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As our national will weakened over the last half-century, a number of myths have arisen to cripple our application of force and comfort those who lack courage. From the fantasy that a handful of precision strikes will bring down a mighty opponent, to the insistence that monstrous enemies must be accorded the same legal rights as American citizens, a parade of follies has all but guaranteed that our halfhearted military efforts will end badly.

The latest craze is the lunatic belief that we can rally foreign warriors to do our dirty work. Repeatedly, we confuse some group’s appetite for local power with a willingness to fight regionally for our interests. The most recent example was a presidential administration’s announcement that faced with the savagery of the Islamic State caliphate with its 50,000 jihadis, we would take a “time-out”year to train 5,000 members of the Syrian resistance – who then would be expected to whip the Middle East’s most effective fighting force outside of Israel.

A few years before this folly,our militantly anti-military State Department turned down the offer of U.S. troops to protect its Benghazi outpost, preferring to entrust our diplomats’ security to local militias. As we learned, painfully, those local militias had agendas of their own.

When we invaded Iraq in 2003, neo-conservatives fantasized about a pro-American uprising led by an obvious charlatan, Ahmed Chalabi. The neo-cons’ darling never produced much beyond a gang of bodyguards. Soon, he switched his allegiance to Iran.

Even in Vietnam, we convinced ourselves that South Vietnam’s leadership could be cajoled and bribed to support our (unrealistic)goals. The South Vietnamese had interests of their own.

In all of these examples, civilian theorists and feckless politicians ignored the most important factor in any conflict: strength of will. Again and again, we’ve found that our enemies maintain their strength of will, while our celebrated allies just want us to give them stuff.

Supporters of using foreign proxies also mix rotten apples and spoiled oranges, citing bygone empires, from the Roman to the British, as examples of the effective exploitation of foreign fighters. Well, one should be careful with the Roman example: Not only did Roman legions remain the core of combat forces in the glory years, but Rome’s grimmest defeats were delivered by barbarians schooled by Rome. As for the British Empire, well, it was an empire. Gurkhas, Sikhs and others recruited for ethnic military units identified with their rulers (if you’re going to recruit natives, minorities are your best bet). We avoid the commitments of empire and, as in Iraq, our haste to leave lands we’ve disrupted insures that local players will hedge their bets.

In strategy, as in our personal lives, Dad was right: If you want a thing done right, do it yourself. If we won’t fight for a goal we’ve announced, why should foreigners do it on our behalf? The Iraqi military we trained and equipped for years didn’t collapse solely be shenanigans – it dissolved because “Iraq” no longer existed except in our fantasies.

Personally, I see this flight from military responsibility as one more symptom of our poisonous, spreading belief that others should always do the hard stuff for us. We abuse our health and then expect others to pay our medical bills. We drop out of school then demonstrate against income inequality. We grab government handouts and whine that government doesn’t do enough for us. As citizens, we have come to believe that even our intimate problems are for others to solve. So it’s natural to expect foreign fighters to die happily for our causes. But they won’t.


Ralph Peters is a longtime member of the “Armchair General” team, a retired Army officer and a Fox News strategic analyst. His new Civil War novel, “Valley of the Shadow,” goes on sale May 5, 2015.

Originally published in the March 2015 issue of Armchair General.