On Wednesday evening President Barack Obama presented his plan to address the growing strength of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The President was under considerable pressure to do something about ISIL. Public opinion polling following the beheadings of two Americans by ISIL indicated growing public support for action. Congressional leaders appear to support the effort.
An additional 475 military personnel will join over 1100 personnel already in Iraq. If the past is any indicator that number will grow. Navy F/A-18 and Air Force F-15 and F-16 aircrews have conducted 154 missions against ISIL thus far. U.S. special-forces are deployed with Iraqi and Kurdish forces to provide intelligence, coordination, and targeting assistance according to press reports.
There is a great divide between the men and women serving in our military and those who make decisions about placing them in harm’s way. The President met with congressional leaders on Tuesday to seek their support for his actions against ISIL. Neither the President nor the congressional leaders are veterans.
The percentage of veterans in Congress has declined over the last several decades from as high as 77% to about 20% today. It is difficult to verify but it is probably safe to say that very few members of Congress have children serving in the military.
Only one half of one percent of the population serves in the military. War seems sterile, far away, and really has had little impact on the daily lives of Americans since the all-volunteer force was implemented in 1973. Even the cost of war is taken off the books and shoveled onto the debt for future generations to pay.
The disconnect from the true costs of war is almost palpable from our leaders, media, and general public. With no personal skin in the game is it easier for the public to call out for action? Do our leaders more readily take up arms because they perceive no personal, economic, or political consequence?
Many will say our troops volunteered and assumed the risk. Yes, that is true. But they deserve and expect that their lives will not be placed at risk arbitrarily and capriciously. They deserve clear goals and objectives. They deserve rules of engagement that do not place them at risk unnecessarily. They deserve equipment of the type they need when they need it. They deserve an operational tempo that will not wear them thin in mind and body and destroy their families. Most of all they deserve a President and Congressional leaders who take time to empathize with them and their families before engaging them in hostility.
When the inevitable mistakes happen and unintended consequences result in the wounding, killing, and capture of our troops in this third excursion to Iraq will our leaders be able to honestly say that the risk was so great and the plan to address it so correct that it was worth risking the life of your son, daughter, husband, or wife? Would they risk their own child?
Take a moment and imagine that your child or grandchild has joined the Armed Forces and called you this morning to tell you they are deploying to Iraq. Are you convinced, based on the President’s speech, that the risk is so great to America, the plan proposed so likely to succeed, and the personal risk to your child or grandchild so mitigated that you are willing to potentially have that child return an amputee or in a body bag. That is the stark reality for many families. But they don’t get to make the decisions.