U.S. policy toward Syria over the last six years has been an unmitigated failure—as it has been in large measure throughout the Middle East—because it has veered dangerously away from any coherent strategy, let alone any of America’s vital national interests, and relied almost exclusively on the military instrument to achieve some unstated and unknown ends.
Using military force is a means to achieve a political objective. That’s why Congress is empowered by our Constitution to debate and authorize such actions. But by pursuing a grand strategy of “primacy,” responding with military force anywhere and everywhere merely because an opportunity exists, we has worsened our national security and over-extended our military.
For the next 14 years, and continuing to this very day, the legislative branch has for all intents and purposes been M.I.A. on war-related issues. Attempts to re-introduce Congress into the game have been routinely dismissed by congressional leadership as either unnecessary intrusions into the president’s powers, castigated as a partisan exercise to embarrass members of the other political party, or simply unnecessary from a constitutional standpoint.
These dictatorships weren’t cowed by massive application of American military power—they were emboldened. The real victors out of the post-Saddam fray were Sunni extremists, who used newly anarchic Iraq to incubate the most radical terrorist group in history, al-Qaeda in Iraq, today known as the Islamic State. Likewise, among the loudest huzzahs after President Trump’s airbase attack came from Syrian Islamist groups like Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham, the very characters that candidate Trump promised to fight.
“Progress” is an interesting term, because it’s been used by civilian and military leaders repeatedly for more than a decade and a half as a means to assure the American people that their sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers in uniform are undertaking a mission that is of the utmost importance to the national security of the United States.
The best the United States may be able to do is help the region’s players arrive at solutions that are intrinsically beneficial to the people who live there. And if that proves to be too hard of a lift, prevent the region's worst effects from impacting Americans. These objectives may not be transformational, but in this part of the world, hatching plans to transform the Middle East in the inner confines of Washington isn’t a sustainable or realistic strategy.
Trump’s decision to use force in Syria last week is instructive: The rule of unintended consequences is alive and well in international politics. Decisions powered by emotion to accomplish a short-term objective can have long-term ramifications.
Ultimately any increase in the caps would need to be offset with credible reforms that are politically sustainable and move the federal government toward a balanced budget.President Trump makes it possible to replace bad budget deals with good deals. Congress must seize the opportunity, fix the laws, and put our government back on a solid fiscal foundation.
Russia has an interest in seeing the civil war come to an end as much as we do. The Kremlin would like nothing better than to see the conflict resolved so their costly military support can be substantially reduced or eliminated. Their own threat from Islamic terrorism would be reduced if the civil war ended. It can be assumed, however, that Putin will not support any outcome that results in a Syrian government that is not friendly with Moscow.The bottom line is that the United States must genuinely get out of the regime-change business – which never ends well - and focus instead on policies that have a realistic chance of attaining US strategic objectives.
Trump will hear from those who counsel greater involvement in Syria’s civil war. He would be advised to ignore those who would plunge us deeper into this proxy war defined by jihadist groups and rebel infighting. That doesn’t serve America’s vital national security interests. Better to augment diplomatic efforts to end this bloody conflict.
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.