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Obama has the wrong strategy on Syria

Sports are trivial compared to matters of war and peace, but some parallels apply.

One of which is calling time-outs when opponents seize the momentum. It creates space to regroup and revisit strategies and tactics that will blunt the advances and regain the offensive.

The U.S. could use a breather to regroup and revisit strategies and tactics in its war against radical Islam. No, war is most definitely not a sport. It is a life-and-death struggle for survival, and that's why it is so important to reassess why and how we are losing so badly.



US Marines military
Wakil Kohsar | AFP | Getty Images

The pressing need for a time-out became apparent with the administration's recent pivot to becoming more active in the Syrian conflict by sending boots on the ground and additional quantities and quality of weapons systems into the combat zone.

It should provide an opportunity to pause and reflect before rushing ahead without a clear vision of the intended result. Sending 50 special operations personnel into a conflict with no clear objective can almost be characterized as criminal malfeasance because it is so totally inappropriate and ineffective.

The administration miscalculated nearly every situation in the battle against jihadists, largely because of feel-good politics that say the enemy will become a friend if only we extend a warm embrace. In every case – Yemen, Egypt, Libya and Syria – the U.S. sided with the wrong groups and further destabilized the Middle East and northern Africa.

President Obama failed to support Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising among al-Qaeda-linked rebels. The country has now a plunged into a ravaging civil war fought by Saudi Arabian and Iranian proxies.


He and his advisers allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to remove longtime Egyptian President and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak from power, even inviting members of the terrorist group to sit in the front row of his historic outreach speech to the Muslim world in Cairo.

In Libya, the U.S. trained, funded and supplied weapons to Islamist terror groups with American blood on their hands to depose dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who from 2003 to 2011 sided with the U.S. in the fight against jihadists.

Syria may serve as the most dramatic example of where the U.S. armed and equipped a group that would develop into a JV team — as identified by Obama — to a varsity team, and now a professional team that controls great swaths of land and has established a caliphate in the Middle East.

Current leadership remains impervious to allowing itself to modify whatever it calls its strategy these days. Imagine a sports team taking the court, field or ice on a playbook filled with empty phrases such as "leading from behind" or practicing "strategic patience."

Republicans in Congress are faced with little else other than to minimize the damage that the administration may cause over the final 14 months that it remains in power.

There's no doubt that urgent steps are needed to face the enemy in Syria and Iraq, and that flailing is not a plan.

Let's engage in an informed and legitimate discussion about how best to move forward and recognize that 14 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the world and America are less safe than they were then.

We can find common ground in agreeing that politics have no room in foreign policy. We need to recognize the reality of the threat from radical Islam, that it will be an enduring conflict, that there are no easy decisions and that mistakes have and will be made.


The point is to acquire knowledge and insight from them and apply it to future endeavors.

The least that the administration can do is to reveal its thinking and how it incorporates the lessons learned seven years into the presidency prior to committing more service men and women, weaponry and financial resources into Syria.

Revising strategies and tactics without pausing to reflect on the broader goal will not result in winning because nobody knows what they are doing or how to envision success.

Just as sports teams recognize the potentially game-changing benefit of calling time-outs, failing to do so in matters of warfare is a surefire way to continue losing.


Commentary by Pete Hoekstra, who represented Michigan's second Congressional District from 1993 to 2011 in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is the former chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Follow him on Twitter @petehoekstra.