By Fred Benson
“Lafayette we hear you calling, Lafayette ‘tis not in vain,
That the tears of France are falling, we would make her smile again.
For a friend in need is a friend indeed, do not think we shall ever forget,
Lafayette, we hear you calling, and we are coming, Lafayette.”
Those words are part of one of the more famous war songs ever produced, a song which played a major role in garnering U.S. support for entering WWI. Written in March, 1918, by Mary Earl, “Lafayette We Hear You Calling” encouraged the repayment of a long-standing debt to a man and a country we believed contributed greatly to the creation of the United States.
Now, with the terrorist attacks on Paris, once again France has requested American assistance in waging war. On this occasion, it was French President François Hollande appealing to President Obama to form a strengthened coalition to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Hollande’s appeal fell on a sympathetic ear, and our president responded that the Paris attacks were “by extension an attack on the world itself.” While there was a general agreement for both nations to work more closely together, Obama did not agree to coordinate U.S. bombing efforts with Russia unless Putin was willing to confine his raids to ISIS targets. Further, neither president believed that deploying large combat units in Syria was an appropriate response at this time.
The Paris attacks have triggered opposing and equally questionable responses in the United States. From Republican presidential candidates, there rang out a chorus of non-specific retaliation, with Donald Trump leading the pack, suggesting that we simply “bomb the (expletive deleted) out of ISIS.” Others advocated that the United States pull out of the region and leave it to the most directly involved countries to sort out the underlying Shia-Sunni conflict on their own.
Two comments: first, no war can be won by bombing alone. Second, the Paris attacks and the downing of a Russian airliner have indicated clearly that ISIS presents a growing threat to the security of the United States.
Destroying this terrorist infestation will require a tightly linked, broad coalition of nations devoted to a multi-faceted strategy of military and diplomatic action. The U.S. cannot – and should not – attempt to go it alone.
For the moment, Obama insists that we are making progress in the fight with ISIS and that no major changes are required. A recent poll, however, disclosed that two-thirds of Americans find themselves living with an unsettling concern for their physical safety coupled with dissatisfaction that there is no clearly defined strategy in place to deal with ISIS. Some congressional members of the president’s own party have registered the same concerns.
Hollande’s current attempt to forge a broadened military and diplomatic coalition includes meetings not just with Obama but with the leaders of Britain, Germany, China and Russia. Should such a strategic union come to be, what might it look like?
Coalition building: France would force a vote to invoke article 5 of the NATO treaty, which obligates member nations to defend others under attack.
Bloodshed in Syria: A parallel effort would include a diplomatic approach to ending the civil war in Syria. The U.S., our European partners, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Russia would be involved. Russia would agree to target ISIS exclusively, and the U.S. would accept a transition plan for Assad to leave office.
Muslim involvement: Muslim nations would be pressured to close down facilities where jihadist training takes place and to condemn more forcefully the radical extremists who taint their faith.
Bombing: The U.S., Russia, France, Britain and Turkey would immediately open all relevant intelligence channels so that rapid target acquisition and close mission coordination is possible. Significant numbers of forward observers and soldiers to protect them would be committed to the effort.
Boots on the ground: there would be no commitment of large U.S. ground forces. That restriction would not, however, preclude the deployment of more U.S. special operations units to support other nations’ efforts to defeat ISIS on the ground, where our unique capabilities and training could make a difference.
Finances: members of this new military/diplomatic coalition would work to identify and close avenues of funding for ISIS. Aggressive destruction of oil facilities and delivery vehicles would be placed higher on the bombing priority list.
Immigration: The current provision allowing citizens of several countries to travel to the United States without visas would be set aside until that policy can be thoroughly reviewed. For all immigrants, strict adherence to current vetting practices would be demanded.
Life goes on: Our leaders would not sugarcoat the potential threat to the United States. There could well be malignant terrorist cells in our country now. The possibility of a self-radicalized dissident with a gun creating havoc in any number of populated venues is real. But to give in to fear is to surrender. Our police, state and federal officials are doing everything possible to identify and prevent potential attacks and to be prepared to respond if they occur. We would trust them, support them and live our lives to the fullest.
Poursuivre, Monsieur Hollande!
Fred Benson is a resident of Mount Desert and publishes Capitol Commentary, an independent political newsletter. firstname.lastname@example.org