Words are an interesting thing. In religion, words bind you to your faith. In law, words bind you to legal commitments. In politics, words are used to invoke emotions to persuade people to follow their political leaders.
Last month, President Obama said the following words "no boots on the ground" to promise no troops would be sent into Iraq. Those words weren't chosen haphazardly. The words were meant to invoke emotions of trust that no more troops would be sent into harms way. The words also made no sense.
After failing to keep their word to the Iraqi people, the White House pulled out the US troops (the only thing keeping stability in a traditionally unstable area) leaving Maliki high and dry. Once ISIS troops entered Iraq, it took away the ability of the White House to keep their "words". Contrary to what the Col Chuck Horner fanboys would have you believe, you can't win wars or conflicts by airpower alone. The only way to stop troops from occupying territory is by having other troops kick them out and taking over that same territory. It is a basic principle of warfare dating back to the most ancient times yet one that modern war planners and politicians pretend is no longer applicable. ISIS put boots on the ground and they only way to stop them is by having different boots on the ground to either push them or at least re-occupy territory ISIS took over.
The troop pull-out in Iraq greatly exacerbated, if not outright created, the situations were ISIS (now the Islamic State or ISIL) saw an opportunity to come in and topple an already unpopular Maliki. In theory, the boots to counter ISIL should belong to the Iraqi Army but they have been unable to handle the job. The US and Maliki have been trying to coax Iran into providing those needed boots on the ground. Iran has an interest in not seeing the separatist movement in Iraq spread, however they are even more interested in not having their military forces involved in a full blown war.
So now if you are the National Security Council and want to keep your options open in Iraq but not contradict the President's words of "no boots on the ground", what do you do? Well you can position nine (9) US Navy warships in the Persian Gulf. The USS George H. W. Bush is on-station accompanied by one cruiser and five destroyers (carrier strike group), the USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44) and the USS Mesa Verde (LPC-19). Now add the USS Bataan (LHD-5) with 1,000 Marines and you see that the White House has many options for striking targets in Iraq without "boots on the ground." (Source: USNI) But nothing is ever easy, especially for this White House.
Having all of that firepower on-station in the Persian Gulf does not mean the White House has a strategy. Republicans as well as Democrats are bemoaning the lack of a strategy for Iraq. The lack of strategy is perhaps why Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has come out on video as the leader of ISIL. He may end-up stopping a Hellfire missile at some point but for now he is leading a very popular movement. His words carry more weight than the President right now. Why do I say that?
The success of ISIL in Iraq has rekindled fears of another al-Qaeda led attack on the United States. In response to this "impending threat", the TSA has instituted a ban on all uncharged mobile devices. The paranoia has gone global. Uncharged mobile devices are now what liquid explosives were just a few years ago. The problem is not with what is perceived as a viable threat, rather the "one-size fits all" way that the ban has been instituted. Security agencies around the world are now more concerned with the potential weapon versus the behavior.
TSA especially has always taken the approach of everyone is a potential threat until proven otherwise. Such an approach has a number of weaknesses. First, all of the emphasis is placed on passengers boarding. Little to none is placed on airport employees who could be compromised into hiding a weapon or explosive device on the aircraft. Second, the TSA approach is a public relations nightmare. By summarily treating every passenger to increasingly more invasive screenings, you are in effect going against the most basic tenet of American law that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. This is why whenever a screener abuses their position of authority it results in a maelstrom of public outcry. TSA basically has yet to find the words to create belief amongst Americans. Even if they finally do, TSA is still is only looking at a small part of the problem.
If ISIL or some other al-Qaeda cell is activated, I submit they won't have to travel here (a basic premise of TSA is that potential terrorists will use the airlines to travel or as weapons). More than likely, there are cells already in place and may not need to move by commercial airliners. TSA may be thwarting the use of airliners as weapons but what about other potential weapons? For example, according to a Cincinnati Enquirer article Ohio leads the country in hazardous materials transportation spills with over 25 percent of the spills in Ohio occurring in the Greater Cincinnati area. Our railroad infrastructure is outdated and crumbling before our eyes, it would not take much for a terrorist cell cause a train hauling hazardous waste (to include spent nuclear fuel) to crash in a major metropolitan area.
Thanks to Micheal Bay and J.J. Abrahams (pictures instead of words), we tend to think of a terrorist attack as involving massive explosions resulting in huge numbers of casualties. But who is to say that the next terrorist attack needs to look like something out of summer blockbuster movie? Our power grids are extremely vulnerable to malware attacks and it would not take much to bring the Eastern Seaboard down. Just imagine what few weeks without power to run refrigerators would do to the price of food and medicine!
Reports are coming out of West Africa that Ebola is spreading rapidly. All it will take is one case of that to get on a plane and land here in the US. How hard would it be for an al-Qaeda operative to arrange something like while we are busy making sure all mobile devices are charged? Of course it is easier to use words to create a threat (uncharged mobile devices) which can then be portrayed as being neutralized by other words.
Words by the President who calls the situation on the Southwest border a "humanitarian issue" even though anywhere else illegal border crossings would constitute a state of emergency. And words we don't hear, such as where are those immigrants being housed? (Answer, on military bases. Out of sight, out of mind don't you know)
Words by a former President declaring a "war on drugs". We still have troops and other clandestine operatives deployed throughout Colombia yet the flow of cocaine and now heroin are as strong as ever. The war on drugs did produce some tangible results by increasing the number of Americans in prison for drug related crimes. So many are in prison that Louisiana (of all places) is looking at reforming drug conviction laws (such as mandatory sentencing for possession) to address prison overcrowding. The sale of illegal drugs produce such huge profits that the drug cartels are able to out-pay and out-finance most governments (even the US). Terrorist groups need funding and what has always been obvious, but not spoken of much, is the relationship between the two groups. Afghani poppy growers produce the raw materials for heroin. Colombian and Mexican drug cartels have the infrastructure to move the heroin along with cocaine and marijuana. If you can smuggle drugs, you can smuggle weapons. Apparently, we don't have words for this potential threat.
President Obama lost a war of words with Syria, then Crimea and now Iraq. He also lost a war of words with Central Americans seeking amnesty in the United States. Now he has lost a war of words with the American people.