Observe, first of all, that there are precedents for Bill O’Reilly’s idea of a mercenary force to engage the Arabs. A private force engaged the Tripolitan pirates during the Barbary wars, and we sent privateers into Central America early in the twentieth century, though no one remembers what exactly they were supposed to do. Neither of these expeditions was strategically successful. However, it can be said they helped mobilize awareness Stateside that, like it or not, there were indeed monsters out there and, notwithstanding the wise words of one of our greatest presidents, it behooved us to seek them out and destroy them.
The Blackwater organization, more lately, has been very good at what it does. However, what Mr. O’R proposed was a force made up of foreign enlistees, not Americans. This can work, judging from past experience, if — as O’Reilly himself says — the force is trained and led by American military officers.
In this respect, then, we are really talking about something as old as warfare, and more recently illustrated by such military organizations as the Ghurkas (Britain), the Senegalese Rifles, and of course the Foreign Legion (France), the Spanish Foreign Legion, and the Magnificent Seven.
Note that size does not necessarily matter. The French Foreign Legion, a major corps, was beaten in Mexico, but the Seven accomplished their mission in the same country. Therein lies a key part of the plan: make sure the force is suited for the mission, and, for that matter, do not undertake impossible or strategically useless missions.
This is not fanciful, if it is not strictly speaking accurate military history. It suggests, however, another illustration of the adage that where there’s a will there’s a way. Which happens to be true.
If our military establishment is the most respected institution of government it is because, with all its problems, it has done the job the people asked of it. It is not likely the American people think this way about any other institution of our government. The only one I can think of is the much maligned post office, or Postal Service.
The question is not whether the service branches can crush and eradicate the caliphate, aka IS, if asked to do so. The question, as in every campaign since World War I, is whether they will be permitted by their civilian masters in the redundant agencies of government to bring the job to conclusion. If you run a newsreel through your mind of missions and expeditions since 1917, you will find yourself astonished: our uniforms and boots were pulled back, again and again, before the enemy was defeated politically as well as militarily.
The major exceptions — and, granted, they were the big ones — are of course the two wars against Germany and the war against Japan. But note: both of these were the centerpieces of world wars, and they were called world wars for good reasons, and we left the peripheral pieces unfinished. The wars were not, in fact, over. Some major un-named enemies, notably Soviet Russia and Red China (its forces not yet in control of the whole country) were still standing and making territorial gains.
We stopped the guns for good reasons, reasons I for one certainly would approve: we had given more than enough of our young men’s blood, to resolve conflicts not of our making, and the hell with these folks. But — alas — the problem with not finishing the job is that it comes back at you.
The issue Mr. O’Reilly raised derives from this historically verifiable given. In the case in question, namely what to do about the aggressive forces of Islam, his suggestion takes on added significance when considering another verifiable historical given: Arab armies have never been defeated. They have been defeated on the battlefield since the Crusades, and repeatedly in the past century, beaten on the battlefield and driven from it and crushed and humiliated. But they come back. They refuse to acknowledge defeat. They vow revenge. They take out their humiliation and lust for revenge on women and children and scribes and doctors and other unarmed individuals, including amongst their own captive peoples.
They do not play by the rules as we understand them. You cannot bring them aboard an aircraft carrier — the great Missouri — and make them sign a peace treaty, and even if you could, they will have no compunction about saying afterward it was a ploy, permissible under their rules.
Combine our democratic reluctance to bring conflicts to definitive and admittedly cruel conclusion with their mental, or if you want religious, refusal to admit it’s over when it’s over, and you have a recipe for endless war. Why not, then, hire others to do the heavy lifting — or even the light lifting. Mr. O’Reilly made it clear he understands this to mean our policy planners in and out of the military would be supervising closely and would be lending a hand (or foot) on the ground as needed.
The situation can evolve, probably will. There are cultural trends in the Arab world that will affect these regions’ dominant mental (and religious) traits. The fact that the Emirates have accepted the principle of women in combat is a case in point: in Arab societies, girls and women have been observed by social scientists (I am not trying to be funny) to be the agents and engines of change. They swear up and down they never, ever, will leave home hearth country tribe clan, and give them one chance to become French American Canadian Australian or even Israeli by showing them a handsome Jewish or Catholic or even Calvinist young buck who has an eye for their luscious black hair and mysterious dark skin and, wham, they want to get a passport and begin classes at the local school and start the arduous haul to getting fighter pilot wings, while working two jobs to get money so they can shop at Macy’s.
This is an observable phenomenon in London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, and other cities, including increasingly American ones. Why in the world should they stay in a place where their own brothers and fathers are prone to beating them up and even killing them for winking at the Jew or the Christian, or even the Muslim boy from the rival clan? Why in the world should they be illiterate mothers of eight when they can be much better mothers (educated) of four?
This is not going to transform the Arab mind overnight or even soon, or in isolation from other factors. It is far from certain the example of the Emirates’ military institution is going to be followed elsewhere in the region, or even that it will ultimately be successful in this somewhat unusual corner of the Arab world. It is nonetheless a hint of what could become the historical “reformation” we are always hearing about in respect to Islam and never seeing. Significantly enough, in many non-Arab Muslim societies in Africa and the Middle East, for example the Kurds, the Berbers, numbers of West African tribal groups, you can observe this phenomenon of female emancipation and its effects.
It is uneven, of course. You will meet a non-Arab sophisticate, who wears Ralph Lauren shirts — maybe even Michael Kors, showing considerable more haberdash knowhow — studied at MIT, runs a successful business, plays tennis passably well, talks English with a flat and clean Nebraska accent, and bam, it turns out his sister or cousin was stoned to death back in some appalling village where the guys never brush their teeth or take the fleas out of their beards and put donkey dung on their hair by way of brilliantine. Her infraction? She lifted her uncle’s cell phone (which the jerk does not know how to use) and called the idiot from U.S. AID who put her at risk by leaving her a nice little present such as a bracelet from Tiffany’s and his phone number when he left the crop rotation project he was pretending to work on.
We can wait. It may happen. And it may not. In the meantime, there are young men out there who need the money and the glory and are itching for a fight with the Arabs, maybe for reasons of personal revenge, maybe for reasons of bigotry — is this our concern? If they can be trained, discipline, led — why not?
How many American lives have we sacrificed to protect us and our civilization from the beasts coming out of the swamps of Afghanistan and Mesopotamia and elsewhere? If there are replacements, what are we waiting for?