By Mark Vargas -
The gut-wrenching news was all too familiar: a dictator unleashing a deadly chemical attack on his own people. The Butcher of Baghdad, Saddam Hussein, used chemical weapons in the 1980s. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in 2013, and then again just a few days ago. In perhaps what might be the biggest test of President Trump's presidency, the question remains: will Syria be Trump's Iraq War?
From 2007-2010, I traveled to Baghdad 14 times as a civilian member of a special Department of Defense task force in charge of economic development and rebuilding as part of General David Petraeus' counterinsurgency strategy. The strategy, or "COIN" as we referred to it, focused on winning the hearts and minds of the people. Political victories, rather than military victories, were the key to achieving success. Military strength has its limitations, and COIN understood that.
Although I'm a Republican, as a Mexican-American I have been very critical of Trump for obvious reasons – but Trump's decision to fire 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles in Syria was the right call. I applaud his quick and decisive action as it sends a clear message to our allies and adversaries alike that a new sheriff is in town, and that this administration will not tolerate such atrocities so long as he is the president.
In a perfect world, the launching of Tomahawk cruise missiles would be the equivalent of a mic drop. But unfortunately, thanks to recent history over the last decade, we know that's not the case. Assad will have to respond, and Russia will be forced to either intervene or rush to Syria's defense. Either way, it doesn't look good.
Syria is now ground zero for ISIS. And for an organization that thrives on death and chaos, this is their dream scenario. From 2003-2012, it was Iraq and Afghanistan. Now it's Syria. With a former U.S. Marine Corps General with extensive on-the-ground combat training and expertise now the secretary of defense, a deployment of at least some U.S. troops to Syria seems almost inevitable.
If we learned anything from COIN and our battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, we will need a combination of military and civilian personnel to deploy to Syria to establish some form of stability — and fast. Rebel fighters will need training, weapons and ammunition. ISIS and ISIS recruiters will need to be outnumbered and marginalized. Like radiation is to cancer cells, an aggressive strategy must be implemented to keep ISIS cells from metastasizing throughout Syria.
The American people are clearly not ready to endure yet another conflict. But in a post-September 11 era, we have no choice. How Trump chooses to address this new reality in Syria will perhaps be the greatest test of his presidency.
Chicagoan Mark Vargas (@MarkAVargas) is co-founder and president of Licentiam. From 2007-2010, he served as a civilian within the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense. Used by permission. Published first in the Washington Examiner.