Published in the Orange County Register on September 10, 2014. To access the original article, click here.
Two and a half years after President Barack Obama ended American military involvement in Iraq, the United States has resumed “limited” air operations in that country. American war planes bombed forces of the Islamic State threatening the Kurdish enclave in the north. The White House is at a loss to explain this tacit admission that the Obama administration’s “success” in withdrawing American troops did not protect American interests in the area.
The President does not know the next step to take. Speaking at a news conference, he admitted “We don’t have a strategy yet.” The lack of planning is a surprise, as a former Pentagon official told Fox news that the President had been given detailed and specific intelligence about the rise of the Islamic state on multiple occasions, and for over a year. The former official described the information as strong and “granular” in detail.
The President’s words may well be his foreign policy epithet. Without considering the potential outcome, the United States stood on the side line when the Muslim Brotherhood replaced decades-old allies in Tunisia and Egypt. Our air force flew ninety percent of the sorties over Libya that resulted in the overthrow of the Gadhafi regime, the eventual murder of our Ambassador, and the current occupation of the US embassy in Tripoli.
Syria is in flames with 150,000 dead in their civil war. That is the equivalent to the death count of 50 World Trade Centers, or 75 Pearl Harbors. The only local group strong enough to confront the Islamic State is the government of Syria, the overthrow of which the US is committed. Iraq is teetering on the edge of a total breakup. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is waiting for America’s withdrawal to retake the country, while the Afghan government cannot choose a successor. Russia has annexed the Crimea and has invaded eastern Ukraine with over 1,000 troops. There is shooting on the cease fire line between Armenia and Azerbaijan. China is making territorial claims in the South China Sea that puts it in conflict with American allies. An ebola outbreak in Africa has infected 3,000 people, killing half. The World Health Organization says the world response to the illness has been inadequate, and the epidemic could spread. Boko Haram is seizing territory in northern Nigeria.
American policy is adrift. The United States remains the sole superpower in the world, with more military and economic might than any other country. For some reason, however, the White House is reacting to events instead of taking charge of them.
The creation of a national security strategy is a simple process to explain, and a difficult process to implement. One must identify American interests in the area. If there are no interests, the strategy should dictate that the United States steer clear. If there are interests, however, the next step is to identify at what point America will employ its levers of national power: military, political, economic, and ideological. The government needs to be clear on the ends, ways and means to be employed to safeguard the U.S.’s interests. They must determine that implementation of that strategy has an acceptable cost, and that the plan is sufficiently robust that it will actually achieve US objectives. The Obama administration published a strategy in 2010. It is time for another, one that the White House can use to protect our interests.
James J. Coyle is the Director of Global Education at Chapman University, and the executive director of the Caspian Research Institute, an online think tank.