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May 29, 2017

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United States military boots on the ground in Syria: Does anyone care?

Military forces of the United States are now on the ground in Syria, a nation gripped by civil war in one of the most dangerous and violent regions in the world. Four hundred U.S. Marines and Army Rangers have just been dispatched to the city of Raqqa in Syria to join the battle with the Islamic State.

These new American military personnel join approximately 500 U.S. Special Operations Forces already in Syria. However, the new troops are profiled for combat, while our forces already there are described as support advisers, helpful in particular in gathering vital intelligence information.

This evolving, little-reported development has been described as broadly a continuation of the approach of the Obama administration. U.S. President Barack Obama did approve the use of a small number of Apache attack helicopters in Syria. But the addition of ground combat troops is a change in the character as well as degree of the American military commitment in this devastated, war afflicted nation.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was not reassuring in a canned reply to an aggressive reporter asking about this new deployment. He appeared to brush off any danger of being drawn into combat with the involved — and heavily armed — nations in this region. His "script" (his word) was evasive.

In reality, Russia is increasingly influential in the Middle East, especially in Syria. The two nations have been close allies for decades, dating back to the rule of President Hafez al-Assad, father of current President Bashar al-Assad.

American leaders when successful in the past have demonstrated exceptional determined skill, while avoiding ground force commitments except in the Persian Gulf War. That involved a broad coalition.

President Richard Nixon was particularly successful. The 1972 SALT I strategic arms treaties with the Soviet Union and the opening to China were achieved by disciplined negotiation. The 1973 Yom Kippur War between Arab states and Israel was ended through U.S. leadership. First, President Nixon aggressively pursued getting essential aid to Israel. Simultaneously, Israel was restrained regarding encircled Egyptian forces.

Second, visible actions were taken to demonstrate U.S. military resolve: B-52 bombers were moved from Guam to the U.S., the Army's 82nd Airborne Division was placed on alert.

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