Last week I defended President Obama for his courageous resistance to pressure from both the right and the left with regard to immigration. His record in office has been a good one, both in dealing with the terrible crisis he inherited from the Bush administration, and in making real advances in health care, financial reform, LGBT legal equality, and environmental matters. But he is now in danger of giving in to pressures, which will lead him to the first substantive mistake of his presidency: his apparent acquiescence to lobbying by America’s military to return American ground troops to the fight against Islamist extremists. Previously I expressed my opposition to his proposal to send another 1,500 “trainers and advisers” into Iraq, and possibly Syria as well. The president, without explicitly increasing the number of American ground forces in Afghanistan, may be returning them to a de facto combat role.

I supported the decision to use American air power to help protect people against the genocidal activity of the Islamic State. This is having some helpful effect, and what we feared was an irresistible march to substantial domination by these vicious butchers has been slowed down.

But building on the deep revulsion on the part of Americans to threatened mass murder and the savage beheading of innocent people, powerful forces have been pushing the president to reverse his decisions to end the American ground combat role in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While “training and advising” sound relatively moderate, what it means is an increasing presence of American military personnel in the actual fighting on the ground.

That response both misdiagnoses the problem and significantly exaggerates its importance to our security. The misdiagnosis is that the government forces in Afghanistan and Iraq are incapable of winning because they are facing troops that are better trained and more expertly advised.

After years of American involvement, it is the forces we support, not their enemies, who receive good training and are advised by the best military personnel. Nor is it the case that the bad guys – or the worse guys, since good guys are unfortunately in short supply in many of these areas – are better equipped. The forces we support have a monopoly of air power, and have consistently been given weapons from America and our allies. Much of the weaponry that is being used against the more moderate forces was originally given by us to people who lost it, either in battle, or by corruptly selling it.

For most of my life I have been reading about the great skill that Afghans have had in combat – for example, their ability to drive the Russians out of their country. Somehow the Afghans whom we have been supporting turn out to be unable to conduct warfare on their own, without significant American leadership. Sadly, no such defect appears to infect the Taliban.

The disparity in the capacity to wage war on the ground is in not based on an inequality in the training and advising available to the pro-government forces. Part of the problem is the incompetent, corrupt and inefficient governments in those countries (both installed after America intervened). We have tried to use our influence to install better governments, but the notion that we are somehow able to create good governance in those countries in the face of deeply rooted internal cultural, religious, social and economic divisions is wishful thinking.

I cited earlier this year the New York Times column by Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger, in which he acknowledged that the reason we were not successful in Iraq was that America was not prepared for a long military commitment. In other words, absent a significant American ground fighting force, the Iraqi government and its allies are incapable of maintaining control in the country.

To some this means that Obama’s decision to end an American ground presence of any significance in both countries must be reversed, and thousands of Americans must resume a combat role.

There is no reason to think that the relatively small number of combat troops that the president is authorizing will succeed. This is very likely a recipe for an ever-increasing and unending American presence.

If America’s security was dependent on our maintaining pro-American regimes, capable of holding territorial control in their entire jurisdictions, there would be an argument for sending in significant American ground forces.

But that is not the case. America was not threatened as a nation, either by Saddam Hussein in Iraq or even by the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is true that Afghanistan’s willingness to shelter Osama bin Laden caused significant loss of life in America – not the kind of threat to our existence that we faced from the communists and the Nazis, but still one that required us to respond.

We did. We got rid of bin Laden. But the notion that we will only be secure as a nation if we put an end to any possibility of there being terrorist bases in any nation sets a task which is impossible. There are more than a dozen countries which are potential bases for these kind of murderous activities and that is far beyond our capacity to eradicate at the source.

Trying to do so condemns the American military to ongoing, difficult and costly warfare that will never fully succeed.

It is also the case that those who believe this is necessary are shirking their responsibility to tell us how we are going to pay for it. Arguing substantially to step up American military activity when our national security is not at risk ought to bring with it the requirement to tell us how we pay for it. Increased American ground forces engaging in combat with no end in sight adds tens of billions of dollars a year to an American budget that is already inadequate to support essential quality of life efforts.

The 2016 election will have one issue of great importance. Does America revert to a posture that exaggerates both the need and the efficacy of an expansive policy of global military intervention?

If the answer is yes, efforts to improve the quality of our life here at home in a wide variety of areas will not only fail; they are unlikely to even be attempted.

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