When you think of the French Foreign Legion, some of you – particularly those a bit closer to my age bracket – probably summon up thoughts of Gary Cooper in the 1939 film classic, Beau Geste. While there’s a definite tendency to overly romanticize the Legion in comparison to the harsh realities of military life, it’s a real thing. The Legion has been around for almost 200 years and they accept not only French citizens, but employ fighters from 140 countries. It’s rather unique because the members fight under the direction of the French military, but the unit is separate from it and the soldiers don’t swear allegiance to France, but to the Legion itself.

Looking at our current lack of involvement on many fronts in the war against terrorists around the globe and a regular tide of Americans who train privately in militia groups outside the military, should be we be considering such an option in America? Sean Mcfate at the Washington post argues this week that it may be time for the United States to come up with their own foreign legion to fight the war on terror.

President Obama recently announced that an additional 250 Special Operations forces will be sent to Syria to stem the spread of the Islamic State. It won’t work. By now, “too little, too late” has become the moniker of the administration’s Middle East policy. To be fair, the policy of Obama’s predecessor wasn’t effective either. What is needed is a new piece on the chessboard: an American Foreign Legion.

As a former paratrooper in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and a former military contractor, I have seen that there is no substitute for boots on the ground. You cannot control territory from the air, and ground forces are needed to root out the Islamic State where it lives and festers…

When people think of foreign legions, they think of French mercenaries. But the French Foreign Legion is a part of the French military, is led by French officers, takes its orders exclusively from Paris, offers its legionnaires the opportunity to apply for French citizenship and serves only the French government. It’s like a French army unit, except that its enlisted members come from all over the world.

It’s time for an American Foreign Legion. It would be a part of the Defense Department, but its enlisted members would be recruited globally. This encompasses the best of option three (sending more troops to the Middle East) without the pitfalls of option four (relying on private contractors and mercenaries).

My initial, knee-jerk reaction was to write this off as nonsense. After all, we have the most powerful military in the world already and this entire concept just sounds… unamerican. (We are talking about France, after all.) But the author makes a powerful argument, citing some advantages which such a force would provide.

  • We’d have a permanent, standing force in the Middle East to combat terror.
  • Training and vetting programs could be standardized under existing military requirements.
  • Fighters would still fall under the UCMJ.
  • Enlistees would have a proven track record of loyalty (at the risk of life and limb) and could gain citizenship more easily.
  • It would be a lot cheaper than military contractors while remaining more accountable.

Is it really such a crazy plan? Perhaps, but we live in some pretty crazy times. It might provide a productive path to service for some of our militias who are, shall we say, less than fully trusting of Washington. At the same time, foreign citizens could step up to the plate and serve in a vital cause while fast tracking their hopes to become American citizens.

There’s still part of me which reflexively insists this must be a bad idea, but at the moment I can’t say precisely why. Maybe it’s worth a look?

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