Rules of Engagement

By Joe Ragonese

When my reenlistment officer tried to convince me to stay in the Air Force, I was torn.  I loved the service, and thought that it would be a great career choice.  We were in the middle of the Vietnam War at the time, and the position that I held gave me insights into what most do not see.  I worked in a combat alert center, a command and control center that directed aircraft in battle.

In Vietnam, the command and control center was required to follow a set of rules for conducting that war; known as the rules of engagement.  These rules of engagement (ROE) are set by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) at the Pentagon, at the direction of the Commander in Chief, the President of the United States.  In other words, the President tells the military how they can fight the war.

Most of the ROE from Vietnam are are known, but allow me to refresh the younger readers about them.  Airplanes over South Vietnam that were being shot at could not return fire, unless the positions of all friendlies were known.  That included times when ground troops were in contact with the enemy.  Prior to destroying enemy anti-aircraft fire, or dropping bombs or shooting at the enemy on the ground, the locations of friendly forces and all civilians must have been identified.  While that seemed reasonable, it placed aircrews in harm’s way for a very needlessly long period of time, while loitering over the battlefield, often taking enemy fire.  Charlie (Viet Cong fighters) knew these rules and purposely placed their anti-aircraft batteries near villages so that we could not destroy them.

The ROE over North Vietnam was even more hazardous to aircrews, who had to fly over enemy airfields, brimming with interceptor fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft artillery, but could not destroy them before they attacked, and not until they were shooting at our forces.  In fact, we were not allowed to destroy enemy airfields at all, even if we saw the interceptor aircraft take off from them, until Nixon became President.

As our tactical bombers travelled toward targets in North Vietnam, selected by President Johnson, not out of military need, but rather for his personal satisfaction; after all, he did say that he was going to show Ho Chi Minh a thing or two, those aircrew flew over AAA batteries being set up on mountain tops over the routes that had to be flown to get to the targets, and could not destroy them prior to being shot at.  It was insanity, and caused the capture and deaths of all who were shot down over North Vietnam.

It was a suicidal war policy, without the slightest intent to win the war.  Had ROE been the same in WWII, we would have lost that war, too.  Knowing this, I declined reenlistment out of frustration that our commanding generals were not standing up for those doing the fighting.  In 1967, I understood that the war was not being fought to win, only to be fought.

Fast forward to 2001, and it was the very same way our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were / are being fought.  Bush’s war plans fell apart after the fall of Saddam Hussain’s government in Iraq.  Bush had no idea what to do next.  It would take four more years of combat with insurgents inside Iraq before he listened to his generals, who advised on a winnable plan.  Until then there was no plan for victory because he was so intent on nation building in our democratic image.

Bush’s ROE were stringent, but not stifling.  He demanded that enemy combatants only be fired upon when our forces were under fire.  In Iraq at that time everyone owned an AK-47, so possession of one did not mean that they were enemy combatants.   In the fog of war, mistakes happen and a few innocent civilians were killed because a soldier shot too soon.  Under President Bush, that soldier was usually relieved of duty and returned home, without further implications.  It was understood that in war, collateral damage occurs, the next President would call it murder.

Everything changed when Obama became President.  He had no intention of winning a war in Iraq, even though it had already been won by the time he was sworn in as Commander in Chief.  Lucky for him that the Iraqi Army still needed assistance, and a little more military training.  Rather than follow through with the plans already in effect, he removed our troops immediately, causing chaos in Iraq; enough so that he was able to turn a solid victory into a defeat.  It was his plan all along.

Iraqi generals were in shock over the decision, nevertheless, Obama completely abandoned them to their own fate; God forbid that Bush get credit for a military victory.  Besides, in Obama’s world, a defeat for America was exactly what Barry wanted, in order to humiliate America and transform it from a military giant into a lap dog.

He got his wish, with the assistance of all the top generals and admirals who never opened their mouths in defense of the troops.  These spineless officers, whose careers meant more to them than the honor of America, cheered O on, as he systematically destroyed the best fighting force on earth.  These are the same generals and admirals that later became social justice warriors and aided in the present insanity of transgender/homosexual/women in combat hysteria that will lead the armed forces to defeat one day.

His reckless actions opened up a void in the Middle East, that was quickly filled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  ISIS quickly overpowered both the Syrian and Iraqi Armies, creating a state of their own.

To counter ISIS, both Iraq and Syria turned to Iran to help them as they had been abandoned by Obama.  Later Russia made its entry into the fray as the void created by our hasty retreat still needed filling.  Iran, who was a nothing burger at that time, became a major player, and foe, in the area due to Obama’s mindlessness.

