The decision taken by Republican and Democratic congressional leaders to postpone the question of what military action should be taken in the Middle East until after the election reflects something I have long regretted. When it comes to authorizing military action in anything short of an invasion of America, members of Congress would rather leave the decision to the president. That way, they preserve their freedom to either attack it or endorse it depending on how things turn out. The complaint that too many decisions to go to war have been unilateral executive ones is accurate, but it is not as much an example of presidential overreach as it is of a congressional proclivity to duck.

President Obama was unfairly criticized this year because in accordance with the constitution, he announced that while he wished to bomb Syria in retaliation for the county’s use of chemical warfare, he wanted Congress to authorize it. When Congress refused to do so and the president refrained from bombing, he was criticized.

But while I applaud the president’s decision to defer to Congress to authorize action in Syria and Iraq, I very much disagree with what he is requesting.

The decision to bomb the vicious butchers who call themselves the Islamic State was morally justified and has made good strategic sense. Refuting those who argued that only American ground troops would make any difference, the air attack has significantly slowed down the progress of these murderous fanatics. But there is no guarantee that a continued air campaign will mean their ultimate destruction.

That is why the president is now asking for congressional authority to send another 1,600 U.S. troops into the battle zones. He has been told by his military advisers that even with complete air superiority, the people we would like to see prevail may not be able to do so without American boots and guns on the ground.

This would make some sense if the reason the good guys – or the less bad guys – cannot win is that they are insufficiently trained and advised.

The first question this raises is, who has been “advising” and “training” the people on the other side? Not only do the Taliban, the Islamic State killers, the Nusra front and al-Qaida lack air power, they are not being advised or trained by any great nation. To be blunt, the reason the people we would like to see prevail are not prevailing has nothing to do with insufficient training or the lack of good advice, but rather with a disparity in the will to fight.

I very much wish there was not an apparent correlation between the degree of religious fanaticism among the various Muslim factions and their battlefield success. But that is the clear lesson that we have to draw if we look at reality without rose-colored glasses. And that is not something that can be undone by American trainers and advisers. In fact, the advisers are important because they will play a combat role. I recently talked to an American who had been in Iraq as an “adviser” on several occasions and he confirmed that their role is to fight alongside their advisees.

This point was confirmed by a very interesting op-ed article in The New York Times on Veterans Day in which Gen. Daniel Bolger said that the major reason for our lack of success in Iraq, despite the temporary gains from the military surge, was the unwillingness of the American people to commit to a decades-long effort. That is, sending in trainers and advisers to accompany Iraqi and Syrian dissident forces into battle is based on the recognition that they cannot win without us, and that contrary to what is suggested by “training” and “advising,” a long-term combat presence by Americans is necessary.

We tried very hard at a significant cost in terms of money, lives and health to win victories for the people we would like to see maintain power in Afghanistan and Iraq. These efforts have been unsuccessful because of the military weakness of those we have supported. Many of them are very brave people who have taken on difficult struggles, but the clear evidence is that they are being outfought, not because of insufficient air power or insufficient training or lack of good advice, but because of the different degree of motivation of the people on the ground.

If American security is at risk, Congress should do more than approve the president’s request and authorize the kind of sustained American military combat presence that we put into both Iraq and Afghanistan.

But fortunately, our safety is not threatened. There are a number of situations throughout the world where people are being abused and misgoverned. It is appropriate for America to oppose this in a variety of ways, but it is neither appropriate nor is it likely to be successful for America to decide that we will send our military forces in to win the wars that the more reasonable people cannot win themselves in their own countries.

Neither does the argument have validity that we must maintain control in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria because otherwise they would be havens for terrorism. Even if we were able to make these nations terrorist-free, there are a dozen or more other countries where extremists can establish a base. There is simply no way America can shut down the possibility of terrorists operating in every country in the world.

Again, fortunately, we don’t have to. A combination of strong domestic security measures and the use of force targeted at killing the killers has worked better than most people expected it would for the last 13 years. The president’s request – which is clearly only the beginning of a deeper and longer commitment of ground personnel to these areas – is an expensive, futile effort to use the American military to bring about changes in the internal dynamics of these countries. We have a wonderful military and it can stop bad things from happening but it cannot go into very foreign societies and transform them.

Barney Frank is a retired congressman and the author of landmark legislation. He divides his time between Maine and Massachusetts.

Twitter: BarneyFrank

— Special to the Telegram