The Collegian
Friday, June 21, 2024

What "no boots on the ground" really means

America has been at war for most of its existence. Our predecessors fought wars all over the planet, and our generation is no different. Many of us are too young to remember the start of our ongoing involvement in the Middle East, but we’ve certainly grown up with it constantly playing in the background. I am too young to remember well an America at peace, but with Iraq “finished” and Afghanistan drawing to a close, that prospect appears to be returning. Or so it would seem.

With the rapid growth and development of the Islamic State from a radical movement to a well-funded multinational organization, American military doctrine in the Middle East has changed. Those in Washington still have Middle Eastern interests that America is charged with protecting. However, America will not be dragged into another costly war. The voters will not permit it, and the taxpayers cannot afford it. Gone, at least for now, are the days of large-scale invasions and the occupation of nations. No, Washington has found a better way to carry out war – a way that doesn’t involve declaring it.

The massive conventional army has gone out of style. Our military has shrunk by the tens of thousands since our troops began returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. An unpopular and ballooning national debt caused many in Washington to label our men and women in uniform as an expense we could no longer afford. Our two big wars were ending. The regular army is also less politically malleable at this point in time. The citizens of the United States will not permit another large land war. So our leaders figured out a way around this.

The one spot in the military budget that has not shrunk, and has actually grown exponentially, is the funding for special operations units. If America does anything well, it is special operations units. These are the elite units; rangers and SEALs, among other, more shadowy groups. These are without a doubt some of the greatest warriors who have ever walked the earth. These men are trained better than any others in the world, and duly so, their assignments are frightfully tough.

What makes our special operations units attractive to politicians in D.C. is that their presence in foreign lands is deniable. The nature of their work makes these troops a discreet force. They are in and out before their presence is detected. They are deployed without a declaration of war, which a president would certainly have to make if sending a conventional invasion force. Fast, maneuverable and small, special operations units are the perfect tools of a government that are skating on thin ice with their constituency. These men do not count as “boots on the ground.”

Of course this is nothing new to the American government. We’ve been fighting wars where wars are not technically happening for decades now. Army Special Forces were operating in the South Vietnamese jungles years before Lyndon Johnson declared war. They show up in the history books as “military advisors,” a popular term still used in media today. Right now we have a couple thousand “military advisors” in Iraq.

The sad thing about the entire situation isn’t that our leaders are waging war without direct approval from the people. That has been happening for some time now. No, the real travesty is that some people in this country believe that America is concluding its war on terror. Our troops are killing a whole lot of ISIS fighters right now. They’re killing terrorists all over the world. Our involvement has never been greater. There’s no doubting the effectiveness of the strategy. Our special operations troops are matchless. They do as they are ordered because they are loyal to one another, and to our country.

So when you hear promises of no more “boots on the ground,” be informed enough to see through this political verbiage. There are those still working hard to protect our country beneath a thick veil of secrecy. Think of these men and women whose death will never make the news. Think of their families who have no idea where in the world their loved ones are, but are painfully aware of the dangers they face. Imagine what it would take for you to give up your future to ensure security in the lives of those you have never met back home. Not making the news or the speeches of our so very honorable politicians doesn’t make their commitments any less heroic. 

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