“All of that stuff in the Mideast is important, who will be president, that’s important. But I’ve got the wrong jacket,” Senator Lindsey Graham announced on CBS News Friday. “We’re not going to fix the world unless I get my jacket back.” He added, “If we get this right, everything else falls into place.”
Now, the “jacket fix” for world affairs was an obvious joke, a moment of levity that hopefully would help the senator from South Carolina recover his Ralph Lauren jacket that accidentally got swapped with another passenger on the shuttle from LaGuardia to DC. Regardless of your politics or any other variables, if you wound up with the senator’s jacket, please get it back to him. It clearly has sentimental value. Returning it to him will earn you indulgences, karma points, or an earmark. Do unto others and all that, folks.
But Graham floated another proposal recently to fix what ails the Middle East. It was not, so far as one could tell, intended as a joke. It was merely a repackaging of one of his longer term initiatives. On Fox News, Graham said that the solution to ISIS would be to “create a regional army, 90 percent from the region, 10 percent us” and march those mixed army boots into the occupied portions of Iraq and Syria. The senator had previously called for 10,000 and then 20,000 American boots on the ground in February, May, July, and November of last year, when he was attempting to run for president, to little effect.
According to most polls, Americans are quite resistant to sending a large ground force back into an area where we recently spent quite enough blood and treasure with meager results, thank you. Now Graham is trying again with his 90-10 proposal. It is not meant as a joke yet should be taken less seriously than the idea that returning his jacket would have world historic implications.
Let’s look at the 90 part of his proposal first, which isn’t crazy but is politically problematic from a bureaucratic American perspective.
There is one Arab army that has made serious inroads against ISIS recently and that is the army of Syria’s Bashar Assad, with the assistance of Russian bombers, by going directly against American wishes. Meanwhile, the U.S. government’s armed proxies in Syria have mostly gone to war with one another rather than take on ISIS.
Other regional armies that might take down ISIS include forces from Jordan or the United Arab Emirates, which had been bombing ISIS in Iraq right alongside U.S. bombers. Egypt has a sizeable army, paid for in no small part by the U.S. taxpayer, with no love for renegade jihadis. Saudi Arabia was the third biggest military spender in the world last year behind only America and China, according to figures gathered by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. A country ought to be able to scratch up an invading force with that kind of Riyal. And right next door to the Arab world is Iran…
OK, that may be going a bit far, but the bottom line is the usual religious and political divisions that keep Arab armies from marching simply do not apply to ISIS. Its existence is a direct threat to all of the governments in the region, Sunni or Shia, democrats or autocrats, more secular or more piously Muslim. They all see ISIS as a threat and want it ended.
If there is a ground force to topple ISIS, Graham wants it to be 10 percent American. Why? Because the locals aren’t up to it? Because that way we could impose another political solution in Iraq, when the last one didn’t work out so well? Because it’s inconceivable that good could come to the Middle East without a major push by American forces?
Here is my counter-proposal: let them. It wouldn’t be easy but if local nations muster up their courage to the sticking-point, if they team up and march in the armies to send the neighborhood bully packing, America can and should help with deadly drone strikes and intelligence and the like. Yet our chief job in that case ought to be to say, in diplomaticspeak, “Well done, guys! We’ll be backing off a bit, now that you’ve got things well in hand.”