If Not Allen, Then Who?

Because God hates us and wants us to be angry, this happened:

Retired Marine Gen. John Allen will coordinate the broad international effort to battle the Islamic State militants, as the campaign against the extremist group ramps up and nations begin to determine what role each will play, U.S. officials said Thursday.

To which I responded in my usual highbrow fashion:

Which prompted a question from the Twitters:


Great question, Andrew, and thanks for asking.

Short answer?

No one.

And that’s not due to the fact that I think wars in general are a bad idea. There’s no such thing as a “good” war. Any event that involves lots of people dying because other people thing it’s for a “good” cause isn’t “good,” or “just.” It’s “bad” and pretty much the most “evil” thing people can do to each other. Except maybe buying KK’s selfie book for Christmas. That’s probably more evil.

Facile pop references aside, despite my snarkerific dogeifying of former COMISAF and email guru John Allen, he did as well as anyone could here in the graveyard of common sense. If you’re looking for a man capable of dealing with a multi-national coalition who might be able to get the other kids to play in the pool together, Allen’s a reasonable choice. He has the experience and personal gravitas necessary to put an effort like this together.

My biggest issue with Allen is the same issue I have with all the commanders in his position and why there isn’t an alternative: they executed an abysmal series of strategies over the years. Note the use of the plural, which is one of my key complaints about the American intervention. Rather than plotting a reasonable course and maintaining it for the years necessary to move this forward, the US kept shifting goals and their implementation.

The problem is that there is not currently anyone at Allen’s (former) rank with the kind of track record we want when dealing with ISIS. Much of that is due to Petraeus and others diving into the shallow end of the strategy pool and calling what they did “COIN.” But what hobbled COIN more than anything was senior leadership unwilling to let COIN and counter-terror operators be red in tooth and claw. The nature of war is that it is bloody, violent, and appalling. This “graduate level of war” approach put so many limitations on combat troops that what resulted countered neither terrorists nor insurgencies.

I’m aware that I’m making sweeping pronouncements and disregarding the fine work done by the good people over at JSOC, for example. But unless Allen (or more importantly, the people he’s advising) is allowed the kind of tactical freedom that made Patton get up in the morning and Code Pink lose sleep at night, this war will end the same as they’ve all ended since the Americans made Hiroshima glow in the dark. It’s less about who’s in charge on the ground, and more about who’s in charge back in DC.

The problem with the current approach of all-airstrikes-all-the-time is that it represents the kind of commitment one needs if one’s bombing auto plants or shipyards. Not if one’s attempting to shift the tide of a cult of personality gone more awry than a Green Lantern reboot, this time starring Steve Buscemi. Although, I’d watch that.

I don’t want to watch this ISIS thing, and not just because I thought we’d cleared the Iraq accounts. I don’t want to watch because we’re already headed down the same contractor-happy road that got us where we ended up the first time: doing it on the “cheap” inevitably leads to mission creep. Because to defeat a determined, entrenched enemy like ISIS is going to take boots on the ground. And no one, at least today, is going to authorize Allen or anyone else to let that happen.

So bring on typin’ John. Let’s see what he does this time around. Just keep him away from the Gmail account.