There is no obvious, perfect counter-terrorism strategy in the Middle East that will quickly eliminate the threat posed by the Islamic State, or any other terrorist group for that matter. Policymakers are forced to make difficult choices from a range of complex options. All of this is unfolding on a landscape that changes quickly, and each of which carry unpredictable consequences.
With that in mind, I’m reluctant to dismiss anyone’s suggested course as necessarily horrible. That is, except this one, which is just bewildering.
On the September 22 edition of his show, [Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly] claimed that the only credible plan to defeat the Islamic State had to include a mercenary force of 25,000 “English-speaking” fighters that would be recruited and trained by the United States. O’Reilly explained that his mercenary army would be comprised of “elite fighters who would be well-paid, well-trained to defeat terrorists all over the world.” O’Reilly also detailed how the mercenary force would be trained, recruited, and funded.
For some reason, CBS was impressed enough with O’Reilly’s idea that the Fox News host appeared on “CBS This Morning” today where he touted his mercenary approach all over again. “It’s going to happen,” O’Reilly said this morning. “This anti-terror army is going to happen.”
I really doubt that.
In fact, after unveiling his preferred approach, O’Reilly sought an assessment from U.S. Naval War College Professor Tom Nichols. The guest responded, with a polite tone, “Well, Bill, I understand your frustration. I really do. But this is a terrible idea, a terrible idea not just as a practical matter but a moral matter. It’s a morally corrosive idea to try to outsource our national security. This is something Americans are going to have to deal for themselves. We’re not going to solve this problem by creating an army of Marvel Avengers or the Guardians of the Galaxy.”
My point is not to pick on the Fox host, per se, because I suspect there are other political players who also believe an American-financed, American-trained “anti-terror army” can solve problems like ISIS. But Nichols’ description of this as “a terrible idea” is more than fair.
Thomas Bishop raised a credible legal point: “Although the United States did not ratify the agreement, the U.N. prohibits the recruitment, training, use, and financing of mercenaries. During the 72nd plenary meeting in 1989, the U.N. General Assembly agreed to outlaw the use of mercenary forces, as it deemed they violate principles of international law.”
There are also the mistaken assumptions that some kind of mercenary force is somehow practical. O’Reilly’s plan is predicated on the assumption that an “anti-terror army,” like action heroes in a bad movie, can take out ISIS.
But that’s wrong, too. For one thing, there’s a political crisis that needs a resolution, and “well-paid, well-trained” mercenaries can’t do much on this front. For another, as Andrew Bacevich explained on the show last week, even if we magically destroyed ISIS tomorrow, “the conditions that gave rise to ISIS would exist.”
On O’Reilly’s show, Nichols added in reference to the host’s plan, “There’s nothing theoretical about it. It’s the worst of both worlds. You’re asking these forces to operate as though they’re U.S. military forces and you’re treating them as though they’re mercenaries merely because you don’t want to have to use American military forces. And I think that that undermines the whole notion of our own security.”