Yemen is the much-ignored third (or maybe fifth?) wheel of American imbroglio in the Mideast, but recent days have seen marked escalation of hostilities in the impoverished country, and with it, an escalation of U.S. entanglement. What has not escalated is the Obama Administration’s authority to wage this imprudent war, which is by no possible stretch of legal imagination permitted by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) the White House claims as flimsy legal cover for its other undeclared and endless conflicts.
The United States could be far, far more effective at leading the world into more peace and prosperity by being far, far more restrained in its use of military power and more generous in dispensing the kind of leadership that people would “gladly and confidently follow.” Friends would be more aggressive in supporting policies beneficial to America if we took the time to find shared values and include them as valued partners. Some competitors would feel less threatened and would therefore be less active in working against US interests.
This unstable plan and volatile coalition formed to wrest control of Mosul from ISIS is the result of a stubborn Washington reliance on a foreign policy that seeks to feature military power to compel others to our will and a never-ending attempt to find quick answers to complex and multi-dimensional problems. Predictably, such a method of conducting foreign policy succeeds only in the continual degradation of the problems we seek to solve and the diminution of American national security. If ever this deteriorating situation is ever to be reversed, the United States is going to have to abandon interventionist proclivities and adopt a more restrained use of military power. May that transition occur quickly.
It will take substantial effort, a steady diplomatic hand, and a lot of time to undo the damage that has been done over the past 20 years. First, however, we’ve got to stop actively harming relations. Working to create even a modicum of trust between the two nuclear powers is in the unequivocal interests of both nations. The American people deserve a government that works hard for the benefit of our population, takes the most prudent actions to guarantee our security, and doesn’t waste resources and time unnecessarily antagonizing competitors.
The Obama administration’s strategic patience policy, one that can only be described as shutting the window for diplomacy until and unless North Korea pledges to denuclearize as a precondition, has proved by all objectionable standards to be an immense failure. With the exception of a short lived aid-for-freeze agreement in 2012 that quickly collapsed after Pyongyang launched a satellite into orbit, the United States has essentially written off further negotiations with North Korea on the nuclear issue. By the time President Obama leaves office, North Korea will have acquired more nuclear material for more bombs than when he came into office.
Realism is still the name of the game in the international system. U.S. officials responsible for the implementation of our nation's foreign policy can either adjust and play the game like everyone else, or sit in the peanut gallery and complain. The problem with that last option is that nobody is listening.
Congress needs to rein in the OCO, double down on the budget caps, and insist that the books come open next year—no more procrastinating, no more excuse making. They also need to return to regular order, under which budgets are passed every year rather than rushed through as a patchwork of continuing resolutions. Supporting our troops means funding them, yes, but it also means making sure that we don’t bankrupt their futures.
A return to the smart, interest-based diplomacy that characterized U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War is essential for making progress on intractable problems. Particularly in dealing with other nuclear powers, coming to terms through diplomacy is the only way to safeguard our interests while preserving peace. Military strikes will not be the ultimate solution to terrorist groups like ISIS or rogue regimes like North Korea. Instead, these problems must be handled through savvy and pragmatic political solutions that align the interests of regional actors and the U.S. to produce lasting stability.
According to the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), the cost to replenish a worn out military after 15 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq – as well as other military operations, such as Operation Inherent Resolve in Syria – would be about $1 trillion over the next decade. An additional $100 billion a year for the next 10 years would bust the current defense spending caps imposed by Congress on the Department of Defense. But do we really need to spend $1 trillion to reboot the military? To begin, without a thorough top-to-bottom audit of the Pentagon we don’t know how the Department of Defense spends its $600-plus billion budget, so how do we know that the $1 trillion is the right number?
It has become something of a ritual at this point: The Obama Administration announces more American troops are going to Iraq. We quibble over whether or not they’ll be in combat, and no candid answer is forthcoming. Orwellian word games ensue, and then the public forgets all about it as a dozens or hundreds more U.S. soldiers are shipped off to join an unknown number of forces fighting an undeclared war with an undetermined goal and no end in sight.
The latest iteration of this dangerous cycle came this month, when Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced 615 more U.S. troops are headed to join the fight to retake Mosul, the last major city in Iraq controlled by the Islamic State. Predictably, Carter’s comments included a dose of the usual obfuscation that allows President Obama to continue pretending he ended the war in Iraq. American forces aren’t in “combat,” Carter said, but rather “in harm’s way” and experiencing “a lot of violence” while “combatting” ISIS.
To inform citizens, thought leaders, and policy makers of the importance of a strong, dynamic military—used more judiciously to protect America's narrowly defined national interests—and promote a realistic grand strategy prioritizing restraint, diplomacy, and free trade to ensure American security.