WASHINGTON – Two retired U.S. generals have blasted a reported plan for President Obama to assert “personal control” over the selection of ISIS targets in Syria.
Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely and U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin said the prospect recalls the Johnson administration’s micro-managing of the war theater in Vietnam, when decisions made from Washington often resulted in selecting the wrong targets.
Boykin, an under secretary of defense for intelligence under President George W. Bush, said that while Obama’s reported decision to make all the bombing calls of ISIS targets in Syria were reminiscent of Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson “at least had some military experience.”
Boykin pointed out Obama has never served in the military.
“[Obama] is absolutely not serious about strategy or destroying ISIS,” Boykin said. “There is no way we can destroy ISIS with the strategy he’s laid out, and it’s more problematic if he selects the targets.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Obama said he would exert “a high degree of personal control” over military strategy against ISIS in Syria in an effort to avoid getting too involved in the country’s three-year-old-plus civil war.
In testimony on Capitol Hill, however, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel insisted the report was “not true.”
Nevertheless, Hagel’s denial didn’t stop the two retired generals from expressing concern over Obama’s overall strategy for defeating ISIS.
Vallely believes Obama should resign.
“He has no capability of leading this country at this time,” he said.
‘No clue what to hit’
Vallely, who was deputy commanding general of U.S. Pacific Command, is an author along with retired USAF Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney of the book “Endgame: The Blueprint for Victory in the War on Terror.”
“[Obama] wouldn’t have a clue what targets to hit,” Vallely said. “Go back to Vietnam when (Defense Secretary Robert) McNamara was calling the targets.”
Before he died, McNamara apologized in a book for his role in conducting the Vietnam conflict, noted Vallely.
Vallely said he had met with a number of pilots who had conducted bombings over Vietnam who said “you couldn’t believe what they wanted us to hit rather than hard targets.” One such target, he said, was a bamboo bridge rather than a steel bridge that was in use nearby.
“How would (Obama) have any clue unless he was given options by his generals?” Vallely asked. “Yet, he’s overridden his generals at every step and everything now is in disarray (concerning the policy). What you get from Dempsey and Hagel is at odds with the White House.”
Vallely was referring to recent congressional testimony from Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who testified along with Hagel. Dempsey underscored the president’s position that no U.S. ground troops will be deployed, but he added that if the military situation changed, he would go back to the president to request them.
In his testimony, Dempsey also pointed out that ISIS fighters were dispersing into more urban centers to make any targeting from U.S. aircraft more difficult.
Vallely said that he had spoken with McInerney about targeting in Syria and concluded it is inevitable U.S. boots will be put on the ground at least to direct the airstrikes.
He said, however, that McInerney, who was an Air Force pilot, commander and strategic planner, agrees airpower would be 90 percent effective and “would be better than doing nothing at the moment.”
“With ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance),” Vallely said, “we can pick up these (ISIS) units wherever they are,” since the area is open, with many people leaving out of fear for potential bombing.
“Most of the area is a desert wasteland,” Vallely said. “I’ve been there with my group. Having ISIS melt into the population will be difficult, since they’re on the move. This will mean minimal collateral damage.”
At odds over Free Syrian Army
While the U.S. may bomb ISIS positions, Vallely believes Obama will not order strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air force, even though it would assist the Free Syrian Army with whom Vallely has numerous contacts.
“You can’t support the FSA without neutralizing Assad’s air force,” he said.
Vallely and Boykin, however, appeared at odds over backing the FSA and training and equipping them to fight ISIS.
“You can’t blame (the FSA) in signing a non-aggression pact with ISIS,” Vallely said. “You can’t fight both Assad and ISIS at the same time.”
Vallely said he and the FSA see Assad as more of a threat than ISIS.
“If FSA gets strong enough, it will do away with ISIS; so there needs to be some accommodation with ISIS,” he said.
Boykin, however, was very critical of that approach.
“I’m not in favor at all of training and equipping the FSA,” Boykin said. “Who knows who these people are?”
Members of FSA have defected to the Islamic jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is linked to al-Qaida.
Boykin said that if there is a non-aggression pact, it is a strong indication FSA won’t fight ISIS. Their primary objective is bringing down Assad. If what we give them is to fight ISIS, that may not happen.
“They will use the weapons to attack Christians and attack Israel, and I don’t think (giving FSA weapons) is prudent.”