Opinion: U.S. ‘advisors’ will look like American boots on the ground to ISIS

President Obama speaks about Iraq at the White House on Thursday.
(Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Three hundred Spartans once held off the Persian hordes at Thermopylae. Can 300 Americans hold off the ISIS hordes in Iraq?

President Obama obviously hopes so. He announced Thursday that up to 300 U.S. military advisors would be sent to Iraq to help fend off the threat posed by fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Which certainly falls under under the “We gotta do something!” rule of foreign policy.

But does it pass the common-sense test? Not really.

First, it puts Americans in harm’s way. And as a child of the ’60s and Vietnam, I long ago lost my enthusiasm for putting American lives on the line to fight someone else’s war.


And two, just exactly what kind of advice can these Americans offer that will make a difference? I mean, if the Iraqi army doesn’t know how to fight by now, how is hearing it from the Americans likely to change things?

Not to mention that the word “advisors” conjures bad memories for plenty of folks here (see Vietnam, above).

And then there’s this, from Obama in his news conference Thursday: “There’s no military solution inside of Iraq, certainly not one that’s led by the United States.”

So why the advisors?

No one wants American boots back on the ground in Iraq. Especially when it’s clear that things are going from bad to worse. But just because it’s only 300 Americans, and just because you call them advisors, that doesn’t mean they aren’t boots on the ground — and targets.

Put another way: What if it’s your son who’s one of the 300? You feeling OK about him going to Iraq?

As my colleagues Kathleen Hennessey and Christi Parsons reported Thursday: “Obama has said he wants to use the crisis to force long-delayed political reforms in Iraq. Washington has been piling pressure on Iraq’s Shiite-led government to enact changes that could appease the Sunni minority and stave off a wider civil war.”


That’s Iraq’s real problem: Politically, it’s a mess. Its government is reaping the whirlwind of misguided policies and priorities.

It’s a shame that more violence and bloodshed appear to be Iraq’s fate. But Iraq’s problems are Iraq’s.

Putting 300 Americans in harm’s way isn’t likely to change that.

Follow Paul Whitefield on Twitter @PaulWhitefield1