These infinitely practical questions should be a mandatory baseline for any fresh war proposal our inevitably amnesiac politicians in Washington throw our way. Had we answered them in 2011, the United States would almost certainly have left well enough alone in Libya and avoided expensive, dangerous, and counterproductive entanglement there that continues to escalate, foment terrorism, and destabilize the region today.
For the benefit of the Republic's health and welfare, the legislative branch cannot be an inactive and uninterested body on foreign policy. If Congress were to take that path, the institution would become in the words of Sen. Paul "a lapdog to an imperial presidency." This week's debate and vote on a weapons sale to Saudi Arabia will hopefully bring Congress back to the proper role that the authors of the Constitution envisioned and demanded.
Yes, Washington should better vet its foreign contractors and proxies, but far more necessary is a thoroughgoing reevaluation of a failed, aggressive foreign policy which led to our creating those relationships in the first place. The problem in Afghanistan is not merely systemic corruption our intervention has fostered, but the intervention itself. If we wish to avoid repeating these mistakes, we must subject Washington to at least as much scrutiny as Kabul.
Congress: Stop thinking about the politics of casting a vote that may hurt your chances for re-election in the future. Stop viewing war and peace as partisan issues. Get to work and collaborate on a new, tailored use of force authorization. Debate it in committee in full view of the American people. Debate it on the House and Senate floor in full view of your constituents. And pass it. The American people and the men in women in uniform who are engaged in the fight are doing their jobs every day. Politicians ought to do theirs as well.
The looming battle for Mosul is going to be much harder both militarily and politically than often portrayed in the media. The fight against ISIS there could be a very costly and protracted operation. It might also degenerate into an Aleppo-type siege where neither side is able to win an outright victory, degenerating into a stalemate of unknown duration. Yet the biggest challenge to peace and stability in Iraq might come after the liberation of Mosul.
Based on everything I’ve heard, Washington is not ready for this. And what that means is that unless the U.S. government conducts a sober reassessment of its objectives and strategies. the U.S. will continue to expend large amounts of taxpayer dollars and some blood while unwittingly contributing to the further degradation of the Iraqi social fabric, worsening—not ending—the war.
Despite years of evidence that reckless arms transfers contribute to regional chaos, the Obama administration is sending more powerful weapons for distribution in the Middle East. Meanwhile, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have made statements in support of arming at least some subset of friendly(ish) fighting forces in Iraq and Syria, assuring the black market of a steady supply of American weaponry for the foreseeable future.
The problem in Iraq was not the missteps of particular nation-builders but rather the project of nation-building itself. As Amitai Etzioni contends in the National Interest, “nation building, foreign aid, imported democratization, Marshall Plans and counterinsurgency (COIN) with a major element of nation building are not only very costly but also highly prone to failure” and “best avoided.”
While the likelihood this ceasefire will hold is slim, the fundamental problem isn’t the deal’s implementation. Rather, the reality that in a shattered Syria, neither airstrikes nor the survival of the rebels will achieve America’s chief goal of dislodging ISIS. From the beginning, our policy in Syria has suffered from an inherent contradiction. The U.S. insists on Assad’s ouster as a condition of peace, but the groups that have proven most effective against his forces are hardline Islamic militias, which are themselves anti-American.
However one views the policy, it has become abundantly obvious over the past two terms of the Obama administration that the “unclench your fist” approach hasn’t worked particularly well – if at all – with North Korea. Indeed, it took the Kim dynasty only three months to blow up any opening of a new relationship with the United States with a nuclear weapons test. Over seven years later on September 8, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test only hours after President Obama departed from Asian soil. Instead of unclenching his first, Kim is pounding it on the table.
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.