Diary

Where the Hell is Tongo Tongo ?

One has to be bemused by the US media of all stripes. Four US soldiers are killed during a reconnaissance mission near the village of Tongo Tongo, Niger, and there are two lines of discussion:

– Whether Donald Trump was appropriately sensitive when he called the widow of one of those killed, and the subsequent efforts of an “empty barrell” congresswoman to disparage the White House Chief of Staff who happens to be a retired Marine four star general and the father of a soldier killed in Afghanistan.

– A detailed critique of military tactics for managing air support with the French in West Africa, as if the reporters were better judges of what is reasonable than the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

And the question which is hardly asked: What the Hell are we doing in Tongo Tongo in the first place. A sober perspective.

Legal Authority.

Following extended conflicts in Korea and Vietnam without formal declarations of war, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution over President Nixon’s veto in 1973. The War Powers Resolution requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days with a further 30-day withdrawal period, without a Congressional authorization for use of military force (AUMF) or a declaration of war by the United Sates. Some presidents have honored the resolution – the Marines’ presence in Lebanon in 1982-83; George HW Bush’s legislative approval for the First Gulf War; President Clinton’s withdrawal from Somalia in 1992. Some have not – Clinton’s bombing in Kosovo in 1999; Barack Obama’s aerial war against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011.

More problematic is the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks which passed through Congress and was signed by President George W. Bush a week after the attacks with only a few hours of debate. Ostensibly aimed at al Queda, and maybe the Taliban government of Afghanistan which provided them sanctuary, the authorization has been used by presidents George W Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump to wage wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya without the approval of a Congress which has not had the courage to exercise it’s clear constitutional role.

Over the years there have been several Senators and Congress members who have advocated a review of the original War Powers Resolution or, more particularly, the 2001 authorization – Jeff Flake; Bob Corker; Rand PaulJohn McCainBarbara Lee. Thus far, neither chamber has been willing to open the debate, but McCain is back at it following the Niger ambush.

Scope of the Problem

    Fundamentally, ISIS (like Saddam Hussein) had nothing to do with 9/11. In fact, there has been a bitter disagreement on strategy  between al Queda (which is committed to attacking the “far enemy” in the West), and ISIS (which is committed to establishing a caliphate in Muslim territories, killing mostly Muslims in the process.) Both have sought the allegiance of Islamic radicals around the world, with ISIS’ success in 2014 and 2015 resulting in a flood of foreign recruits, and many claims of allegiance by local leaders who wanted to share the authority conveyed by Abu Bakkar’s success in Syria and Iraq.

There are big groups. Boko Haram, based in Nigeria has resulted in the displacement of over 2 million people over West Africa in the last 15 years. Somalia-centered Al Shabaab, which has some 8000 fighters, is opposed by an alliance of African Union countries who support the United Nations endorsed government. Jemaah Islamiyah  which envisions a caliphate in Southeast Asia stretching through the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and southern Thailand. Each has splinter groups, and has morphed in title, geography, and ideology as dynamic leaders have risen and been killed.

It is a mistake to think of these groups as disconnected or subject to the boundaries of states as defined by the United Nations.  A significant portion of the defenders of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria were not Arabs; while those battlefields wind down, there is little appetite on the part of their home countries for anything but to have them killed in place. Nevertheless, many of the thousands will escape to Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and sub-Sahara Africa as well as to Europe. The ongoing conflict in West Africa is the indirect result of jihadists being pushed south out of Libya into Mali, which had its own conflicts, and then further south.  The recently concluded battle for Marawi City in the southern Philippines cost the lives of some 165 government troops and 1000 mostly local insurgents. The jihadist-inspired problem is global.

 The Alternatives

    While it is better to fight our enemies “over there” rather than “over here”, there has to be a set of reasonable priorities, debated by the Congress and shared with the public. It will be hard to have a balanced discussion with an administration led by retired generals as Secretary of Defense, Chief of Staff, and National Security Adviser, but it is worth a try.

One observer’s opinion: Anything that directly threatens the homeland or one of our key allies goes to the top of the list.  Ditto any proliferation of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. Slightly down the list is anything that threatens our fundamental interests, such as free passage, cyber security, or the world financial system. That leaves room to confront North Korea and Iran, Russia’s moves in eastern Europe or China’s in the South China Sea. It covers piracy on the Horn of Africa, drug operations in Latin America, and any insurgent threats to friendly governments.

The corollary question is methods. Intelligence sharing and training are good. Boots on the ground are bad. It is best if the war fighting is left to the military, and the CIA is confined to intelligence gathering. And as for Blackwater founder Erik Prince’s suggestion that mercenary armies would be cheaper and less politically difficult, that sounds a lot like the latter days of Rome.

   The end of the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria is fast approaching.  Assad has effectively won the long Syrian civil war; the Kurds and the Iraqi government will have to sort out their territorial relationship. We seem committed to the never-ending Afghan war. Beyond that, the ambush at Tongo Tongo should serve to ring a bell – how and where should the United States be engaged in a confusing, tumultuous world where armed groups are competing for local power, sometimes under a broader Islamic umbrella?  Without a universal draft, the question is far from the minds of the average American – perhaps the grieving widow of Sergeant LaDavid Johnson has done the country a favor by demanding to know not only what the tactics were, but what the mission was.

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www.RightinSanFrancisco.com  – 10/27/17