeat ISIL. Otherwise, we are likely to see the same results in the region,” said Paul Ryan, the newly elected speaker of the House of Representatives and a Wisconsin Republican. “I look forward to reviewing the details of this announcement.”
Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California was even more outspoken about the president’s decision. “Congress must act immediately to repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for military force (AUMFs), which continue to be used as blank checks for endless war,” she said. “It is past time for our elected officials to recognize that there is no military solution to the problems in the region. Only a comprehensive, regionally led strategy that addresses the underlying political, economic, humanitarian and diplomatic challenges can ultimately degrade and dismantle ISIL.”
On both sides of the aisle, elected officials have questioned the timing and utility of such a small contingent of troops, as well as the complexity of the battlefront and the diversity of forces fighting in the region. The president said that he has “been consistent throughout that we are not going to be fighting, like we did in Iraq, with battalions and occupations … That doesn’t solve the problem.”
Said Obama, “Keep in mind that we have run special ops already and really this is just an extension of what we are continuing to do.”
Will history repeat itself with an escalation as in Vietnam? Already we are witnessing a broken promise to bring troops home, not to send them into harm’s way again.