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Words from Winterbilt

The expert(s) speak?

Shannon Bohrer

(10/2016) I like knowing whatís going on in the world which is why I like watching the news. I understand that people donít trust the major news networks, but itís better and more reliable than my neighbors, well some of my neighbors. I find it very informative when the experts have diverse opinions, disagree and explain their opinions. Sometimes, the right answer is not simple and sometimes it may not exist, but there are always a few experts that have an answer for everything.

Recently I was watching a news program and the host was interviewing a well-known expert on terrorism. The expert was one that I have heard before and offers very good opinions. The hosts questioned this expert on Obamaís strategy in the Middle East related to terrorism and asked him to compare it to President Bushís strategy. The expert said that it was his opinion that history would say that President Bush went too far, and President Obama did not go far enough. My first thought was: how does the expert define what is too far, and what was not far enough? My thought was that too far means you are creating problem(s) and not far enough meant you are not solving problem(s). Of course, both are dependent upon an agreement - of what the problem is.

While thinking about this I thought about my career in law enforcement, especially problems and how we often addressed them. When an officer is faced with a critical incident, they can only control their own actions. They can attempt to control the actions of an offender or a potential offender, but that is not always possible. However, when an officerís actions are critiqued they are often criticized for not controlling the offenderís actions. It may seem strange, but I see many similarities with our involvement in the Middle East Ė there are things we can control and things we cannot.

American law enforcement also tends to second guess itself when it deals with significant and tragic events. The ATF raid at Waco (the Branch Davidian compound) is a good example. When an event like this occurs, a group of experts is gathered to form a commission to study the event. The commission studies the event and then produces a report, often called a white paper. The white paper explains how the tragedy occurred, how it may have been avoided or minimized and what can be done for future prevention.

While white papers are very detailed in their analysis and offer an answer as to why and what we can do, they also have some deficiencies. The commission that produced a white paper on Waco did an outstanding job and produced a detailed account that contained very good suggestions, but possible deficiencies were not discussed. In this incident, the Branch Davidians knew the federal agents were coming to the compound to arrest the leader. So when the federal agents arrived, they were ambushed. Within the white paper there is an assumption that if the Branch Davidians had not known the federal agents were coming, the shooting(s) would not have occurred. The assumption is logical, but not absolute. It is really unknown what would have occurred if the federal agents were inside the buildings Ė and then a resistance started? The Branch Davidians had weapons loaded and placed in every building. If the Branch Davidians actively resisted after the federal agents were inside the building(s), the loss of life could have been worse.

There are no policies or training that can guarantee compliance. Recommendations from any commission can be helpful and offer higher probabilities of less violence, but they cannot guarantee it. You canít guarantee what would have happened if the circumstances were different. You can say what you believe would have occurred, or even attach probabilities, but that is it.

When I heard the Middle East expert on the news tell the host that history would say that President Bush went too far and President Obama did not go far enough, my initial though was we had been down this road before and it did not go well. If, and thatís a big if, Obama had not withdrawn the troops from the Middle East, what would have happened? The answer is simple Ė we donít know.

In the Middle East, not unlike other issues, there are additional circumstances that create additional questions. The first circumstance is that President Obama was required to withdraw the troops from Iraq as the security agreement specified. The agreement was signed by President Bush before he left office. The only way Iraq would allow our troops to stay is if we agreed that they would be subject to their laws. At that time, there were talking heads and politicians that wanted the U.S. to re-negotiate that agreement. Iraq did not want to and the agreement was also signed by the U.N. Remember, there were multinational forces in Iraq since 2003, under the UN Security Council. That agreement was required to be renewed annually and had a set date for all forces to be removed by December 31, 2011.

But, for the sake of discussion, letís say that the agreement was re-negotiated and we did leave our troops in Iraq. Before we entered Iraq, Al-Qaeda did not exist in that country. Al-Qaeda entered when we created a vacuum with the war. Another important point is that ISIS was founded in 1999 by Abu al-Zarqawi, it was not created after we left, it was created before we entered. When we disrupted the balance of power in the region many of Iraqís neighbors had concerns that we would expand elsewhere. That is why Assad allowed open boarders in Syria believing he was creating a deterrence Ė to keep us out. The Assad regime believed the fighters coming into Syria would go to Bagdad to fight the Americans, and many did. However, the open border polices also allowed multiple organizations to gain a foothold in Syria, which is directly related to the current conflict.

For the sake of argument, lets say we went back to Iraq to fight ISIS. Why would we think we can control an area of the world with multiple conflicts, multiple players and leaders in the area that canít control their own forces? If our history in Iraq and Afghanistan is taken into account, we should stay out. And that is the problem. Our military can only control what is controllable, the same way an officer can only control an offender, when the offender complies. The white papers created in the criminal justice communities that offer suggestions, are based on best practices from previous enforcement efforts. Do we have any best practices from pervious engagements in the Middle East? The problem is not our military, it is the Middle East.

Possibly, we should be viewing the problem from multiple perspectives. Millions displaced, hundreds of thousands of injured and killed and no viable singular military solution that would resolve this war. While military action would be part of the solution, there also needs to be involvement all of the Middle East countries and the international community. The conflict is Syria and the Middle East is as larger than Syria, it is very wide spread, and it will take wide spread commitment to resolve it.

Too far and not far enough are still unknown, but it sounds good.

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer