U.S. 21st Century Militarism: Redefining 'Boots on the Ground' and War

09/12/2013 02:59 pm ET | Updated Nov 12, 2013

President Obama's astounding lack of a coherent foreign and military policy in regard to the Syrian civil war has resulted in a lack of support for military action there both in Congress and among the American people.

A large majority of Americans just don't want to fight another war where the policy objectives are blurred, where parameters for military victory are not defined, and where our national treasury, our arms, and the blood of our youth will be unnecessarily wasted -- again.

Much of that angst results from how we Americans define "war" these days.

The debate about intervening in Syria centers mainly on whether the initial, limited strike that Obama is threatening will escalate the fighting there and spread into neighboring countries.

That would most likely result in U.S. troops once again landing in the Mideast to fight in the middle of yet another civil war -- with or without the required constitutional congressional approval.

In a time where we fight continuous, limited military "actions" against many enemies in many nations, our nation is tired of the body bags coming home.

So it's all about whether the U.S. is going to put "boots on the ground" in Syria.

Originally, the term "boots on the ground" was used as a catch phrase to argue that only a required deployment of troops in a war theater could achieve military victory.

With the evolution of military technology in terms of automation, power and accuracy, the use of troops in a large scale that is denoted by the "boots on the ground" jargon has become to some extent obsolete.

In 2013, the U.S. can easily wage devastating war from space, in the cyber-world, and across the globe directed from the U.S. mainland using unmanned ships and aircraft to the same effect as committing troops during the last century.

Yet today, "boots on the ground" remains a "red line" catch phrase that distinguishes between actually fighting a war or launching a "limited engagement."

This is what Obama argued to justify taking "limited" military action against Syria:

"So the key point that I want to emphasize to the American people: The military plan that has been developed by the joint chiefs and that I believe is appropriate is proportional," Obama said. "It is limited. It does not involve boots on the ground. This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan."

Sen. John McCain of Arizona took it one step further in using the phrase.

"No one wants American boots on the ground," said McCain. "Nor will there be American boots on the ground, because there would be an impeachment of the president if they did that."

Part of Obama's problem is that the "Arab Spring" led to strife in several Mideast countries and resulted in serious destabilization of several countries, such as Egypt and Syria.

Sadly, as the violence spread, it led to an undefined even contradictory U.S. foreign and military policy in the region, particularly in humanitarian terms.

So unlike Libya, where the mere threat of "civilian causalities" resulted in the establishment of a NATO "no fly zone" and the ultimate downfall of Muammar al-Gaddafi, in Syria, the Obama Administration chose instead to ignore the slaughter of tens of thousands of Syrians and a million refugees to avoid the ire of Assad's benefactors, Iran and Russia.

So while thousands of innocents were slaughtered by "conventional" weapons used by both the regime and the rebels, the president drew a ridiculous red line, defining the use of chemical weapons by Assad as the trigger for U.S. military action.

Then, when that line got crossed, Obama started talking in terms of "proportions" and "boots on the ground."

Here's the real problem: War involves serious acts of aggression.

Any engagement of American military power in Syria, particularly drone and cruise missile strikes, is an act of war, limited or not, whether troops are actually deployed or not.

Playing semantic games is proving very dangerous to U.S. security and prestige and even threatens our democracy.

It's time to reboot our military lingo to frame our discussion of foreign and military policy, as faulty as it is, in truthful terms.

Let's call our "limited" continuous fighting, with or without troops, around the world what it really is -- World War.

Published in Context Florida on September 12, 2013