As the caliphate grew in power and stature, Barry O, and America, shrunk.  It was just what Obama wanted to happen, he hated our military and America equally.  With Bush’s victory in Iraq now completely reversed, he set his sights on a defeat in Afghanistan.

To that end he sent our forces to war with rules of engagement so stringent that there was no way that we could be victorious.  Those rules tightened every day of his eight year nightmarish presidency.  In the fog of war some soldiers made mistakes, and were court martialled and sent to prison for doing their jobs.  Barry  hated the military so much that a few soldiers going to jail fit his plan to wreak havoc on morale.

I watched a television documentary series called “The Fighting Season” where officers in the tactical operations center (TOC) were able to follow Taliban insurgents movements in real time, using overhead drones.  They showed one who was transporting IEDs poised to kill our troops, and because of the horrendous ROE in place, before they could kill the man, they had to call an Army lawyer to verify that they met all of Obama’s ridiculous ROE.  Of course, as often as not, the man was in a populated area by the time they got the go ahead to neutralize the threat, and could no longer shoot.

The Taliban fighters also knew our ROE, and used them against us.  They would go to populated areas as quickly as possible, because a strike was almost never authorized under Obama’s ROE if there was any chance of collateral damage.  It was, just like Vietnam, a war fought not to win, rather just to fight.  And then along came President Trump.

In one short year, President Trump relaxed the ROE, under the direction of his generals, and allowed them to proceed on a path to victory.  Just as President Nixon had been hamstrung in Vietnam because the war there had gone on so long, our wars in the Middle East have continued for so long that most Americans want us to simply leave.  Yet under this President, we defeated ISIS, utilizing local forces, for the most part, with minimum boots on the ground.

Using our air power and advisory personnel on the ground, as Bush had wanted to be done in Iraq, we were able to lead Iraq to victory over ISIS, something the MSM and Obama said was impossible.  Trump’s new ROE allowed a path to victory.  Sadly, due to the incompetence of Obama, the Middle East is in such disarray now, that even with this historic victory, we face so many dangers that could have been avoided in the area, that a never ending war could still consume us.

The point is, that rules of engagement decide the outcome of war.  Democrats, all of them, tend to micromanage our armed forces, never trusting them to accomplish the task set out by the politicians.  Every time that happens, we lose a war.  Look at Harry Truman in Korea, Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam, Jimmy Carter with the Iranian hostage crisis and the disastrous rescue attempt micromanaged in real time by him.  Then there was Bill Clinton with the battle of Mogadishu, Somalia, and finally Barry O in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and least we forget Benghazi, Libya.

Compare those outcomes to Richard Nixon in Vietnam, by removal of ROE prohibiting incursions into Laos and Cambodia, and allowing Air Force strategic bombers to destroy North Vietnamese targets that had been off limits for the entirety of Johnson’s war, he forced North Vietnam to the bargaining table and brokered an honorable conclusion to the war.

Nixon was followed by Gerald Ford who recovered the American merchant ship, SS Mayaguez, after a joint Air Force, Marine Corps attack of the Island of Koh Tang, Cambodia, that forced the release of the crew.  Ronald Reagan came next, who sent a successful rescue mission to the Island of Grenada, destroyed communist coup attempts in El Salvador and Columbia, while simultaneously defeating the communists in Nicaragua.  After stopping the spread of communism, he defeated the Soviet Union and ended the crisis of spreading worldwide communist revolutions.

George H. W. Bush followed by invading Panama and capturing the drug dealing President of that country, and followed that up by removing Saddam Hussain from his conquest of Kuwait, in Gulf War I.  His son, George W. Bush came next, after the attack on America on September 11, 2001, within a few months he toppled the Taliban government of Afghanistan, followed by the complete defeat of the Iraqi Army and removal of its President, Saddam Hussain.  When that victory turned into a debacle of sectarian warfare, he again defeated insurgent forces with his surge.

Lastly, is President Trump, who with minimum American boots on the ground turned Obama’s defeat in Iraq into a stunning victory over ISIS, and by changing ROE, allowing his generals the leeway to fight it, with additional troops, the situation in Afghanistan seems hopeful for the first time since Obama became Commander in Chief.

The rules of engagement in war reflect the military judgement of the President.  Those who issue strict ROE, that are harsh and subjective, so much so that victory is impossible, demonstrate a Commander in Chief that has no understanding of the military.  When our generals and admirals are allowed to do the job they have trained a lifetime for, they can beat any foe; unless they are forced to integrate females into the combat roles.

Both rules of engagement that do not allow our military to win, and women in combat, are sure-fire ways to lose our next war; and one is just around the corner.


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