NOV 24, 2014
It is a time-honored tradition in American politics: Whenever the president turns unpopular, he fires someone and brings in a tried and tested veteran to clean house. Thus in 1987, in the middle of the Iran-Contra affair, out went Donald Regan as Ronald Reagan's White House chief of staff, to be replaced by steady old hand Howard Baker. In 1994, after Bill Clinton had stumbled on issues including gays in the military and healthcare, out went Mack McLarty as White House chief of staff, to be replaced by steady old hand Leon E. Panetta. In 2006, after the disasters of the Iraq war and the loss of the Senate to Democrats, out went Donald H. Rumsfeld as George W. Bush's defense secretary, to be replaced by steady old hand Robert M. Gates.
NOV 14, 2014
This commentary was adapted from a CFR Policy Innovation Memo.
President Obama’s strategy in Syria and Iraq is not working. The president is hoping that limited airstrikes, combined with U.S. support for local proxies, will “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State. But while U.S. actions may have blunted the Islamic State’s expansion, they have not shaken the terrorist group’s control of an area the size of Britain. If the president is serious about dealing with the Islamic State, he will need to increase America’s commitment well beyond his recent decision to deploy 1,500 more advisers.
What will it take to achieve the president’s objective?
Counterinsurgency is Here to Stay
Although the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are far from the costliest the United States has ever fought in terms of either blood or treasure, they have exacted a much greater toll than the relatively bloodless wars Americans had gotten used to fighting in the 1990s. As of this writing, 2,344 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan and 4,486 in Iraq, and tens of thousands more have been injured. The financial costs reach into the trillions of dollars.
Yet despite this investment, the returns look meager. Sunni extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State, and Shiite extremists beholden to Iran have divided the non-Kurdish parts of Iraq between them. Meanwhile, the Taliban and the Haqqani network remain on the offensive in Afghanistan. Given how poorly things have turned out, it would be tempting to conclude that the United States should simply swear off such irregular conflicts for good.
In the Vietnam War, saving Khe Sanh seemed essential. Turned out it wasn’t.
October 22, 2014
On Jan. 21, 1968, North Vietnamese troops attacked the U.S. Marine garrison at Khe Sanh in South Vietnam near the border with Laos. A 77-day siege ensued, with the U.S. pouring in ever more firepower. The U.S. would drop 100,000 tons of bombs because Gen. William Westmoreland was determined that Khe Sanh not become another defeat like Dien Bien Phu, which had effectively ended France’s colonial presence in Vietnam 14 years earlier.
After the bin Laden raid, the deluge.
September 26, 2014, VOL. 20, NO.04
Last week brought a reminder of what the United States has lost since Bob Gates and Leon Panetta left the Obama cabinet. Both are straight shooters with a centrist, hardheaded sensibility.
A successful military intervention isn't just possible; it's essential
August 16, 2014
Iraq is a bloody mess. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has extended its hold from eastern Syria into western and northern Iraq, massacring Shi’ites, Christians and Yazidis wherever it can. Meanwhile in Baghdad there has been a constitutional crisis, with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki threatening to cling to power at gunpoint even though his own political bloc has chosen a different candidate.